Flipped learning in primary and secondary mathematics: Some lessons

Flipped classrooms and flipped learning approaches are fast becoming a popular practice in mathematics classrooms, providing opportunities for students to learn anywhere, at any time. A flipped pedagogical approach may go some way in addressing the continuing issue of student disengagement with mathematics, yet how do we know if it really works? And what are the advantages and disadvantages to flipped approaches? In this blog post I provide a brief explanation of flipped learning before sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned about the flipped approach from my research into the effective use of technology in mathematics classrooms.

First, let’s consider how flipped learning works. There are various approaches that range from the provision of direct instruction via the use of video recorded lectures, to those that allow teachers to individualise learning according to student needs. The fundamental reason flipped learning approaches evolved was to take advantage of new technologies that allow for the introduction of new knowledge via multi-media and shift passive learning (via direct instruction) to allow teachers and students to make better use of classroom time. Pre-lesson materials can take the form of prescribed readings, teacher-produced videos, screencasts that may incorporate resources created on software such as GeoGebra, videos sourced from Youtube, or resources created by others such as Khan Academy. Face to face lessons can then be freed up for more teacher/student and student/student interaction, collaboration, application of learning through problem solving and investigation, and opportunities to provide intervention where necessary (Bhagat, Chang, & Chang, 2016; Lo & Hew, 2017; Weinhandl, Lavicza, & Süss-Stepancik, 2018).  

Lessons from research

Through my various technology-related research projects I have seen a variety of models of flipped approaches from primary through to senior secondary classrooms. The most important lesson I’ve learned is, just like any other teaching resource, a flipped learning approach is only as good as the person driving it: the teacher. It’s the teacher and his or her understanding of student needs, along with the ability to address those needs, that can determine the effectiveness of any flipped approach. For example, in research I conducted approximately five years ago, a Year 3 teacher tried a flipped approach. Unfortunately, not all of the students understood the content that was covered in the pre-lesson videos, and the flipped approach failed. This leads me to lesson two: A one-size-fits-all approach very rarely works in the classroom and is even more precarious in a flipped approach where young students don’t have access to the teacher to seek clarification.

In the five years since that research project, the emergence of new technologies and software has meant that flipped learning in the mathematics classroom has evolved and become much more sophisticated. Apps such as SeeSaw provide different flipped learning opportunities that allow multi-directional communication between home and school, as well as the sharing of work samples.  Productivity packages such as OneNote and learning management systems such as Canvas or Echo allow for multimedia to be used rather than the simple use of video. Programs such as Matific and Prodigy allow teachers to allocate different levels of activity to different students and track student achievement.These applications have made it easier than ever to differentiate learning, view student progress, and collate assessment data, which leads me to lesson three: flipped learning is hard work for the teacher.

A successful flipped learning approach requires the teacher to be vigilant beyond the timetabled mathematics lesson. If students are accessing and responding to resources anywhere and anytime, this requires a substantial commitment on the part of the teacher. Similarly, if students are not accessing the set tasks in preparation for their lessons, the teacher must also be aware and adjust lessons accordingly. The issue of students failing to access material prior to lessons is a common one and was observed in my most recent research. It is important to carefully consider the students and their contexts beyond the mathematics classroom.  The fourth lesson, therefore, is to beware of assumptions about access. Not all students will have access to devices or internet. Sometimes a flipped approach may result in exclusion, depending on socioeconomic circumstances or location. For example, in one of the schools involved in my research, there were connectivity issues due to the location.  

The final lesson I’d like to share about flipped learning is perhaps the most important. It can help students, particularly those who are disengaged with mathematics. The teachers who use flipped learning effectively in my most recent research were able redefine mathematics learning spaces for their students. The flipped approach promoted self-confidence, built strong connections between teachers and students, and provided ‘just in time’ learning and support, and self-paced learning without the stigma usually associated with students who feel they just can’t do mathematics.

There is emerging evidence that a flipped learning approach in mathematics is achieving success in relation to increasing student engagement due to the increased autonomy that allows students more access to learning resources. However, the majority of research on flipped learning focuses on tertiary and secondary education, with little attention paid to the primary classroom. There is also a need to explore more deeply how and why flipped learning approaches improve student engagement, if we are to take advantage of the affordances of emerging technologies to enhance students’ learning experiences and ultimately improve outcomes and attrition in higher level mathematics. In my upcoming blog posts I will provide further detail about the different models of flipped learning I observed, and how they influenced student engagement and learning.

References

Bhagat, K. K., Chang, C.-N., & Chang, C.-Y. (2016). The Impact of the Flipped Classroom on Mathematics Concept Learning in High School. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 19(3), 134–142.

Lo, C. K., & Hew, K. F. (2017). A critical review of flipped classroom challenges in K-12 education: possible solutions and recommendations for future research. Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning, 12(1), 4. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41039-016-0044-2

Weinhandl, R., Lavicza, Z., & Süss-Stepancik, E. (2018). Technology-enhanced Flipped Mathematics Education in Secondary Schools: A Synopsis of Theory and Practice. K-12 STEM Education, 4(3), 377–389. https://doi.org/10.14456/k12stemed.2018.9

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