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Flipping the script on traditional classrooms

Students in Brad Malpert’s chemistry class -- including (from left) Samantha Lindberg, Madeline Kestner, Elisabeth Hampton and Elizabeth Blattnerwork -- work on on a lab during class. A flipped classroom approach to teaching has allowed Malpert to give his students more hands-on activities and labs throughout the school year rather than just lecturing in the front of the room. (Submitted photo) 1 / 4
This screenshot from New Richmond High School science teacher Brad Malpert’s chemistry video on YouTube shows how he uses his classroom SMART Board to give a lecture that his students can then see through a video on his YouTube page. (Submitted image)2 / 4
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With digital content and social media continuing to take control of the modern world, especially for teenagers at the high school level, it only makes sense to adapt to what students are becoming more and more comfortable with.

That is exactly what New Richmond High School science teachers Brad Malpert and Neal Ziller have done with their chemistry classes this year with the change from a traditional classroom to a “flipped classroom.”

“Traditionally, … I would spend 40 to 50 minutes of a class period in front of the room talking and explaining to my students the new ideas, we’d do one or two practice problems and then give them the assignment to do at home,” Malpert said. “The problem with the method was it gave the students very little time to ask me questions. By the time some students sit down to do the problems after a full day, they don’t remember how to do it since it has been so long since they learned the material.”

The idea for the flipped classroom came after Malpert saw a presentation on the teaching style during a regional teachers meeting a few years ago. Malpert liked the idea so much, and felt it would lend itself well to the way he gave his chemistry lectures, that he decided to give it a try at the high school. Malpert tested the flipped classroom concept last year with three of his chemistry classes and got enough positive feedback to make him want to change the format for all five of his chemistry classes, as well as Ziller teaching two, this year.

“So, I decided to put the lecture online so they can watch it while being able to stop the video, rewind it and do whatever they need to with it to get the information,” Malpert said. “Then, when they are in class, they have the ability to say ‘Hey, Malpert. Can you help me with this problem?’ Or ‘How did you do this?’ It is a wonderful opportunity for them to ask me questions. The students really like the independence of it.”

Malpert created videos for all of his lectures last year using a video camera, but found that the quality of the videos wasn’t up to his standards. So Malpert switched from using the camera to using his classroom SMART Board and a microphone to record his lectures. All of his videos are on YouTube so the students can have easy access to them.

“The hardest part is taking what used to be a 45-minute lecture and condensing it down to a five- to 10-minute video,” Malpert said. “I try to keep the videos as short as possible.”

Although Malpert has only been teaching with a flipped classroom for a short time, he said he has already seen a very positive reaction from his students, as well as a bump in his students’ grades.

“Across the board I would say that the overall grades for chemistry for my courses have been higher, maybe not 10-20 percent higher, but I can definitely see that change,” Malpert said. “I had fewer students who didn’t pass the first semester than what I have seen traditionally.”

The positive comment Malpert hears most from his students is the freedom the new style of teaching gives the students to work around their other classes and still get their chemistry done on time.

“I know a lot of students like it because it gives them the free time and ability to arrange their schedules,” Malpert said. “For example, if a student has an English paper due in two days, they know they need to get a lot of their chemistry done today and then they don’t have to look at their chemistry for two days while they work on getting their other coursework caught up.”

Right now, Malpert only has the videos done for one section ahead of what he is currently teaching. But he hopes to have all the videos ready to go, with the few corrections students have pointed out to him, for next year’s classes.

The biggest advantage of teaching with the flipped classroom style, as far as Malpert sees it, is the ability that he now has to give his students more hands-on activities and labs than he ever could before.

“The thing I like the most about this style of learning is the ability for the students to do more labs and activities during class,” Malpert said. “I get more hands on stuff this way, whereas traditionally, during a five-day week, we would have to spend four-and-a-half days teaching them the concepts and try to have half a day for a lab. We used to average five true labs a semester, but this year, we are probably going to average about one lab or activity per week.”

Although most of his students have had nothing but positive feedback about the new flipped classroom, there are still those students who would prefer to hear a lecture every day during class.

“One of the things I am still trying to figure out with this type of teaching is how do I accommodate the students who don’t like watching the videos and like things better the traditional way,” Malpert said. “We are expecting these growing pains as we go along with this new style of teaching. Science is messy and this is really kind of a science experiment where we have to see what works and what isn’t. Student feedback will really help with making these classes successful.”

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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