Starting a Flipped Year: Part 5 Assessing Without a Test

Podcasts, paper summaries, observation lists, commentary videos, and more allow students to react and respond how they choose.

In the last episode of this blog series described a “math in context” history project using videos from @ExtraCreditz. the purpose of the project was to give my math students at all levels exposure to a concise (if severely abridged) version of the history of math from 600 BC onward. The assessment component for this assignment was as follows:

“I want 2 pages worth of response in the following categories”

  1. What did you find interesting?
  2. What did you learn that you did not know?
  3. What questions or interests did this spark in you?
  4. What are your feelings/opinions about what was in the history videos?

I was certain from our in-class discussion that even if the list for bullet point 1 was short, there would be more than enough listed under bullet point 2 at least.  I also encouraged students to focus far more on how they reacted and responded to the information rather than on the cold information itself.  The “2 pages” length I used as a unit of measurement but encouraged them not to turn in 2 pages of notes or a two page paper.  Alternatively, I also equated the 2 pages of info with a 6-9 minute reading or podcast.  I specifically stated they were not being graded on creativity, but that they were free to be as creative as they wished in expressing their ideas. 

Here are a few examples of what students created:


I had  some students do an audio only podcast of their thoughts and reflections.  One group even roped a friend who is not in my math class into their podcast as they “explained math history to him”.  Other students simply recorded their thoughts and responses.  

  Single student audio podcast response (click here)

Group Podcast (Warning lots of giggles and silliness only some math – Click Here)



I had some students who scrubbed through the videos and did a screen-cast of their commentary and responses.  Some students shared it only with me while others published the video to YouTube.  

Video commentary #1 

Video commentray #2

Written work: 

In spite of my personal preference that student not do a formal paper I accepted written work as an option.   My reason for discouraging written work was not to downplay the written word, but to encourage students to think outside their normal expectation for what qualifies as “homework”.  I am not grading grammar, structure, or penmanship what i am solely interested in is the personal response to the student to the material. I did like the honesty and candidness of this written piece. 

Written response #1 

In all of these cases, what I was looking for was the extent to which students engaged with the story that is the history of math. In the interest of full disclosure, there were numerous papers which could be be described as “sufficient”.   In fact, one of my most well rounded and talented students who draws deep connections and excels mathematically was among the most “sufficient”, while other students who normally do not excel mathematically took this opportunity to open up and share generously.  This is a key advantage to variety in assessment is opening a variety of opportunities to connect to different students. 

The bulk of the feedback I received, both verbally and in projects, centered around how this project opened their eyes and adjusted their perspective on the age and development of math.  Regardless of whether the student liked the project, there was begrudged admission that it had value to them.  In my book even begrudged admissions of value to students qualifies as a win. Because the flipped learning framework allows me to give this project along side the other beginning of the year activities without requiring class time I will be adding this to the rotation in my classes every year. The portion of this project that did happen within the class period was the rich discussion and followup component that allowed all students to share their thoughts and opinions. It is projects like this that allow flexibility for when and how students complete the project, how students demonstrate mastery or completion, and cross traditional content lines that make flipped learning a powerful tool. 


(From the editor) The Flipped Learning Network is a non-profit community of educators focused on sharing and supporting ideas and good practice in flipped, blended, and flexible learning environments that reflect the four pillars that help define F-L-I-P.  We are also a community built on collaboration and sharing. If you would like to share your thoughts, ideas, blogs, vlogs, tweets, toks, papers, questions, or comments with us we would love to hear from you via the comment discussions in our posts, through our contact page (, or via Twitter (we are @FlippedLearning) or Facebook


  • Thank you, Matthew, for sharing these ideas, both yours and your students’, with us. How timely — I had been searching for ways to assess my Current German Culture students’ engagement with the topical units in the course. Although I have flipped my Beginning German courses since 2013, I only now am starting to shake up the old testing approach in my seminars.
    Please keep the good ideas coming – I’m always looking forward to your posts!

  • Thank you for sharing this idea. I am adapting it for my Honors Geo students since we will not have final exams this year. I love that this will introduce them to what they will be doing in 3 years in Calculus.

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