Ecology Rocks! (Especially in a Flipped Classroom)

This group realized there was a fill material in the crevices of their "Roman Travertine" tile sample.

This group realized there was a fill material in the crevices of their “Roman Travertine” tile sample.

Today we discussed “natural factors” that affect architectural design, such as rock and soil composition. This tied directly to yesterday’s studio class on the HU Point. Today, I was using a technique known as the “flipped classroom” to teach Architectural Ecology. I learned about this technique during my Fulbright fellowship at DIT.

I had assigned my students to read a chapter before class. When they arrived, we started class with ten minutes of journaling.  I asked them to write about the aspect of the chapter they thought was most important to them regarding our site at the Hampton University Point, and to explain why.  I also asked them to identify a topic in the chapter that they didn’t fully understand and explain why/what they didn’t understand about it.

Journaling is my own way of assessing students’ level of understanding of the content.  After ten minutes, I collected journal papers then “flipped the classroom”.  Each student joined the other members of his/her learning group, discussed the issues of confusion they’d each identified, explained to each other what they understood (this is known as “peer teaching”), and researched information on line using their laptops and smart phones.

I circulated around the room, listening, observing,  pointing them in the right direction where necessary,  and making sure they were achieving accurate interpretations.

It became clear that soil and rock composition was the major topic of confusion, so I went ahead and distributed the rock samples I have on hand.  Each group got their own unique rock type to analyze, research, and introduce to the rest of the class. The students did a great job of staying on topic in their discussions, learning, and teaching leach other.

They made sense of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rock. They began to understand issues of texture, particle size, expandability, drainage, and bearing capacity while they were talking among themselves with my guidance.

A member of each group presented findings to the class and we discussed overarching issues.

Then I projected the Prezi file on the screen, which I’d formatted using a table of contents so we could zoom directly into whichever specific issues were causing confusion. In this case, we needed to go over the soil classification pyramid a bit, but they had already developed pretty strong understanding through the group discussions and rock presentations.

Amazingly, everyone stayed engaged for 1.25 hours!

I didn’t have to nag students to pay attention.

By the end, they seemed to have very good understanding of all the content of the chapter.  I found I had ten minutes to spare at the end to bush on topics of my choice (ones I thought a student or two might still have misconceptions about).

I am loving this new, more interactive, way of teaching.

It’s called “flipping the classroom” because the content is delivered before class (in this case, through a reading), and class time is used to gauge accuracy and depth of understanding and to build upon that base.  It seems to be a much better us of time than presenting everything with equal emphasis, before assessing if the students already understand it!

Not everyone came into the class having read, unfortunately. This problem should correct itself in the future because each student gets a grade for each journal entry. They have to show basic understanding of the reading in order to earn points. They generally start seeing the importance of this after a day or two.

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