Pop Quiz: What is better than a flipped classroom?

by: Silas Townes, Instructor
Department of Chemistry, Cascades

Many educators have heard of or participated in the idea of flipped classrooms. The idea is to spend class time engaging with students in problem-solving instead of talking at them. Although good in principle, if not done properly, it can have a negative effect. (Jarvis, C 2020, “The flip side of flipped classrooms,” C&EN, vol 98, no. 3) So should we abandon the idea and go back to traditional lectures?

The T4 talk, called “Class Time – Lecture and Active Learning,” presented by Inara Scott, argues there is a middle ground, using a combination of lectures and activities to encourage active learning. In her presentation, Dean Scott uses a combination of lecture and planned activities to demonstrate how learning works and how we can develop the use of complex skills.

She began by using an electronic poll to assess her audience’s use of active learning. She then provided us with partial notes we could use to follow along. Other tactics she used were breakout groups, a pop-quiz, using interesting cases (she is a lawyer) to make points and create common knowledge, and finally gave us time to reflect on the lesson.

I am a user of TopHat, the electronic version of clickers, and though I try to integrate active learning into my chemistry classes, two ideas that are lacking in my class are pop-quiz questions and reflection. With it being an exam week, I felt introducing more pop-quiz questions in class could be helpful as well as being easy to implement with TopHat.

In my next lecture, I added three questions designed to quiz students on a concept I had covered 3-5 minutes earlier. The idea from the T4 talk was that students retain information better if their knowledge is tested, often called the “testing effect,” a well-documented concept (Carrier, M.; Pashler, H. (1992). “The influence of retrieval on retention.” Memory & Cognition. 20 (6): 632–642.)

For example, we had learned new terms when discussing chemical reactions, unimolecular, bimolecular, and trimolecular. They refer to how many molecules must collide with enough energy and correct orientation to have a chemical reaction. I asked them to tell me which would be most rare a few minutes after they learned the concept. It is trimolecular, which we had discussed as being very rare, but only 70% of the class got it correct. This result gave me a chance to assess their knowledge and take a minute to reflect. Were they not understanding the concept or the terms? I did this several other times in class with similar results. I believe it challenged them to be more engaged as well as giving me some instant feedback on their understanding.

Though I am early in my career, it does seem like there is a sweet spot in combining lectures with active learning. Many students can learn in the lecture environment, especially if it is engaging, and not for too long without a change of pace. I will continue to try to find that sweet spot and hope you will join me, ideally sharing our successes and failures along the way.

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