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Mars students give class mixed reviews

Janet Adams, a physics teacher at Mars High School, helps students with homework in her flipped classroom on Friday. In the flipped classroom, students watch lectures online at home in the evening. They do their homework in the classroom the next day where the teacher can help them with any problems they might have.

ADAMS TWP — Physics teacher Janet Adams strolled among the hard-at-work students in her classroom at Mars High School, but instead of giving a lecture on Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, Adams helped the students with their homework.

In 2012, a new learning concept known as the “flipped classroom” method was implemented in all physics classes at the high school. The method sees students watch lectures online at home, during which they can take notes. The students then complete their homework in the classroom the next day, where teachers help them with any problems they might have.

Students also complete labs and other activities in class under the guidance of their teacher.

Mars High will hold the seventh annual Flipped Learning Conference in June. Known as FlipCon 2014, the conference will feature as keynote speakers Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, educators and co-authors of “Flipped Learning: Gateway to Student Engagement,” as well as Molly Schroeder, a Google Education Summits presenter and school technology integration specialist.

In her experience with the flipped classroom method, Adams finds it is important for teachers to interact with students while they figure out the physics concepts in their homework. She said in a traditional classroom, students hear the lecture, then if they get stuck on their homework in the evening, the homework must be addressed during class the next day.

She said the flipped classroom allows students to work on more intensive material, because the teacher is there to help. She said it is also a great way to enhance group activity, as students can help one another at the four-seat tables in the physics classrooms.

“The hallmark of the flipped classroom is that the students are at the center of the learning process,” Adams said.

Students working on the orbit of the planet Mercury as part of the universal gravitation curriculum used rulers and protractors to plot Kepler’s laws on paper as Adams moved around the room ensuring everyone was up to speed.

Sophomore Elise Sheehy said the flipped classroom works well for physics because she would have difficulty figuring out the homework in the evening without the support of Adams.

Her fellow sophomore Jordan Seles agreed, and said physics is a subject that must be explained in detail while the concepts are being learned. She added that in the flipped classroom, students can help one another figure out the murkier aspects of physics.

Allen Shaffer, a senior, called the flipped classroom a “great model,” and said he appreciates the online lectures.

“They are a great study tool, because there is never a moment when you are without a lecture,” Allen said.

Erin Wolfers, a junior, said the videos allow students to proceed at their own pace.

“You can always go back and watch it again if you don’t understand something the first time,” Erin said.

Luke Rouda said the shift to the flipped classroom method was a challenge, given that the high school students learned in traditional classrooms for several years.

“It takes some getting used to,” Luke said. “It’s different from every class we’ve ever taken in our entire lives.”

Ray Druzak, a junior, said he is “not a big fan” of the new teaching method. He said he is never sure what parts of the online videos to take notes on at home.

“You’re on your own,” Ray said.

Fellow junior Thomas Hannon agreed, saying he feels a lack of guidance in the setting. He also said students can become distracted at home while trying to watch the lecture videos.

Thomas said a benefit of the flipped classroom is that slower students do not hold more advanced students back as the class proceeds through the material.

The students seemed to appreciate the school district’s willingness to try new innovations.

“I think Mars is very bold,” said Teah Amato. “They’re smart to try it. If it doesn’t work out, we can go back to the (traditional classroom).”

Allen said trying the flipped classroom shows the district cares about furthering learning in general.

“They truly want us to understand the material,” Allen said. “That’s a good feeling.”