Nevada Union High School teacher flips classroom for more engagement
Jordan Horowitz’s math classes at Nevada Union High School used to have a fairly standard operating procedure. He usually spent a significant amount of time correcting the previous night’s homework with his students before lecturing on the day’s lesson and assigning the class a new set of problems for homework just before the bell dismissed them.
While that structure isn’t different from most high school math classes, Horowitz, who teaches math applications and geometry at Nevada Union, found himself questioning its effectiveness.
“Students go home having forgotten everything they learned in class,” Horowitz said. “They’d attempt the homework, and if they got stuck, they were done. They couldn’t progress.”
So he decided to try something new. Last January, Horowitz began recording the lecture portion of his lessons and posting the video online, or saving it to a flash drive, for students to watch as they do homework, freeing his students to spend class time working on problem sets and allowing him to troubleshoot questions on the spot.
It’s a teaching method known as the “flipped classroom,” and Horowitz is using the technique to create a more collaborative, engaged environment for his students.
“Now, students are talking to each other about the assignment, and working on problems cooperatively,” Horowitz said. “And when they get stuck, here’s somebody with a lot of knowledge, readily accessible.”
The flipped classroom method of teaching was developed in 2007 by two high school chemistry teachers in Colorado who were looking for a way to make sure that students who were absent from class didn’t miss out on lectures. The technique generally involves teachers creating or curating videos and interactive lessons for students to access at home in advance of class to free up class time for deeper exploration of concepts and hands-on activities.
Horowitz said he began to grow more familiar with the method over the past couple of years, after hearing about it at various teacher conferences he attended. He decided last August that he was going to make the switch in his classrooms during the school year — both to give himself a new professional challenge, and to better blend digital learning into the classroom.
“We’re in a digital age,” Horowitz said. “Our students need to know how to navigate digitally if they’re going to college, and even if they’re not.”
Switching to the method required a certain degree of flexibility — something Horowitz noted isn’t always so easy for teachers.
“Teachers are often terrified of getting it wrong,” Horowitz said. “I had to break myself of that attitude.”
He said the technique has presented several challenges so far. While some teachers using flipped classroom models pull in videos created by outside sources, Horowitz decided to start out recording his own video lectures on his laptop, which has added significantly to his workload; he said a 15-minute video lecture can take him anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to create.
He’s also spent a significant amount of time over the past several weeks refining the recording process, fixing audio problems and trying to figure out if his students prefer to see his face on video or would rather view close-ups of the formulas he’s working through.
But so far, he said, the benefits of the flipped classroom are outweighing the technical difficulties and minor inconveniences. Most importantly, he said, flipping his classroom has afforded him a more valuable but often scarce resource in the classroom — time.
He says he’s now able to work more in-depth with students, and plan lessons that incorporate more technology and encourage more critical thinking and collaboration between students.
“I could never seem to find enough time to go to lab and do lab activities,” Horowitz said. “Now I have time.”
For students, the video lectures provide a different way of learning concepts — one that allows them to move at their own pace.
“I can pause it if I need to, and I can take time to write down anything I don’t understand,” said Gigi Sullivan, a freshman in one of Horowitz’s math classes.
The flipped classroom environment is especially helpful for students who struggle with math, because they can draw on the knowledge of their peers more easily, said senior Julia Riggs.
“To be connected with other kids who are top students in class is nice,” Riggs said.
Horowitz is surveying his classes regularly about the flipped classroom, and while a few students have said they have no preference between a flipped or traditional classroom, no student has expressed a strong preference for the traditional class model.
Many students have been enthusiastic about the flip — and more students are completing their homework on a regular basis, Horowitz said.
He’s monitoring the reactions of his students closely because that is his primary feedback on the method; he said that while there are other teachers at Nevada Union who use the technique sporadically or have thought about it, he’s currently the only one who has committed to completely flipping his classroom.
Horowitz said his experience will position him to provide guidance to other teachers who are interested in the practice.
He noted one of his major motivations for trying the technique was his belief that teachers need to adapt their methods and lessons to best fit the needs of their current students.
“We need to teach the students we have, not the students we once had,” Horowitz said. “Education needs to continue to evolve.”
To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4230
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