What, Why, and How to Flip Your Classroom

What, Why, and How to Flip Your Classroom


The flipped classroom model is here to stay. This model, although not a golden bullet, puts the student firmly into the educational process. Think back over the last few years that you have been teaching or learning about teaching. What did you do when you came across a new idea? Did you investigate on your own? Did you seek others who had experiences they could share?

This is what the flipped classroom is all about: Putting students in charge of their learning process and allowing them to wrestle with ideas and topics before coming back to class with their own specific questions and seek guidance from the teacher. Often (but not always) there is some sort of online activity outside of the school day that students are responsible for. This could be a video lesson, a video about a lab set up, a discussion board inside of a learning management system (LMS), or any other vehicle that communicates the topic of the lesson outside of the normal class time instruction.

After viewing the material or participating in the discussion outside of the school day, students come to class and work in groups (or as a class) to discuss and ask specific questions about what they had done the previous night. The “homework” part of the day now occurs in the classroom, and direct feedback from the teacher can meet each student exactly where they are in the educational process.

The flipped class model takes the lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and puts it outside of the school day. The lecture, long a teacher’s go-to form of giving information, can now be done at home. The part that students really struggle with--analyzing, evaluating, and creating-can be done with the teacher at school. No longer does a student need to sit at the kitchen table, hopelessly lost by question three in the homework. The student can view the learning content and bring those specific questions to class the next day and talk with the teacher or other students. This is one of the reasons that the flipped classroom can be so impactful—all students now have the opportunity to ask the questions they need answered, instead of squeezing in a couple of questions before class ends.

The Benefits of the Flipped Classroom

For the teacher, fire drills, all school announcements, assemblies, severe weather, life of the school, and other distractions no longer interrupt the instruction. Now when those things happen, students might miss the opportunity to ask some questions, or work in their groups, but the instruction has been delivered. There are times during the school year when students have to miss class because of activities: sports, student council, the band/choir trip. When you have established a flipped classroom, those students will still have the opportunity to engage in class. They can squeeze in some work while traveling or in between events—no more questions like, “What did we do yesterday?” It is possible for any teacher at any level to create content specific learning for a flipped classroom.

Teachers can get to know students so much better and quicker than in a traditional lecture-style classroom. Since you are now going from group to group and student to student asking and answering questions, the relationship is much more of a two way street. As you get to know your students better, it becomes much easier to differentiate your instruction for each individual learner. When students are so involved in their learning, the learning is much stronger and it is easier for them to recall information. Flipping your classroom also allows for the teacher to more easily move into a game/project based classroom model, or use gamification or master learning.

In a flipped classroom model, students can review material at any time. When they are preparing for a test or need to review old material, they can find the lesson online. Busy students will not spend so much time trying to make up the homework, they just need to be sure and get the online content. Class time changes for the student as well, as it becomes much more focused on the lesson. While working in their groups student conversations are much more focused and gives them the opportunity to ask very specific questions about material. I tried to make sure that students were asking questions of each other before they asked me. Student homework time also reduces in the flipped classroom. For my students, I required 18 minutes a day outside of the classroom, as long as they worked during the entire class period—Imagine the science homework that is usually over an hour reduced to 15 minutes, or the literature reading becoming a short explanation from the teacher before a discussion the next day.

As I mentioned previously, the flipped classroom model is not a magic bullet that will pull every student in and make them super-passionate overachievers. There are some real struggles to implementation. There is a lot of work from the teacher side: preparation, recording, editing, posting, all far enough ahead of time so that everything is prepared for the students. Sometimes there are some costs that can creep in and be prohibitive, and taking the time to establish a web presence can be hard.

Parents will be concerned that the computer is teaching the students. This is so far from the truth: Remember that the strongest learning occurs at the top of Bloom’s Pyramid, and that will happen in your classroom. Parents will also be hesitant because they did not learn this way. Take the time to explain the entire process—most people are intimidated or scared of the unknown, and the flipped classroom to most parents is really scary. Make sure that parents understand exactly what is happening in your classroom. Make a video for them to watch also (watch mine here). Try your best to relax the fear that you won’t be teaching your students during class time.

Students will also resist this change—they are creatures of habit, just like the rest of us. True learning happens when we get out of our comfort zone and start working in places that are unfamiliar. Encourage them, help them, keep them accountable, and by the middle to end of October they will start to come around. I had a student who hated my class until spring break, then all of the sudden the lights turned on and she loved it. Be consistent and tie everything together for the students. This will help in so many ways.

There will be students who do not have access to the internet outside of the school day. These can be very difficult situations to organize a flipped classroom. Remember these students (at the secondary level especially) have to turn in typed papers. Think outside the box and reach the students where they are. Do that have access to a DVD player? You could put your lesson on a DVD and make several copies. Do they have a computer? Then put your lessons on a flashdrive and let them take it home. You could allow students to get their content during lunch or before/after school.

The flipped classroom will also create an environment that can be quite a bit louder that the rows and columns and silence that most teachers are used to. The students need to talk about what they are working on, they need to verbally wrestle with the topics, they need to argue with each other (in a safe and professional way). Once this happens, the volume of your classroom increases, which can be very scary for some teachers.

Getting started can be really difficult. When I made the switch to the flipped classroom, I worked all the time. I flipped three different math courses in one year, and was recording lessons all the time. My suggestion would be to start with a single unit, planned well in advance. Learn the software or the different apps that you are going to use. Set up a place to host your videos (I use Knowmia.com and YouTube), find a LMS that will work with your school and open an account. These things will take some time, and there is often a learning curve to all of them. Be patient and try something out. Make some mistakes and correct them.

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