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The Differentiated Flip

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

I teach biology in a large suburban New Jersey high school. Over the past 3 years, I have been slowly integrating the flipped model into my AP® Biology classes. Each year I improve my methodology, and each year I see improved results and better engagement. This year I'm almost 100% flipped.

Differentiated instruction (DI) has become a focus in my district—and education in general. If you're a teacher looking to practice DI, flipping your classroom makes it easy. You can vary the videos your students watch and the types of questions they must answer, and with more available class time, you can then work with small groups or individuals.

Even in AP®, I always have a few students who come in and confuse independent and dependent variables. Most students understand the terms and can apply them, but a few just can't get them straight. To isolate those who need extra help, I use the data from a short pre-test that I give to assess their prior knowledge.

Helping students grasp key concepts

As our very first lab, we're going to design and run pill bug behavior experiments. I want to get all students on par with the terms. On an afternoon prior to the lab, I'll email just those who need assistance, and explain that, based on their pre-test performance, I want to help them understand the concepts. I'll attach to the email a short worksheet with problems and a written explanation of the terms.

I'll also include a link to this funny animated video: Scientific Variables! I didn't make it, nor could I ever have made it. Videos like this are available on YouTube. Many of them grant permission to use in the classroom (as this one does), so you should have no qualms about borrowing them.

Targeting learners at all levels

Perhaps you're worried about being fair and want to assign everyone homework. If that's the case (although I would echo the oft-heard statement that fair and equal are not the same thing), you could find an audio or video clip of research for students who already understand variables. Have these students listen to/watch information about a current research project and dissect it into the parts of an experiment. This will provide reinforcement of concepts they know and exposure to real science at the same time. You could even have the students find their own research to dissect.

  • NPR is an excellent source for podcasts on current research.
  • TED talks and TED-Ed lessons about research are also great because you can isolate parts of a video to show students.

Once everyone is back in class, you'll have more time to check on the students who are struggling. You can choose a few of the students who did the more advanced work to talk about the research they viewed, and then roll into having everybody design their own pill bug experiment.