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Flipping Natural Selection

Jennifer Kaltenbach
Biology Teacher, Ridge High School
Bernards Township, NJ

I teach biology in a large suburban high school in New Jersey. I have been slowly integrating the flipped model into my AP® Biology classes over the past 3 years. Each year I have improved my methodology, and each year I have seen improvements in student engagement and performance. This year I am almost 100% flipped. That doesn't mean I never talk to my students; I love to lecture! It just means that I keep my lectures short and focused on the more challenging material, leaving the introductory and review material for students to cover at home.

Every biology class does some sort of natural selection lab, and every teacher has his or her favorite: seeds and pliers on pie plates, yarn "worms" on felt "grass." Perhaps you have the kit version with colored moths on different backgrounds. I found that my students could understand the concept of natural selection, but they didn't see the beauty in it. They don't seem to get why it is such a fundamental part of our understanding of life. I am obsessed with Darwin—I'll admit it! I even have a Darwin finger puppet! I feel that if I could get students to see the idea of natural selection through Darwin's eyes (and Wallace's), as it unfolded for them, students would understand why scientists are so excited about evolution.

Facilitating flipped learning through video

Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has several videos on evolution. (If you have never explored the HHMIWeb site, I can't tell you enough—go! It has a wealth of material on many different levels and topics). I decided to show my students "The Making of a Theory." It was exactly the story I wanted to tell—how did Darwin and Wallace figure this out? The video is a bit longer than my normal flipped videos, but you can give students extra time to watch, or, if you use eduCanon, you could crop the video in 2 pieces and assign the pieces over 2 nights. I usually give it as a weekend assignment and have students watch the whole thing.

If you have never used eduCanon, it is also worth checking out. You upload videos from an array of sources and then can crop them (see above) or embed questions in them. As the video is playing, questions will pop up. Students log in to watch the video and cannot proceed without answering the questions. The best part is that you are able to get feedback about how they did. You can even embed links in the questions so if students get a question wrong, you can send them to another lesson or tutorial to reinforce the content. You can also embed a reflective pause, where you add a comment that asks them to think or take notes, or you check in and say, "Hey, did you get that last part?" These reflective pauses are a nice way to get them to interact with the information during the video, and they go a step beyond taking notes or answering questions after the video is over. I also post the video link on my website, so if students feel the need to watch it again, they can do so without having to answer the questions twice. This is the video lesson link. My students loved it! Even though it was longer than a typical flipped video, my students came in talking about the video and how engaging it was. We had an amazing class discussion the following period, and I could tell they were really processing all the information in the video.

Once students have done the lab, they get the "how." After watching the video, they (hopefully) get the "wow." This accomplishes my goals for natural selection and sets students up to be curious about the "how" in more detail, which is the rest of the evolution unit!