Partial Classroom Flipping

What is the strategy?

In CEIE XXX, I implemented partial classroom flipping. The classes combined had 55 engineering students. The strategy involves using some class time to work in class exercises (ICE problems). The problems were proposed by the instructor either during class or near the end of class. The students were allowed to work together to solve the problem for approximately 5-10 minutes. The instructor assisted the students in answering questions and checking answers. After time was up, the student who completed the problem correctly and the fastest wrote the solution on the board and also explained the solution to the class.

Why should I use it? (How are they useful for the students? How are they useful to the instructor?)

The advantages of this strategy are:

  1. Students are actively engaged in trying a problem themselves vs. copying down a solution from the instructor.
  2. Students are given time to process the problem and learn from their mistakes in a low pressure, no risk scenario.
  3. Students have an opportunity to actively use the concept just presented to them.
  4. Students introduce themselves to their classmates and work together.
  5. Students have an extra credit incentive in being the first to solve the problem.
  6. Students who present their work gain practice in presenting.
  7. Instructor learns where students are making mistakes and can immediately correct the misconceptions before homework or exam time.
  8. Instructor is able to engage with students one-on-one.

What is an example (or two) of the task?

For example, after a topic on the forces on pipes during fluid flow (demonstrating the concepts of conservation of mass and momentum), students are given a problem of a pipe with an elbow to try for themselves during class time. The presented problem should be streamlined so as not to be too long or tedious. Longer problems can be presented in homework. The problems should related to the topic just presented in class so as to reinforce that day’s lecture topic. 

How do these tasks fit into my class?  How long will they take?

The method fit well into my class at the end of a large section of material or the end of class time. The instructor should make it clear that this will be an ICE problem so students can prepare in their notes to allow room for work. Some students also prefer not to ruin their class notes with mistakes, so alerting them upfront is important. The problem should take about 5-10 minutes maximum, and several minutes should be allowed at the end for the solution to be presented by a student and any questions answered.

Should I do these problems in groups?  How big?  Who chooses them?

Groups should be encouraged, as some students will not attempt the problem if they feel completely lost. Other students prefer to work by themselves for maximum efficiency. Both options are allowed. Group sizes seem to default to pairs and working with whoever is nearby.

For which topics should I assign them?

The instructor chooses the topics. Exact topics will depend on the course.

How should I grade these problems?  Should I grade these problems?

I do not think it is fair in my class to grade students on a concept they just learned minutes before. Grading an attempt also seems difficult because simply writing an equation could be an “attempt.” Collecting and pretending to grade is quickly learned by the students and goes against my teaching method. Additionally, students feel pressure to perform and impress if the work is collected. The goal of the exercise is for them to learn, not to be concerned that their grade is going to suffer or the instructor is going to judge them. Additionally, fairness would be an issue as not every student can get time with the instructor for help in the short period of time.

What pitfalls do I need to avoid?

Do not give problems that are too long. Make sure to put the necessary tables and figures on the screen for those students without their textbooks. Therefore, try to avoid problems that need many tables and figures as it will be hard to show them all on the screen. Walk around the classroom to help and ensure students are working. Do not give too much help to any one student, as this could be seen as unfair since extra credit is involved. Check the presenting student’s work (not just their answer) to ensure the correct solution ends up on the board. Allow time for questions at the end and to explain better any concepts that the presenting student did not explain well enough.

What do I need to explain to my students about this new classroom activity?

Most students enjoyed the activity and several said they appreciated it in the course evaluations. Therefore, no resistance to the activity was found, which made implementing it easier in my class. Essentially explain the purpose of the activity, how long it will take, that they can work together, and how there is an opportunity for extra credit and how it will work. After implementing ICE problems a couple of times, there is no need to keep explaining the method as they come to expect the exercises.