What Happens When You Combine Flipped Mastery and PBL? BOOM!

Lead Features February 20 / February 26, 2020

 – Dan Jones –

As many of you may know, to say I am passionate about Project-based Learning is an understatement. This school year, I re-evaluated my PBL program to see how I could blend Project-based Learning with Mastery Learning. I had no idea what to expect or if there was a realistic way to make this new approach work. I know there are some amazing educators doing Mastery Learning, and I know there are amazing educators doing PBL, but what I couldn’t find is anyone who was combining the two. So deep into the jungle, I went, and what I found was completely unexpected. 

Innovation starts here

I began my year by redesigning my lessons so that they were in the form of a HyperDoc. This was a game-changer. A HyperDoc is a Google Doc, Microsoft Word document, One Note, etc. designed to engage students with learning experiences presented in a specific order. The experiences tend to be links that direct the students to particular tools such as videos, slideshows, activities, websites, and even assessments. I partnered with Jake Habegger, a guru in the area of HyperDocs and Mastery Learning. What I learned from Jake was how to structure each lesson so that they were manageable, intuitive, and directed at the learning. I was able to include every component I was already using in my classroom: Unit Essential Questions, lessons driving questions, video instruction or Google slide presentations and activities, required reading material, and reflective questioning. Then I was able to include a Mastery element: Mastery Checks. The process of developing the HyperDocs was through trial and error. I finally arrived at a format that worked for my students. They understood how the flow of the lessons occurs, how to navigate the document, and how to meet the expectation I set for each lesson.

Teaching with the GEEFL

Jake explained to me that the organization of a HyperDoc is vital to a student’s success with the content. If information was out of order, or if links didn’t work, the HyperDoc would just frustrate and confuse the student. The HyperDoc is divided into sections. I made each section by inserting tables within the Google Doc. Students must understand that every aspect of the HyperDoc is essential. To convey that, I included the Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning with each aspect of the HyperDoc. To see exactly what my students see, here is a lesson about the decline of feudalism in Western Europe

Another aspect I had to process in my new PBL Mastery set-up was managing an asynchronous classroom. If I was going to have students moving through content in a self-paced manner, that meant students were all going to be at different points in the curriculum, and they would all be doing something different. To me, that sounded like a logistical nightmare, and in an effort to be transparent, it has been the most challenging part of the entire journey this year. I began the year trying to go paperless. I was using Google Sheets to keep track of who was where and when they completed each component of each lesson. At first, this was amazing. I knew where my students were in the curriculum exactly, and I knew how much of the curriculum they had mastered. I truly felt like I knew my students in ways I had always wanted but never had in years past. As the year progressed, keeping track of everything was becoming OVERWHELMING. This past January, I did something a little more traditional; I went with a binder method. The traditional method seemed more simplistic, and I was less likely to forget to mark down when each item had been completed. My students have even started to say at the beginning of our Mastery conversations, “Mr. Jones, you need your Unit binder.” I now have a class roster with all of the assignments for that particular unit of study in a binder. When students complete different components, I pull out the binder and write down what was completed and when.

First things first

Every unit of study begins the way my PBL units always begin: research. Students are given a rubric for the unit, and they research the Essential Question as well as unit topics and terms. This research helps the students determine how they would like to represent the unit of study in project form. The students share their research within a small group and get feedback from their peers on their project concept. Once the students finish these steps, they start in on the HyperDoc. When the students finish the HyperDoc, they take a Mastery Check to evaluate their understanding of the content covered in the lesson. 

The Mastery Checks were impressive, but I found out they were not enough. My Mastery Checks were set up in Google Forms, and I password protected them so that students had to take them in class. Each Mastery Check was a set of four or five multiple-choice questions, and because my school uses standards-based grading (4-1), my students had to score a 100 percent to “pass” the Mastery Check. This result was remarkable because it taught the students how to study. Students are required to generate five note cards for each lesson from which to study. Students spend time going over their notes, reviewing their note cards, as well as using partners to quiz them about the content. Students learned very quickly how much time was required of them to study to pass this assessment type. They also liked that if they didn’t pass the Mastery Check the first time, there were multiple versions of that assessment. Within a Mastery setting, students are able to reassess their understanding until they have demonstrated Mastery. So why wasn’t this enough? Well, no depth of understanding was demonstrated. After all, it was just a short multiple-choice assessment. After dialoguing with my administrators regarding this issue, we determined that it was essential that the students have a conversation with me once they passed the Mastery Check. I labeled the dialogue a Mastery conversation. It became my opportunity to talk with every single student about the content and help them fill in any gaps in their understanding and allow them to express the depth of their understanding of the content. Believe it or not, this is the component that almost every single student has said that they appreciate the most. 

No one, and I mean no one, reaches the end of a unit of study not knowing what was covered. Each and every child has said they are learning more this year than ever before, and their projects have been taken to a whole new level. 


Tracking progress

After the Mastery conversation, students engage in the PBL aspect of the unit. Once a student has demonstrated mastery of the content through the Mastery Check and the Mastery conversation, they are ready to go and apply that understanding in a meaningful way. I created a project design worksheet that allows the students to sketch out how they want to integrate the lesson’s content into their project. Then there is space for the students to write why they have chosen to represent the lesson in their desired manner. Once the students complete this step, they bring it to me to sign off on. This is the step that I keep track of in my binder log. After I have signed off on the project idea, the students begin creating that element of their project. This does a couple of things. It forces the students to stop and think through their project. It allows me to keep tabs on the progress of the students’ projects, preventing them from going down any ‘blind alleys.’ It also ensures that all aspects of the unit are included in the project. I no longer have students that say, “I forgot to include that part.” 

By holding students to a degree of Mastery before they engage in the project, they are applying their understanding more accurately. No one, and I mean no one, reaches the end of a unit of study not knowing what was covered. Each and every child has said they are learning more this year than ever before, and their projects have been taken to a whole new level. 

Continual improvement

The PBL Mastery set up is still evolving. Even as I write this, I am thinking about ways to develop more collaboration within the process. If every student is working on things at a slightly different pace, Mastery can isolate the learner, and the community within the classroom doesn’t flourish. Being that collaboration is a key element (GEEFL) in the group space, it is an area that I know needs attention. I am currently looking at grouping students using Núria Hernández Nanclares’ jigsaw method. Combining different Flipped Learning approaches has enabled me to create a dynamic and engaging learning environment that pushes each and every student to be their best every single day. 

Now that we are in a new year and a new decade, how are you taking your flipped classroom to the next level? I encourage you to use the GEEFL to evaluate how you can elevate your approach to Flipped Learning. And if you have any suggestions for increasing collaboration in my classroom, I would love to hear from you!

Do you see a typo or an error? Let us know.

Dan Jones
Dan Jones Jones
Dan Jones is a middle school social studies teacher at the Richland School of Academic Arts. He earned a BS in Middle Grades Education from Ashland University and a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from American College of Education. Dan is the author of Flipped 3.0 Project Based Learning: An Insanely Simple Guide. He is a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty and has earned numerous FLGI certifications including the certification Flipped Learning 3.0 Master Class Facilitator Certification Level - I.

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