Champlin Park teacher finds success by ‘flipping’ Algebra II class structure

When Rob Higginbotham began teaching at Champlin Park High School (CPHS) eight years ago, the math teacher remembers going home with “marker arm.” After spending the day giving lessons using an overhead projector, Higginbotham would have marker all over his arm.

ROB HIGGINBOTHAM

ROB HIGGINBOTHAM

While marker arm is a thing of the past for Higginbotham, so is standing in front of his Honors Algebra II students and giving a lecture. 

Higginbotham has “flipped” his classroom. 

Under this form of instruction, Higginbotham records videos of his lessons. Students watch the videos outside of the classroom. Classroom time is spent doing assignments. In that time students can ask Higginbotham questions about the lessons and sometimes work in groups. 

In using a flipped classroom, Higginbotham has seen student test scores significantly increase, moving up an entire quartile. Prior to his flipped class, 25 percent of Higginbotham’s students would earn 90 percent or better on their exams; with the flipped classroom that number has increased to 50 percent. 

Higginbotham decided to try this form of instruction after researching it for his graduate work at St. Mary’s University. Even before his graduate work, Higginbotham was on his way to using a flipped classroom. 

”I started to make videos of my lessons a couple of years ago,” he said. “Between the video and giving the lesson in the classroom, I felt like I was teaching everything twice. And the students would watch the videos at home, come into class and want to get going on the assignments right away. 

”I did research and found out teachers have been doing flipped classrooms and had success with it. I decided to do this for my action research and last year I went fully flipped.” 

Students watch Higginbotham’s videos through the district’s Moodle site. While lessons vary in length, they typically take 20 to 25 minutes to complete. Higginbotham breaks the lessons into five minute or so segments so a student can easily re-watch a segment if she or he has a question or is preparing for an exam. 

For students who do not have internet access at home or have slow internet, Higginbotham downloads the lessons onto a thumb drive or burns them onto a DVD. Students can also watch the lessons during class if they have the appropriate mobile device with a personal data plan. 

”If a student has a mobile phone I tell them, ‘you have Mr. H’s lessons with you wherever you go!'” Higginbotham said. 

When the students come to class, the goal is for them to complete their assignments and hand them in by the end of the hour. 

”If they don’t finish, they would then have to finish it either that night or the following day,” Higginbotham said. “My philosophy is that the assignments are made for students to master the learning target, so I give my students until the day of the test to turn in assignments for full credit.” 

Having a flipped classroom also benefits students when Higginbotham is out of the classroom for a day. “In math we don’t always get a math substitute teacher,” Higginbotham said. “It’s great that students have the lesson when I am gone so they don’t lose a day of instruction and can continue to move forward.” 

One of Higginbotham’s favorite assignments involves writing an equation for the arch of a bridge. While a textbook might present a problem that is not realistic or give students an equation to plug numbers into, Higginbotham asks students to write their own equation. He uses bridges people can climb – the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia and the Auckland Harbour Bridge in New Zealand. 

”In a typical class we couldn’t do this lesson because it would take the hour to explain it,” Higginbotham said. “Instead of saying ‘here’s the equation, go,’ I give them information and they come up with their own; students really work on their problem solving skills.” 

While Higginbotham’s students were eager for a flipped class, parents were hesitant at first to embrace the new form of teaching. 

”They said it was challenging to see their kids put their text books away and ‘watch YouTube,'” Higginbotham said. “But once they saw the process they agreed it made sense. 

”Parents that I have talked to said that they loved having the video to help them remember the skills that they have learned years ago to help their students if it’s needed.” 

In addition to raising student test scores and parental approval, there is another upside to having a flipped classroom for teachers: time. 

”The flipped model gives teachers time to do things they’ve always wanted to do,” Higginbotham said. “By giving students information at home in advance, it gives you time to explore things you wanted to try.” Higginbotham has mastered the “TI Nspire,” a graphic calculator used for exploring concepts. Higginbotham said it’s another tool he uses to help students to make discoveries. Higginbotham is also working with colleagues to make videos of key concepts they are teaching for struggling students to review. 

While Higginbotham has found success using a flipped classroom, he knows it’s not for everyone. 

”Using a flipped classroom depends on the subject and the instructor as well,” he said. “Teachers need to present information in the way they are most comfortable and the way they know; that’s how they will be most effective.”

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