My Version of Flipping Math

I recently got a new contract in Vancouver teaching Math 10 and Math 8.  While I feel pretty comfortable with the material in these courses, teaching math has some stark differences from science.  Whereas each junior science course is like a fresh start for the students, math isn’t. Each student in math is carrying years of baggage with them by the time they hit secondary school.  For Math 10, the baggage is even greater.  Some students enter these courses with confidence and anticipation, while others have trepidation and maybe even a great deal of problems.

The Flip

Given that I’ve never taught a math course where a lecture was the centre of the day’s events, I can’t really say that I’m flipping anything.  I’m designing my course flow as I see best and that’s about it.  However, I am definitely influenced by the flipped classroom movement, with help and discussions with people such as Graham Johnson and Carolyn Durley.

One thing that I took away from my physics courses last year is that I don’t like giving explanations or doing examples in front of the class without the kids first trying their own thing first.  As I understand the research in education, learning comes when people struggle with problems, mull them over, and go through a process of assimilation.

The Plan

When starting a new topic, my plan is that I give out a handout that guides the student through a process of learning about a topic.  This handout may be engaging, thought provoking, or perhaps an exposition of processes that reveal a method, skill or conceptual understanding.  It is not quite like a worksheet, because it’s not a worksheet that can be filled out by referencing other material.  Instead, the students have to follow the handout and use their own thinking to complete.  In many respects, this handout replaces a lecture or lesson notes. Below is one such handout, one of my first attempts.

I also hope to have several projects throughout the year.  These projects will be meant to be very open-ended.  The students will choose their own topic to explore and can produce any number of products: presentations, essays, stories, art, or any other type of creation.  The main requirement will be that their project incorporates topics from Math 10 in a meaningful way.  The projects will be graded on a pass/fail basis, with expectations clarified after I conduct a draft review of their project.


I want the students to be able to pace themselves as they move through math. After only a couple of classes, it is easy to see the great diversity of how fast students move through the topics.  I think it’s fair that students that work faster don’t have to do extra work to keep them busy while other kids are working the topic at a slower pace.  My handout is meant to accomodate self-pacing, where students can start a new handout/topic as needed.

I can see that pacing may be one of the biggest hurdles that we will face this year.  I think it may be very difficult to have students do whiteboard problems in the exploring stage of learning, given that they will be exploring at different times of the lesson/week. I’m bummed about this, and trying to think of a way around it.  Perhaps we can use whiteboarding as a way to approach challenging problems after everyone has engaged in the topic.  For those ahead in the course, they can use the whiteboarding as both a challenge and a review.

Student Centered

Is the above scheme student centered?  Yes and No.  No because I’m still the focus of the lesson, via the handout and practice questions.  The students have little voice in what they will be learning day-by-day.  As Grant Wiggins has pointed out, this is partially due to the very nature of high school algebra.  Algebra is broken down into bite sized skills and processes, where each individual topic is devoid of imagination.  As Wiggins says about algebra:

It is just a set of tools, not an intellectual discipline with larger meaning and an ongoing scholarship.

On the Yes side the question, I hope to incorporate aspects of the student centered classroom through projects. I hope these to be very much in the spirit of the Maker movement and guided by the ideas and principles in Invent to Learn, by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stage.

I’ve only had each class three times so far, and already my mind is swirling with ideas and questions.  I’ll be posting these in the days to come as time allows!