3 Flipped Classroom Activities For Problem Based Learning

By Tiffany Ford

As an instructor, I am always looking for new ways to implement flipped classroom activities. A recent survey of over 2,300 undergraduate students from across the country has shown that 45% of them are not learning the skills needed for critical thinking or complex reasoning. This is a chilling thought for college professors that are working hard to create positive learning outcomes. Students say they are not being challenged or given important and rigorous work.

Flipped Classroom Activities

If you are an instructor in a flipped classroom you are always looking for new and innovative ways to keep your students engaged with meaningful lessons. Since you are already thinking outside the box with your teaching style, you need activities that are simple and easy to implement but allow students to feel they are necessary.

Flipped classroom success is typically driven by the effectiveness of your class activities and the incentive that students have to come to class prepared. The challenge I have found is how I can provide meaningful learning opportunities in class that will be an incentive while still grabbing their attention. The key may lie in Problem Based Learning.

What is Problem Based Learning?

Problem Based Learning is a student-centered teaching technique where students learn about a subject by exploring the topic in an unstructured way. Like flipped classrooms, where the traditional activities are removed from the classroom and completed by the student on their own time, problem based learning flips the instruction. Instead of teaching the material and then requiring that the student apply the concepts, the problem is presented first and students learn the material by solving it.

One of the great things about using problem based learning concepts in your flipped classroom is the flexibility they provide. These assignments can be short, or they can take several class periods. Likewise, they can be completed individually or through group activities. I have found that when flipped classroom activities are problem based, students will engage their critical thinking skills and learn to handle new concepts that are seated in a real-world scenario.

Problem vs. Project Based Learning

It may not seem clear on the surface but there is a difference between problem based learning and Project-Based learning. It is unfortunate that these two topics share an acronym and are often used interchangeably as they are very different approaches. One of the primary differences is the outcome or result of the student’s learning. In problem based questions the outcome is typically focused on a real-life situation with an applicable result. Students are required to think about the best solution to a problem including ethical dilemmas and social repercussions. Project-Based lessons usually have real-world application but do not often introduce the other aspects of learning or application.

Think of this as the difference between constructing a visual poster about George Washington crossing the Delaware and a discussion about why he did it. Did he have other options? What would have been some possible repercussions if he had chosen another route?

With either technique it is going to require some preparation time. Creating effective problem based questions or scenarios can take time. You also need to think about how you will grade the outcome since there isn’t always a single right answer. However, if implemented with a little attention, you are going to find that you have truly flipped your classroom by changing the way you teach and not just changed the way your students consumed information.

Using Problem Based Learning in a Flipped Class

I have found that it is easy to get started creating activities that are centered around the concepts of problem based Learning. Here are some examples of ways you can begin to use these types of activities in your flipped classroom today:

Debate the Topic

Do you have a particularly hot topic in your curriculum? Allow your students to stage a debate. Sort your students into a pro and against for the topic and give them time to research to form their opinion. This allows students the opportunity to articulate their thoughts and and develop arguments to support their claims. On the spot speaking can drive problem solving skills and critical thinking, which improves information retention.

Student’s Choice

Allow students to vote on a list of special topics before the next class session. The topics should be relevant to their current class material but this allows the students some control over their learning. An example: for a U.S. History course focusing on the Civil War, students may want to learn about women’s roles, taxes on southern states, or how the President communicated with his troops. Create a poll that can be used to determine what the next topic for class will be and encourage students to vote. The activities presented in the next class period should highlight the highest voted topic.

Create Your Own Questions

Problem based learning can be used for almost any subject. In fact, many textbooks already contain questions that can be used or modified to work in a problem based environment. Look in the back of the chapter and I’m sure you’ll find a section of case studies, “extend your knowledge”, or “apply your knowledge” questions. You can also modify existing questions to make them more open-ended. For example, instead of “What states opposed slavery during the civil war?” change the question to something that will require students to apply the knowledge they’ve learned. A better question would be “Why did the confederate states oppose slavery being abolished?”. Encourage your students to make an argument and support a position instead of just rehashing information from the chapter.

What Happens in Your Flipped Classroom When You Use Problem-Based Learning?

I have found that these activities work best when they are driven by real-world problems that students understand as it helps to show the value of learning the material and drives the incentive to study it. By showing the value of the lesson, your flipped classroom students will become more engaged and find their incentive to complete your out-of-class lessons. With my students, I have found that they see the point in completing the out-of-class work and have even become excited about the activity they will be completing. With problem based learning, you want to explain the learning outcomes of the project so it is clear what they are getting out of it. My students have responded well to this and it has helped create a better dialogue about the class material and why they are learning it.

A key point to remember as an instructor is that students may not always be enthusiastic about your classroom activities unless you explain why they are doing it. You should focus on the learning benefits that the activity is providing. Don’t be afraid to try new things and experiment with different classroom activities to see what your students respond to. Not only will you begin to see a change in the way your students approach the work, but you will gain a better understanding of how to better motivate your students in the process.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.