Monday, April 9, 2012

Math Anxiety and The Flipped Classroom

I have been trying to avoid taking a stand on the flipped classroom, because in all honesty, I can see advantages if it's done right.'s where I am a bit of a pessimist, mainly because I have been in the math and technology education field for over 22 years now - I don't think it's going to be done right MOST OF THE TIME!  I think it's just a flipped model of the same old thing - lecture and practice: we've just flipped where those things happen and patted ourselves on the back that we are 'integrating technology'.   A lecture is still a lecture and not all that engaging no matter if it's in person or on a computer.

Hopefully I am wrong - but I don't think I am.

Image courtesy of 'flipped classroom'
I have had the advantage of seeing K-12 education from various perspectives (teacher, administrator, consultant, teacher trainer, and vendor), and in my very diverse set of experiences, have seen the 'traditionalist' method of math instruction (i.e. lecture and drill-and-kill) win out. Especially in our standardized testing arena. Basically, I don't think the flipped classroom approach is going to be done right most of the time, and by right, I mean truly taking the time in classrooms to focus on engaging students, expanding understanding, doing hands-on learning using dynamic math software, collaboration, cooperative learning, and exploring beyond the algorithms.  What I think the more likely case, particularly in math (and again, just my humble opinion here) is that the flipped classroom will be lecture at home (ugh!) and going over homework and practice problems in class (double ugh!)

Which leads me to why I am even speaking up right now.

I read this article today, Demystifying Math Could Ease Anxiety regarding a recent Stanford study on math anxiety.  I will let you read the article, but basically the gist of it is that if we could teach math in such a way where it wasn't a mystery, but something real and reasonable, then we would eliminate much of the anxiety.  Some key lines from the article resonated with me:

Image courtesy of
"...the way math has been taught for years probably doesn't help, say scientists and teachers alike. Children are often instructed to remember processes and equations without a firm understanding of why those equations work"
"Sometimes when we over-standardize how to do math and take the reasoning out of it, it becomes confusing."
"You're forced to do something over and over again and you know nothing about it - wouldn't you be anxious too?"

Hopefully now you can see why I felt the urge to speak up about the flipped classroom.  In my opinion, it is simply going to increase math anxiety. Watching lectures of how to do math is simply perpetuating the idea that math is a bunch of rules and steps needed to get to an answer. And whether you watch those lectures at home on a computer or listen to a teacher lecture in a classroom, it's still a lecture - a how-to, a standardization of something they probably won't understand because there is no context attached. No - I am a believer in real-world math (see my post at  called What do you wonder? Real-world math problems are everywhere) and the use of technology that is dynamic and exploratory (i.e. Sketchpad, TinkerPlots, Fathom) versus rote and confining.

I hope I am wrong about the flipped classroom, since it seems it has become the golden child of education these days.  I will admit, I have read some articles and blogs that describe flipped classrooms that seem to have potential. For now though, I will keep promoting what I think is good math instruction - a teacher and students using dynamic technology, engaging, collaborative inquiry learning that is hands-on, real-world and connected rather than a bunch of mystery numbers and formulaic steps to memorize.

For another commentary related to math anxiety, read Ian Rosenfield's blog post The Big Bad Math


Brian E. Bennett said...

I agree with your anxiety about the flipped class done wrong the majority of the time. I hear horror stories of teachers playing video and then sitting back and reading the newspaper (and no, that isn't hyperbole). But, instead of being afraid or completely turned off by the idea, we need to support those teachers interested in using it so they use it well.
One of the best flipped resources I always show is Dan Meyer (I'm sure you're familiar with him). The point being that video in flipped classrooms is not always instructional. I use it for extension just as much as direct instruction. So, again, let's work together to share a true flipped class rather than the same old thing with a new hat.

Karen Greenhaus said...


I completely agree that the flipped classroom idea, when done correctly, is terrific. Dan Meyers, Mathalicious (Karim Ani), Yummymath (Brian Marks) are examples of this. But, the model that seems to be promoted is Khan Academy type videos, which are the epitomy of what I am referencing and what, unfortunately, I think is being held up as the model. That I guess is my fear - not the flipped idea, but the 'videos' we are using.

I am with you on working together - trying my best to support teachers as well as I can in my own small way!!