Todd Trout had been experimenting with a new approach to teaching AP Chemistry but he wasn’t quite sure whether his students liked it more than the old way, or even liked it at all. So he took advantage of Country Day’s Country Day-ness and opted for the direct approach: he asked them.
“That’s one of the nice things about the school and these students,” Trout said. “You can ask for and receive genuine feedback and learn from that.” What he learned was that his “flipped classroom” take on one of the toughest courses in Upper School was an unqualified, unequivocal hit.
This method inverts the traditional lecture model by having students watch video podcasts covering the foundations of new material at home, and devoting class time to working on more advanced applications of those ideas that might previously have been assigned as homework.
“I appreciate that we do more of the lecture outside of class so that we can cover the more difficult material in class. This way we learn how to do the simple examples on our own, and the more complex problems we can work on with Doc T. instead of learning the easy stuff with the teacher there and struggling through the hard stuff on our own,” wrote one student. To ensure candor, all responses were anonymous.
“If Doc T. goes over what is being gone over in the podcast, I stay focused purely for the reason that he might bring up a new method that [the podcasts] did not go over,” wrote a classmate, while another student offered simply, “I like the podcasts. Keep the podcasts.”
Each video runs about 30 minutes and Trout initially had his doubts that kids would want to spend half an hour sitting and watching another teacher every night. Apparently that’s exactly what they wanted.
“They seem to appreciate having a second voice, and being able to stop the video to take notes, and back it up if they want to hear a certain part again,” Trout said.
This is his second year employing this method, and he got the idea while attending professional development conferences where peers from around the country reported similar success stories.
Despite its novelties, the “flipped classroom” doesn’t actually stray too far from the traditional, lecture-based model that’s about as old as chalk itself. “What we’re doing is still teacher-centered,” Trout said, “but this makes it more convenient while opening up some new avenues.”
What Trout would really like to do is incorporate the flipped classroom with the POGIL method. POGIL, which stands for “Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning,” emphasizes learning through hands-on experience, and encourages students to make connections through actively doing rather than passively listening.
Trout’s wife, Lower School Science Coordinator Laura Trout, is editor-in-chief of the High School POGIL Initiative. She and her colleagues have already written POGIL books for biology, chemistry and AP bio. AP chemistry is next on the list and might be completed as soon as this summer.
Todd Trout suspects it would be an even bigger hit than the flipped classroom. “Younger students are wired to learn differently,” he said. “They gravitate toward video and class collaboration.
“These results speak for themselves,” he continued, “but I think incorporating the POGIL activities would make a unique experience and the students would love it.”