SAGE Musings: Flipping Your Class

Dave Voorhees, Waubonsee Community College
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published Jan 4, 2018 10:21am

I gave a presentation at the October 2017 Geological Society of America meeting in Seattle, on "Flipping or Flopping in a General Education Science class" in the session The Challenge of Defining Student Success: Broadening Participation, Measuring Success, and Preparing 2YC and 4YC Students for a Variety of Transitions. In it I described an ongoing experiment I am conducting on flipping a classroom. A flipped classroom is where the students prepare beforehand by reading the textbook, watching videos which cover the required material in that class, or other appropriate assignment(s), thereby leaving the class-time for active engagement exercises. One of my many motivations to start this experiment is my participation in the SAGE 2YC: Faculty as Change Agents project. As a change agent, I am to effect change to geoscience instruction in my classes, in my school, and in my home state. Other reasons to flip my class are that these active learning exercises can be designed for a higher level on Bloom's taxonomy than other in-class exercises, it is something different, and it is something fun. The latter two are especially true, since most of my students are there for the General Education credit, and are not taking the optional lab class. I also think that these 'lab-like' experiences in the classroom may be more what our soon-to-be-students exposed to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in their high school or middle school classes are used to.

When I was researching flipped classes, I discovered that there are a lot of 'flipping' resources for problem-based disciplines, like math, chemistry and physics, but few for the geosciences. In a recent search on the Science Education Resource Center (SERC) for 'flipping class", I got anywhere from 11 to 90 matches, depending on the order of search terms and my use of parentheses. When I searched for typical active learning pedagogies, like 'think-pair-share' or 'gallery walk', I got anywhere from 200 to 2000 matches. So it seems that there are not a lot of descriptions of flipped classes for the geosciences, and it is my hope that this musing may inspire you to try it in your class.

The most popular geoscience class at Waubonsee Community College is the Survey of Earth Science, which is a broad introduction to the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, paleosphere, and exosphere. It is a typical class that covers a large amount of material with little depth. I decided to start by flipping one class period each on the lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, based on several sources that suggested to try an incremental approach before flipping the entire semester. This would avoid the assured chaos that would involve flipping an entire semester all at once. For each flipped class period, the students had to do the typical 'reading quiz' on Mastering Geology, and in addition watch videos of my typical lecture. The reading quizzes are a random selection of 15 questions in Mastering Geology from the publisher provided questions that I have selected as appropriate for the content I teach. There are between 75 and 200 questions for each Reading Quiz. The videos of my typical lecture are made using Kaltura, which is a video capture program that my school provides and is easy to use on my Mac. Each 'lecture' consists of 3 videos, and I tried to keep the videos to less than 15 minutes each. I also provide links to other videos, if they correspond to the material in the flipped class. I highly recommend 'Geoscience Videos' by McConnell and Wiggins, and 'Earth Rocks!', by Katryn Wiese. For Astronomy, I highly recommend the videos produced by Joe DalSanto from the College of DuPage on the Solar system and Stars and Galaxies, available on YouTube.

For the class on rocks (lithosphere), I prepared a jigsaw exercise using 6 rocks (2 igneous, 2 sedimentary and 2 metamorphic), where the goal is to learn some basic rock identification. This may be the only time a student actually touches a rock in college, since only about 30% of all Survey of Earth Science students take the optional lab. I divide the class into groups and they become the experts on that rock, using a series of guiding questions I provide. Then the groups were shuffled to have each rock represented in a group, and the respective expert would teach their colleagues. They then worked on some reflective questions on the rock cycle. When I handed their assignments back the next class, I also gave them a hand out of the characteristics of each rock that they should have gotten from their experts. I will say that from the presentations that I listened to, and the worksheets I graded, the handout is not really needed.

For the hydrosphere, I take the class on a 'field tip' to the neighboring wetlands and river that borders one side of the campus, and discuss and investigate their roles in a watershed, utilizing our campus as a living laboratory. In the wetlands, we have 3 observation wells that we can use to measure the water table and sample the groundwater. We compare the current water table elevation to historical data, discuss what 'potability' is, and discuss potential groundwater contamination from the neighboring farms and houses. We discuss the glacial origin of the wetlands and the esker that borders it. We also calculate the stream discharge using the 'floating stick' technique (timing how long a stick takes to float 10 feet), and then compare that calculation to a USGS gaging station about 13 miles downstream.

For the atmosphere, I chose to focus on developing a greater understanding of latent heat. I set up a classroom experiment consisting of an ice/water mixture in a beaker on a hot plate with a temperature probe that displays a continuous record. The temperature of the mixture remains flat at about 0 degrees C until the ice melts, then increases, and then flattens out again during evaporation at about 100 degrees C. As the ice progressively melts, I call out the percent ice remaining. Once the ice is gone, and the temperature is rapidly increasing, we discuss the reason why. It was at this point during the first time I tried this that one of the students gave me one of the best 'light bulb' expressions that I have ever seen, and will remember for a long time; the kind of student response we all strive for in our teaching. Since this demonstration takes over 60 minutes, I have the class work questions from the textbook while it is ongoing.

Although there is clearly less content covered during these flipped class sessions, I think that the experiences of actually handling rocks and the field experiences outweigh those deficits. The groundwater field trip is often favorably mentioned in student comments at the end of the semester. When I look at the questions on the exams that cover the material in the flipped classes for the last 3 semesters, they generally have the same percent of correct responses, no matter what the results of the remainder of the test are.

Some references I found useful:

Bergmann, J., and Sams, A., 2012, Flip your classroom, Reach every student in every class every day, International Society for Technology in Education, 112 p.

Flipped Learning Network (FLIP), 2017,, accessed 26 Dec 2017.

Panopto, 2014, Flipping for flipped classrooms, 2014,, accessed 26 Dec 2017.

Science Education Resource Center (SERC),, accessed 26 Dec 2017.

UT Austin, 2017, Flipped classroom,, accessed 26 Dec 2017.

70 reasons to flip your class, 2017., accessed 26 Dec 2017.

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