Flipped Class Model Turns AP Calculus 'Upside Down'

An AP calculus teacher shares her experience with moving homework into class and pushing video lectures outside of class.

by Wendy Roshan / October 11, 2012 0

Picture this: You’re a 17 year old AP Calculus student, four weeks away from one of the most difficult tests of your life. Your teacher is reviewing logarithmic differentiation – a topic that you’ve struggled with in the past. Sitting four rows back from the board, you’re frantically copying down the notes as fast as you can, when the bell rings. As your teacher begins erasing the board and announcing tonight’s homework assignment, you look down at your notes in defeat; you understand the material no better than when you walked through the classroom door an hour ago. Tonight’s problem set will undoubtedly leave you frustrated.

As an AP Calculus teacher, I am no stranger to the stress and anxiety that difficult material creates for students in situations like I just described. However, a few years ago, my daughter, Stacey, introduced me to a model of teaching – the flipped class – that has turned my classroom experience upside down, eliminating the phrase “rushed lesson” from my vocabulary, and making the above scenario a distant memory. 

When I began teaching AP Calculus a few years ago, I had been teaching the same way my entire life: lecturing during the day, and grading assignments and planning lessons at night. Since Stacey and I were teaching the course at the same time, we would go to the library together to plan our lessons.

However, in 2009, Stacey attended the Building Learning Communities Conference and learned about the flipped class. This radical approach to education reverses the traditional learning environment by moving homework into the classroom and having students watch the lectures at home. That year, Stacey began using Camtasia Studio to record videos of her lectures. She assigned these lectures for homework, thereby leaving class time to review difficult problem sets, discuss the real world applications of concepts and help students 1-on-1. 

After witnessing her success (and a lot of persuasion from Stacey), I finally agreed to give the flipped classroom a try. The results were astounding: last year, over half of my students earned a perfect score! More importantly, my students were thrilled with the new class format. They loved having the ability to pause, rewind and replay each lesson at their own pace, as often as they liked. Additionally, this model allowed for increased flexibility, ensuring that a student never missed (or misheard!) any lecture.

Another major benefit of the flipped class was evident this year when one student who really wanted to take AP Calculus was unable to fit the class into her schedule. Because of my new class format, she was able to take the class as an independent study. After watching the videos at home, she would come into my office during her free periods to complete problems, and I would sit nearby in case she needed help on difficult material. It ended up being a very successful solution for both of us, which lead to her earning a “5” on the AP exam.

When I began teaching in the early 1970s, I could not predict the amazing ways that technology would change my classroom. By replacing in-class lectures with video, I have become the facilitator of my class, helping my students to become better, smarter and more relaxed learners. I love walking into my classroom, wondering what types of thoughtful discussion and intellectual curiosity each day will bring.

Wendy Roshan started her career in Montgomery County public schools teaching Math. She taught in Tehran, Iran at the Tehran American School for 3 years, was an Adjunct Professor at Montgomery College, and taught at the Langley School in McLean, Virginia. She is currently a math teacher at the Madeira School in McLean, Virginia, where she serves as department chair.