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Homework in class, lectures at home: Students find success in ‘flipped’ Win-E-Mac school setting

Win-E-Mac algebra teacher Jessica Strom answered questions from students last week in her "flipped" classroom, a teaching model that requires students to learn the material at home and work through problems in class. Seated clockwise from left are Adam Shaver, Kira Basargin, Jacob Knudson and Hanna Wiersma. Jennifer Johnson | Forum News Service

Jennifer Johnson

Forum News Service

ERSKINE, Minn. — High school math students at Win-E-Mac Public School murmured quietly to each other Wednesday, checking answers with other groups, asking questions and studying their iPads to figure out the absolute value of a set of numbers.

Algebra teacher Jessica Strom strolled around the room to observe.

"Absolute values are a twist on linear functions," she said. "Let’s see how simple it is."

This fall marks Strom’s second year in a row of teaching algebra using a "flipped" classroom, where students learn the material at home and work through problems the next day in class.

Strom said students are more engaged, work at their own pace and learn the material more thoroughly. Although the model is still in its infancy at the school, the median grade for the students last year in the flipped classroom was 80.9 percent, or an average of 10 percentage points higher than students who had traditional methods.

She noted the students with higher grades also took college courses, while students in the traditional classroom did not. But with only one year of data, it’s difficult to compare much, she said.

"If kids keep up, it’s really awesome and easy to do, but once they start to get behind, it really starts to snowball them," she said.


For the class, Strom uses an educational app called iTunes U and records lectures that students can watch through the app. The next day, she’ll do a quick review and let students work through problems and questions the rest of the hour.

With smaller classes of 24 and 18, she makes sure students do homework by talking to parents or requires students to watch missed assignments in class.

Students were recently given the choice to complete an assignment with fewer problems, but they had to use an app to record themselves solving the problem and explain how they did it, she said.

"I can really tell what they know by hearing them explain it," she said. "It also reduces cheating because nobody can do their voice for them. It takes a lot longer to correct, but I like it."

Strom, who teaches seventh through 12th grade, said she chose the alternative teaching method because every student had an iPad for the first time last year, and she wanted to find a way to use them. She’s using the model now only for juniors in Algebra II, but she’s considering it for ninth-grade algebra in the future as well.

She first heard about the model after attending a workshop and just wanted to try it out, she said. Despite being new at Win-E-Mac, the model itself was first developed by a Harvard University professor in the 1990s.

Mixed results

Still, Strom said the transition to the new method wasn’t instantly embraced by every student.

Last year, she had to revert back to traditional teaching for one section because students had such a hard time with it, she said.

"Part of it was just getting used to the technology," she said.

The learning curve for a flipped classroom can be steep — if students don’t watch the videos, they can fall hard and fast, she said. Without knowing the material, they don’t understand her review the next morning, don’t follow what’s going on in class and do poorly on tests, she said.

But students this fall "really, really enjoy" the flipped classroom, she said. She’s uncertain why that is, but thinks it’s because students feel more familiar with the model after their first year learning it, she said.

Madison Stuhaug, a junior who already enjoys math, said the method helps her learn the material even better.

When she took the first section of algebra under the normal teaching methods, she was lost and had to come ask for help a lot. But now, it’s easier, she said.

"You can ask for more help, and we can check our work to see if it’s right," she said. "At home, it’s harder to do."

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