Flipping the Classroom in an Algebra-based Physics Course at an Urban University

Event information
Venue:Academic Health Center 3-205


A significant fraction of contemporary students at state-supported universities suffer from two distinct stresses: Their background in Mathematics can be remarkably weak, and at the same time students work significant hours to support themselves and to make up the difference between rising tuition costs and the limits on Federal student loans. The combination of both of these issues simultaneously can result in disastrous affects on student learning in a formal course in physics. In this talk I will describe two approaches to confront these issues head on in a formal algebra-based physics course. The algebra-based physics course is taken mainly by students in the biological sciences or pre-professional programs (pre-medical, pre-pharmacy or health-related professions such as physical therapy, medical imaging or nutrition) who are required to do well in order to proceed academically. To mitigate weak mathematics skills we have made available to all students in the five weeks preceding the Fall term each year the onine mathematics tutorial system, ALEKS (www.aleks.com). ALEKS is a self-paced adaptive mathematics learning system which covers algebra, geometry, trigonometry and vectors up through pre-calculus. Significant gains in success rates have been documented over the past three years for those students who worked with ALEKS before classes start versus those with similar backgrounds who did not use the online tutorial system. To mitigate the problem of significant work schedules, we have introduced a flipped classroom model. In the flipped classroom approach, students work through extended readings combined with conceptual multiple choice tests and video tutorials in the four days before class each week. The class meets twice per week in a large tiered classroom of 135 seats. In the class the response system Learning Catalytics (learningcatalytics.com) is used to guide randomized groups of 5 students through solutions on representative homework problems. Over two years, we have made direct comparisons on formal tests between 459 students taking the flipped classroom model, and 1158 students who are in a standard lecture. All students take common midterms and final exams which make direct comparisons straightforward. Significant gains in success rates have been documented for students who are in the flipped-classroom model versus those students who are in standard lecture classes. Through combination of these two approaches the DWF (non-success) rates for all students have fallen from 35% to 25%, while the flipped classroom approach has reduced the DWF rate to below 15%.