Teacher Spotlight: Sophie Chen
Flipped Classroom: Supporting Students through Hybrid Learning
Education alumna Sophie Chen has been working as a math teacher for seven years since completing her Master’s in Education at UCLA Ed&IS in 20xx. She talks about how she has adapted to a hybrid learning model during the pandemic in a recent interview she gave for Magma Math Blog’s Teacher Spotlight series.
Interview by Jillian Mendoza (MagMath)
Tell me a little bit about your journey to becoming a teacher.
I got my Bachelor’s in Math and my Master’s in Education from UCLA. After college, I taught in a charter school in South LA for five years. Then, I moved to Boston and I started teaching in Dover, Massachusetts, where I’ve been for the past two years.
I come from a family of teachers- both my mom and grandma were teachers. During one of my many visits back to Shanghai, my grandma, who taught math, tried to help me solve a Chinese word problem, but no matter how many times she explained it, I just did not get it. Grandma told my mom after this incident that she was concerned about my math abilities. Who would’ve thought that I’d eventually followed her footsteps and became a math teacher too!
Through my own experience in high school, I realized that a good teacher could make a huge difference in how well their students understood math. I really enjoyed helping my friends with their math homework, so I figured teaching might be a good fit for me. Looking back, I’m so thankful that I chose this career path. I love the relationships that I get to have with my students. Watching them grow in both their math abilities, as well as in their character and maturity is so rewarding, and a lot of fun!
How interesting to have a family of teachers, I’m sure that makes for some interesting dinner conversation!
During my first year of teaching, I struggled a lot with classroom management. I tried to be really strict and my students were often defiant, and as a result, I’d go home many days feeling hurt and angry. Every time I complained to my mom though, she would remind me that teachers and students are on the same side, because we share the same goal- we all want what’s best for our students. Since then, I’ve learned to enforce rules, but to do so with love. As teachers, we can’t control what our students experience outside the classroom, but we can provide them with a safe and happy environment to learn in each day. We can provide structure in class so students know what to expect, and provide them with our support.
I agree! Tell me about one of the structures you use with students.
I implemented a flipped classroom this past year with a few other teachers from my school. Students watch pre-recorded videos of my lectures for homework. The next day in class, we work on a warm-up as a class that includes important or difficult concepts from the video they watched the night before. Students spend the rest of the class working on their homework while I walk up and down the rows, checking their answers and stopping to correct misconceptions when I see them.
Initially, we flipped our classes this year because it was hard to engage students in lecture over Zoom. Moreover, class absences due to COVID can make an already difficult math class unnecessarily harder. Pre-recorded lessons ensure that students can easily catch up if they missed class. However, I’ve really grown to love and appreciate a flipped classroom and plan on continuing to use it for the foreseeable future!
That’s a lot of positive feedback from students! Why do you think it worked?
The majority of students liked being able to get help in class on their homework. They also appreciated having the option to pause or rewatch videos. Students who had to miss class for whatever reason were able to catch up easily because all the videos were posted online. I think students really craved interaction with their teachers and peers this year during the pandemic, and flipping the classroom gave me more time to interact with them one-on-one.
Does the flipped classroom have any benefits for differentiation?
Yes! As teachers, we know that students learn at different speeds, and that it’s hard to absorb a lot of new information all at once, at the speed that the teacher is going. With the flipped classroom, if students feel like the video is going too fast, they can pause the video, rewind, and watch it again. A lot of students also rewatched videos to study for tests.
Even though we couldn’t physically sit students in groups due to social distancing rules, students still were able to help one another out during class time. They will ask one another questions and work with others who are on the same problems. I like to sit students near their friends once they’ve shown they can handle this responsibly. They learn when it is appropriate to chit-chat and when it is time to get work done and collaborate.
Do you think a flipped classroom can work for every teacher?
I think the flipped classroom works well case by case, but maybe not for every teacher. Students who are motivated to do their homework, but could use some extra reinforcement, will really benefit from the flipped classroom.
I used to be skeptical that a flipped classroom could ever work in my math class, but this year has really shown me otherwise. As with anything else, the first step is the hardest to take. If you do want to give a flipped classroom a try, be ready to commit for a longer period of time- a whole year, if possible. We didn’t really feel like our students had gotten into a groove until the end of the first quarter, so don’t give up too soon! And if you can get other teachers at your school to try it out with you, that would be even better. I’m so grateful to have been able to troubleshoot and exchange best practices with my coworkers.
Any words of wisdom to our fellow teachers?
Don't be so hard on yourself! As a young teacher fresh out of college, I wanted to be really good at teaching right away, but I’ve since learned that these things take time. You will refine your craft over the years, even when you don't notice your own growth. As long as you believe in your students and show up for yourself every day, you're doing an amazing job, so be proud of yourself!