Flipped Learning and 3rd Grade Saxon Math: Exploring the Options

It’s Thanksgiving Break here in the United States, and apparently it’s fairly common for new teachers like myself to spend much of their break thinking about their classroom, and how things could be improved. Over the last several months, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how I can improve my math lessons, which currently are my weakest lessons due in part to student engagement and in part to managing the time slot so that we can effectively get through all of the material. I have been exploring the concept of the flipped classroom, and whether or not my 3rd graders could handle an in-class flip of their math curriculum.

The Flipped Classroom

Before I discuss my thoughts on how I might implement this in my own classroom, I think it’s prudent to define the flipped classroom, and examine a model or two for flipped learning.

The flipped classroom is a concept that was pioneered by Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two teachers who noticed that the traditional learning model turned Bloom’s Taxonomy on its head. Teachers used class time to reach the lower levels of the taxonomy pictured below, in which students would work on learning the material with the teacher in the room. But the higher levels of the taxonomy, the creative, application assignments in which students would master the topics, were sent home as homework. Bergmann and Sams saw that class time could be used more effectively if teachers worked on the higher-level, harder tasks of creating and modeling with the students in-class, and sent the activities requiring lower-level thought (remembering, understanding) back home as homework.


A flipped classroom can accomplish this in a couple of ways. In a fully flipped classroom, a teacher will send videos home with the students that cover the lecture material. Usually there will be some sort of lower-level work associated with watching the video – an online quiz, for example, or a worksheet to complete. When the students come to class the next day, they will review the material from the lesson and complete activities in class to master it.

Research seems to support the effectiveness of this model. A case study completed by the Foundation for Flipped Learning at Clintondale High School in Clinton Township, Michigan shows vast improvement in the pass rate of at-risk students in a flipped environment. At the start of the study, the school’s pass rate was not good.


“In 2009–2010, the pass rate for students at Clintondale High School (CHS) in Clinton Township, Michigan, was low across all subject areas. Among freshmen, only 48 percent of students passed English language arts, 56 percent passed math, 59 percent passed science, and 72 percent passed social studies.” – Pearson Education Case Study.


But then they started flipping the classrooms. They tried it in one freshman social studies class in 2010-2011, and then implemented it in every class and every subject in 2011-2012. The resulting change was impressive.


“Test scores, graduation rates, and college attendance have increased at CHS, student engagement has improved dramatically, and discipline problems have declined in both number and severity. In the freshman class in the first flipped learning semester, the pass rate increased to 67 percent in English language arts, 69 percent in math, 78 percent in science, and 81 percent in social studies, representing an increase of 9 to 19 percentage points across the subjects. Discipline referrals declined by 66 percent.” Pearson Education Case Study


There are many reasons why, proponents say, a flipped classroom is that effective. First, it frees the teacher up to work individually with the students on the material. Instead of practicing it wrongly at home, the teacher has the chance to correct misunderstandings while the student is still learning the material. Second, it provides more opportunities for student engagement, and gives the students a chance to practice the material with other students. This allows the students to teach the material and correct the misconceptions others have, which in turn allows both students to refresh the basics of the subject over and over again. (This document summarizes a few of these points in greater depth).

There are, however, several struggles that could arise from using the flipped learning method. Many students, according to this source, have stated that they miss the instructional lecture time in the classroom, as it provided an opportunity for the students to ask questions of their instructor. There are also those who have expressed concerns about using technology that the students may not have access to at home – if they’re required to watch a video online, for example, that might be difficult in low-income areas in which there are few families who have access to the internet at home. It also takes a lot of preparation on the part of the teacher to record videos for each lecture that fully explains the topic at hand in the same sort of depth the teacher would use in the classroom.

At my level, there is the even deeper concern of sending 8 and 9 year olds out onto the unfiltered internet to watch videos at home, and in some cases they may not have the parent watching over their shoulder as they complete the work. Questions of attention span issues, technological capabilities of the students, and appropriateness of ads and videos that websites like YouTube might link to my teacher-made videos would raise some serious concerns with the parents of my students.

So I’m considering another option, one that would eliminate the need for an internet connection and parent influence at home to keep the children on track. Some schools have changed the idea slightly, and instead do the flip through centers in the classroom. This article from Edutopia goes more in-depth into how this would work. Basically, though, a teacher would have two or three groups of different performance levels. One group would watch the videos in class, another group would go over the concepts they just watched with the teacher, and a third group would work on the individual practice for the lesson. Of course, there are several ways in which this could be constructed, and this is just one model that could potentially work for the centers involved.

The Flipped Classroom and Saxon Math

In my class, we use the Saxon Math method, which requires about an hour and a half a day to get through the curriculum. That time allotment sends the students home with about 15 problems of mixed-review practice, all of which require the students to show their work in exacting detail. 3rd graders are seeing this type of math work for the first time – in previous grade levels, they took home worksheets in which the problems were already written out for them; in this grade level, they have to write out the problem and show the work correctly in order for it to be marked correct. I appreciate the accuracy that is taught through this method, but I feel for my students who have intense struggles with attention to detail, and thus suffer greatly in their math grades.

My hope is that, if I can implement an in-class, center-driven flipped math class, I would have more time to provide direct instruction to all of my students on the written practice material. I am considering using fundraising money that will soon arrive to purchase small Mp4 video players for each of my students and uploading video lectures to these players. They would watch the video in class in one of the centers, move to a time with me going over example problems with manipulatives, and then turn to another center to work on the written practice.

I will be considering this as I move forward, and I will be doing more research, but I’m looking at implementing a test-drive lesson using this model before our class leaves for the holidays in December. Flipped learning could be an excellent model if planned correctly, but it could also just as easily fall apart. Mismanagement of the time in class could lead to unstructured talk amongst the students that gets everyone off task; poor videos could lead to misunderstandings of the topics being studied; a lack of support at home could lead to the students not preparing at all for class the next day; if the students do not feel that they can come to the teacher with questions, they will perpetuate misunderstandings if the video wasn’t clear enough with its instructions. Although on the surface the flipped classroom seems straightforward enough, I believe that I need to research this topic more and study my curriculum thoroughly before I attempt it with my 3rd graders.

Has anyone had experience with the flipped classroom? I’d love to hear your thoughts!



7 Things You Should Know About Flipped Classrooms. (n.d.). Retrieved November 28, 2015, from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7081.pdf

About Jon. (n.d.). Retrieved November 28, 2015, from http://jonbergmann.com/about-m/

Flipped Learning Model Dramatically Improves Course Pass Rate for At-Risk Students. (2013). Retrieved November 28, 2015, from http://assets.pearsonschool.com/asset_mgr/current/201317/Clintondale_casestudy.pdf

Flipping the Classroom. (n.d.). Retrieved November 28, 2015, from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/flipping-the-classroom/

Gonzales, J. (2014, March 24). Modifying the Flipped Classroom: The “In-Class” Version. Retrieved November 28, 2015, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/flipped-classroom-in-class-version-jennifer-gonzalez

What Is Flipped Learning? (n.d.). Retrieved November 28, 2015, from http://flippedlearning.org/cms/lib07/VA01923112/Centricity/Domain/46/FLIP_handout_FNL_Web.pdf