The Little Things Matter

Lead Features 19 / April 16, 2019

–Peter Santoro–

“With Flipped Learning, we all have the ‘gift’ of time.”

I’ve wrestled with the issue of student curiosity for a while. Implementing Flipped Learning helped me take steps toward encouraging my students to express curiosity. Inquiry learning at the beginning of a study unit helps students see the big picture and does cause some of them to be motivated. Unfortunately, years of complacency and apathy are difficult to overcome. I’m sure some of their previous teachers have tried a few strategies. Somehow, I still had the feeling that I fell short of really promoting intellectual curiosity to the extent I would like.



The little things we do as teachers can have such dramatic impacts on our students. Caring about them, getting to know them, giving them a safe place to learn. I found that giving my students choice, which by itself, doesn’t seem to be huge or dramatic, was so impactful for all of them. I couldn’t have predicted their reactions. All these seem so natural for us as teachers, but sadly, not all teachers are like us. Little things mean a lot to our students in ways we might never imagine.

One of the amazing benefits of Flipped Learning is getting to know our students better and learning what interests they have. I have two classes of seniors in an Introductory Calculus class. These students have struggled with Math for most of their career in school. In fact, most of them are in the bottom 40% of their graduating class. To say they have little motivation would be an understatement.

Most of the students have heard that I’m the cool teacher who teaches differently from every other teacher in the building. So I have at least a little bit of a “hook” with them when the school year starts. After explaining what Flipped Learning is and how they need to work with it, they are interested in seeing where things will lead. I also use a strategy called Mastery Learning, which is where the students have to demonstrate mastery at every skill level, and at first, they are skeptical. They have to take these quick five problem quizzes to demonstrate their mastery of the various skills we are learning. Then comes the first test, then the second test. After they see their grades, they almost can’t believe that they have achieved some level of success with Math. So the school year moves on. Their parents have also bought into the Flipped Learning model, especially after seeing their children’s grades.

Now that they are seeing a level of success they have never before experienced, their motivation is improving. I’m not one to just be happy with the status quo, so I was determined to expand their horizons. One of the missions we have as high school teachers is to get our students ready for college. Flipped Learning certainly does prepare our students, but there is much more for them to learn and experience. One topic that comes up quite often in my school is how to encourage/expand student curiosity. We, as teachers, are lifelong learners. How do we move our students along that continuum to become lifelong learners also? There are a lot of little things that I do to communicate to my students that I am a lifelong learner. I tell them about the conferences I attend and what I’ve learned. I tell them about the conferences I’ve spoken at as well. I want them to know that I am a lifelong learner. I want to be that example for them.



As my practice of Flipped Learning has grown and changed over the years, I have felt safe trying new things with my students. One thing I had been contemplating for quite some time is Project Based Learning. Fortunately, Dan Jones’ book, Flipped 3.0 Project Based Learning: An Insanely Simple Guide, arrived in time for me to get up the nerve to step into PBL. In looking at the Universal Design for Learning, I decided that PBL would be the perfect opportunity to move my practice of teaching towards the UDL. The Universal Design for Learning states that teachers need to present information and content in different ways; differentiate the ways that students can express what they know; and stimulate interest and motivation for learning.  

I enlisted the assistance of my school librarian. She is truly spectacular. I gave the students the project and the guidelines. I decided to assign them something with content that they could easily understand. I wanted to see how their creativity could be showcased. That is where I wanted their efforts to be…creative in demonstrating what they learned. I assigned them to groups before we got started. I also chose a project from NASA. They had to watch a space shuttle launch. My students were excited and wanted to learn more. They just ate this up! The school librarian showed them several examples of things they could do to demonstrate what they learned.

She showed them how to:

    1. Create a PodCast
    2. Use the green screen we have in school
    3. Use Prezi
    4. Create a Jeopardy game
    5. Use Kahoot
    6. Write a newsletter
    7. Use Augmented Reality apps
    8. Use Virtual Reality apps



After doing their research, each group had to decide how to demonstrate their learning. The problem was, they were waiting for me to tell them what to do! After they realized I wasn’t going to do that, each group chose one option, most groups changed their minds, but eventually, they all settled into a decision.  

After giving them a week to get together on their own time with their respective groups, it became time for my students to show me, and the rest of the class, their work. They were so creative and thorough. It was difficult for me to believe that these students were in the bottom 40% of the graduating class! I was truly astounded, and I think that they even surprised each other with the quality of their work. This turned out so much better than I ever thought it would. My students presented with Augmented Reality, Kahoot, Jeopardy games, Prezi, and a newscast-style presentation using the green screen.

In debriefing the classes afterward, I asked them why they struggled with choosing a method of presentation. I already knew the answer, but I wanted to hear it in their own words. They told me that they had never, ever, been given a choice and that nobody ever asked them what they wanted to do. All they had ever known was traditional, written tests.

I told them how impressed I was with their work and how proud I was of them all. I asked them why they thought they did such amazing work. They all told me that because I gave them choices, they felt as if they truly owned their learning. I asked them if they felt more empowered, not only in my class but in other classes, to take ownership of their learning. My students all said they definitely felt empowered in my class, but sadly, not so much in their other classes. My students all asked me if they could do at least one more PBL activity before the school year ends in June. I will do that with them in late May/early June.

With Flipped Learning, we all have the “gift” of time in our classes. Everyone can make small changes in their teaching practice. All those small changes seem to multiply and have the potential to have a tremendous impact on our students. Explore the Universal Design for Learning (click the link above). Fortunately Flipped Learning gives us a head start with Principle 1: presenting information and content in different ways. Start exploring Principle 2: differentiate the ways that students can express what they know. Let your creativity flow. Take small steps in offering your students different ways to express what they know. Just doing something different could very well spark curiosity in unexpected ways.


Peter Santoro
Peter Santoro
I have been teaching High School Mathematics for 12 years. This is the fifth year I am “Flipping” and my third year with Flipped Mastery. In addition to two sections of Introductory Calculus, I also teach one section of Geometry and two sections of Mathematics Research Honors. In addition, I am the coach of the Garden City High School Math Team (Mathletes). I am a Founding Member of the FLGI International Faculty as well as an FLGI Master Teacher and a member of the FLGI Insanely Smart Panel on the innovative uses of class time.

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