How to use this approach for effective distance learning with 16–18 students

An image showing flipped learning concept, frying pan flipping a textbook

Source: © Royal Society of Chemistry; elements © Shutterstock

Flip instruction and practice around for a successful approach to remote teaching

Teachers are adapting to remote teaching and discovering they can only ask their students to revise old material for so long. They are now grappling with how to engage students with new material and concepts. Flipped learning may be the answer.

If you are not familiar with flipped learning, the principle is simple: the traditional model of classwork and homework is flipped around. The instructional phase when students are introduced to new work is done at home, while application and practice happens in lessons. I first attempted flipped learning when exasperated by the slow pace of my A-level chemistry lessons, but my approach was unstructured and disastrous. A talk at a ResearchEd conference made me realise that Google Forms would help me check students had completed the flipped task.

Initially in the Google Forms I embedded videos and underneath set multiple-choice questions (MCQs) to check students had engaged. Now I include a mix of MCQ and open questions. These open questions range from simple definitions to explanations of reaction mechanisms, but never beyond the content covered in the videos. I use the responses to identify misconceptions, then in class I can share anonymised responses with students and ask them to spot key differences in their answers or identify the best responses and those with flaws.

In our current remote teaching scenario, you could collect the responses into a feedback sheet showing students examples of correct and incorrect answers. Follow this up with a second homework with application questions on the same topic, more like a traditional homework.

Essential resources

Pick your resources carefully. Good resources are essential for successful flipped learning. A textbook will work, but students are more comfortable with getting their information from YouTube videos. There are many to choose from, and I find James Donkin’s (aka MaChemGuy) particularly good for A-level since he has an indexed and exhaustive video library.

Three or four concise, clear videos embedded in a Google Form is sufficient. You don’t want lots of extraneous information in a flipped resource, just the essentials that students need to know about that topic. Don’t make them search through a long video for a particular section either; they won’t.

Practical work lends itself to flipped learning

Certain topics, such as Hess’ Law Cycles, shapes of molecules and spectroscopy, lend themselves really well to flipped learning. It’s the complicated explanation followed by extensive practice that means they work. However, there really isn’t any topic that can’t be covered by flipped learning – making it particularly useful for remote teaching.

Practical work lends itself to flipped learning right now. While, for example, A-level students will need to carry out their assessed practicals once back in school, with flipped learning, they can get to grips with the technique and the theory, so they’re ready to go. Try the screen simulations for titrations and aspirin.

Learning from experience

Having using flipped learning for more than five years, I’ve found it particularly helps those who continue their chemistry studies post-16 without the highest grades at GCSE/National 5/Junior Certificate. It allows them more time to think about the concepts involved. Now in lockdown, students have plenty of time to consider those things.

Before you launch into flipped learning, establish your structure for checking that students have completed the task. You need to be able to see what students are thinking about while they watch to check they have understood the key concepts. The suggestion approach of videos and MCQs in Google Forms will allow you to do this. Without that essential checking step, flipped learning can quickly become no learning.

Who knows, maybe once lockdown is unlocked, like me you’ll think flipped learning is for life, not just a pandemic.