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Should You Flip Your Classroom?

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At its core, "flipped instruction" refers to moving aspects of teaching out of the classroom and into the homework space. With the advent of new technologies, specifically the ability to record digitally annotated and narrated screencasts, instructional videos have become a common medium in the flipped classroom. Although not limited to videos, a flipped classroom most often harnesses different forms of instructional video published online for students.

Despite recent buzz, catalyzed primarily by Salman Khan's TED talk, flipped instruction is by no means a new methodology. In the early 19th century, General Sylvanus Thayer created a system at West Point where engineering students, given a set of materials, were responsible for obtaining core content prior to coming to class. The classroom space was then used for critical thinking and group problem solving.

The Pros

Advocates of the flipped classroom point to its potential as a time-shifting tool. Jac de Haan, author of the blog Technology with Intention articulates this well:

". . . the focus of flipped teaching is different from other examples in that the technology itself is simply a tool for flexible communication that allows educators to differentiate instruction to meet individual student needs and spend more time in the classroom focused on collaboration and higher-order thinking."

And Cons

Critics of the flipped classroom argue that online instruction puts students that lack Internet access at a disadvantage. Moreover, whether delivered in class or via instructional videos, lecture is still a poor mode of information transfer. This argument is outlined very well in Harvard Physics professor Eric Mazur's talk Confessions of a Converted Lecturer.

Flipped Classroom in Perspective

Personally, I feel the current flipped classroom hype is blown way out of proportion. The flipped classroom is a simple concept that needs no title. Good teaching, regardless of discipline, should always limit passive transfer of knowledge in class, and promote learning environments built on the tenants of inquiry, collaboration and critical thinking. We, as educators, must strive to guide students through perplexing situations, and more importantly, work with one another to develop the pedagogical skills to do so. Keeping this in mind, good teaching comes in many forms, and the flipped-classroom mentality can be one of many solutions for educators.

As an instructor of Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry, I find myself torn in two directions. The science teacher in me is deeply committed to the process of inquiry, and arming my students with the skills needed to construct and test their own ideas. The AP teacher in me fears sending my students off to their examination in May having covered only a portion of all the content required. Given this tension, I have found merging aspects of inquiry learning and video-based instruction helps me address both needs. My blog at CyclesOfLearning.com has a more detailed explanation of how I use this method in my AP Chemistry class. Here's a blog post by Jackie Gerstein that clearly places flipped instruction in the context of an inquiry learning cycle.


If, like me, you are interested in using aspects of the flipped classroom to address an issue in your practice, I encourage you to reflect on the following steps first:

Step 1: Identify your current or desired teaching style.

Step 2: Ask yourself this question: Given my style, do I currently use class time to teach any low level, procedural, algorithmic concepts?

Step 3: If yes, begin by creating opportunities for students to obtain this information outside of the classroom. (More info on creating annotated and narrated instructional videos).

Step 4: Include a system that encourages reflection and synthesis of homework-based instruction (Click here and here for ways to make instructional videos more interactive and reflective).

Hopefully the above steps are a helpful. As we are all aware, teaching can be a very powerful, and often very personal act, where the right way is as diverse as the students we are blessed to work with. Parker Palmer reflects on this notion:

"Good teaching cannot be reduced to one technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher."

On this note, I would like to share a personal story that I feel provides a metaphor for why the flipped classroom is a technique that works well for me. On May 25th of this year I underwent a fairly complicated open-heart surgery to correct an aneurysm of my thoracic aorta that was found randomly at a routine check up. The surgery went well, and five months later, minus a long scar down the center of my chest, I rarely think of the physical struggle that was the summer of 2011.

Throughout the process, I was very impressed with the confidence and knowledge my thoracic surgeon embodied. Then one day, it hit me: My surgeon had a teacher! He learned to how to perform my surgery in school! An instructor taught him how to do something, something very, very important, in a very effective way! As a teacher myself, I have a hunch my surgeon didn't learn how to repair my aorta by passively taking in information through a textbook or lecture. Rather, I'm certain his confidence and skill was cultivated through hours of inquiry, trial and error, with strong mentors by his side the whole way. In short, I'm sure he learned by doing, not observing.

We must strive to be facilitators, mentors and guides for our students, as if what we are preparing them for, much like my surgeon, will one day change lives. Any teaching methodology that amplifies this role is a step in the right direction.

Are you using various elements of flipped instruction in your practice? If so, how are you using it to foster student inquiry?

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IMMSTheatreArts's picture

1. I have yet to flip a lesson. I made a video for a powerpoint presentation that I had done last year. I like it a lot, so I may use it this school year as my first flipped lesson. It was about make up and was originally done in October for Halloween.

2. I will use it to promote student inquiry so that they can ask questions to further probe on a topic. I can always update the lesson to reflect this and offer the opportunity for further information.

MrBradyMath's picture

I began to use the flipped classroom model on a couple of units this last year that were previous content heavy. Students were to participate in an interactive lesson before arriving to class the next day, with practice as a class the day before to troubleshoot any common issues. I see that where I fell short was having the students create their own questions and discuss among themselves. Instead, I simply chose to use the class time to show them that I could see through our web-site who completed the activity and who did not even log on. In the coming year, I intend to use it as a springboard for the next day's instruction.

Susan Huitt's picture

As a newbie teacher, I was at first intimidated by the "flipped classroom" concept. It seemed a grand, complicated ideal. Last Christmas, I was reading an article that finally opened my eyes that any instructional process completed outside of class was "flipped". One of my greatest challenges was limited time. I began having students read chapters before we discussed them in class. I created brief videos discussing larger concepts in the books we were reading for them to watch. Students were already prepared for class discussions and our discussions became more thoughtful in scope. Students could tell me ahead of time what they struggled with so I could focus lessons on what they actually needed instead of trying to cover everything. I loved having them come to me about history topics they had continued to research beyond what was presented in our texts.

Jenifer Stephenson's picture

Though I like to mainly be a facilitator in my classroom I have not yet begun to incorporate flipped lessons into my coursework. I still take time out of class to give instruction and information at the beginning of a lesson. I try to keep the direct teach portion of my class limited giving a good amount of time for self learning and practice but I see the definite benefit from flipping lessons and would like to embark upon learning to integrate them into my teaching style. There are many topics in Biology in which the students struggled with and more classtime devoted to small groups, peer teaching and other practice/self discovery/ guided learning would have been useful and would be easy to obtain through flipped lessons.

Sara Mischnick's picture

I have never really used a flipped lesson before in the true sense of the idea. I've used videos to go over ways to use things on the computer (how to create a title page, or use Google docs to make a biography page), but the videos were always used in class when students were working independently and I was busy with reading groups. It was more of a "I forgot how to do this, informational video" for my students. I always worried about not all of the students having access to it outside of the classroom, or not understanding what it was about, so then having to go over it again in the class, anyways. I never thought about the idea of using it to foster student inquiry. Having them spark interest or gain ideas about content before coming to class, or even as an extension to what we did that day, is an exciting way to look at it. I'm excited to give this a try in the next school year.

KerryMartinezk's picture

I have not really flipped a lesson yet. I am really interested in this concept. I would gladly use for the introduction of each new lesson in my art classes. This would definitely save time and we could focus on the direct teaching part of the lesson. I am very hopeful that this is the year that I embrace all things technology and am confident in delivering this to my students and they are as excited to learn.

Jeannette Bray's picture

1. I recently came to district where I am blessed with having technology available to me and my students. I did some flipped lessons in the beginning of the year. It was beneficial for my students that needed the repetition. However, towards the middle of the year, I had my students to create the videos. I would give them a challenge, a rubric, and a lucrative prize (candy or extra recess) if there video was chosen. I would narrow it down to three videos and would show them to the class. The class would use a google form to vote.
2. I used the videos that the students created to evaluate the effectiveness of the video. Students would discuss and vote using a rubric of their own. when I did my videos, I offered them the opportunity to critique my videos.

Guest's picture

I have used a flipped lesson before in my math class. However, when I have included a flipped lesson, even though my class is being taught in English I will include videos in Spanish. Why? it will help them better understand class content and will help parents understand the content being taught.
With that being said, I have seen improvements on their retention and application skills.

Mendoza_AVC's picture

I have used flipped lessons in my classroom three times toward the end of the year last year. The students were engaged and wanted to watch the video over and over. They thought my lesson was creative. Many also liked hearing me talk from a video...5th grader easy entertained. I was happy with the results from our group collaboration.
I used a pre-made powerpoint and talked over it. I used my normal voice and my silly voice. As long as it worked I was happy. I added a few questions during the powerpoint and instructed the students to pause and answer the question.

Educator Help's picture
Educator Help
Online Learning and Teacher Resources

If you're looking to flip a classroom using Google Apps but are unsure of how to use them (docs, sheets, forms, Classroom, sites etcs), check out our site at: www.educatorhelp.com for an online course on Google Tools for Education.

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