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The New Trick that Transformed My Teaching

November 18, 2015

Master Teacher Guest Blog Series – Part 3: Fail Forward

Post 2 of 2

A tenet of TeachCycle is that to improve student outcomes, teachers must be willing to take risks, try new things, and “Fail Forward” should the outcome be less than positive.

Today, Master Teacher Joyce Baumann describes the alternative outcome of risk taking: when everything goes right, and the results are transformative. Enjoy!


Baumann-OldDogNewTrickYou have heard the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Very often this is true, but this old dog did manage to learn something that was truly transformational for my teaching and had a tremendous impact on my students’ learning.

After 20 years in the classroom, I didn’t think my teaching needed much more than some minor tweaking, but then the mentor that I worked with through BetterLesson’s Master Teacher Project made a suggestion. She was reading over some science lessons that I had created, and she suggested that I flip the lessons around. At first, I did not understand what she meant, so she explained that she wanted me to do the investigation with the students first and then teach the concept that was the lesson’s objective.

What? Are you kidding me? You want me to do the investigation and THEN teach the students the concepts that the investigation was built around?! Crazy talk, just plain crazy talk! This goes against everything I learned as a teacher. The students need to develop a basic understanding of the concept and learn critical vocabulary before the investigation so they can apply this knowledge and expand their learning. Do the investigation first?! This certainly would not make lesson planning guru, Madeline Hunter, proud.

But as I have grown older, I think the rebel side of me sneaks out every so often, so I decided to give it a try. I took my lessons and flipped them around. The first lesson that I flipped was one called Magical Milk. The students conducted a very simple investigation during this lesson. The video of the investigation shows the excitement that the investigation generated. The students couldn’t contain their excitement! The next day, they could not wait for science to begin. They wanted to share all about what they observed during our investigation. As this lesson progressed, it really hit me. By flipping the lesson around and doing the investigation first, my students enthusiasm for the lesson grew, but that was not the only benefit of flipping this lesson.

As I was teaching the lesson, I realized that the students came into the instruction portion of the lesson with background knowledge that they did not necessarily possess prior to the investigation. It helped to level the “playing field” and give all students a chance to participate in the discussion with the knowledge they gained from the investigation. My students with limited English proficiency were better able to participate in our class conversations as well. The depth that the lesson reached really surprised me.

I continued to flip my lessons whenever possible, making my science instruction truly inquiry-based. Our discussions as a class became richer, and my students’ depth of knowledge grew deeper and deeper. They were learning so much, and they really developed their observational and critical thinking skills, as they knew that our investigations would drive our instruction.

Sometimes, it is easy to become too comfortable in our teaching and to do things the way we have always done. But sometimes the smallest change will yield big results. By taking a risk and changing things up, I was able to create amazing learning opportunities for my students while breathing some new life into my teaching. That is what I call a win-win.




Joyce Baumann is a Kindergarten teacher in Cold Spring, Minnesota. In her 20-year career, she has been a finalist for the Minnesota Teacher of the Year, received the NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence, and served on the Minnesota Board of Teaching. Joyce was a member of both BetterLesson’s Science Master Teacher Project and the Math Master Teacher Project. To view all of Joyce’s great lessons, please click here.

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