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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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DLevine's picture

Thank you for the extra resources and ideas for how to use the flipped classroom. I especially liked the links on how to make videos more interactive. An important consideration so your video holds the attention of the viewer and is as effective as it can be.

Trish's picture

Thank you so much for this post! I am new to the flipped classroom idea and I am trying several aspects in my chemistry class this year. I am excited and nervous at the same time. Have you found that your students are excited to watch the videos or are they reluctant? Would you also have a certain video length that you would recommend?

John Brigham's picture
John Brigham
I think that organic chemistry should be taught first.

Good article....It nicely communicates the complexity of education.
The flipped classroom puts learning at home with homework leaving class time for inquiry and collaboration. That is great and wonderful. What about students that will never do homework. In a typical low performing school, the students simply will not do homework. Education is a messy business and nothing will every change that!

sems_shock's picture

I've eagerly been looking into going to a flipped classroom in the 2nd half of the year (my students just went "take home" 1:1 with iPads within the past month), but am struggling with those habitually disengaged students who wouldn't bother to do the assignment and thus still miss out. If students won't even complete any assignment regardless of its weight, relevance, etc, how can I feel assured that they will abide with a flipped concept?

Right now, my thinking is that following a flipped lecture, students answer a basic formative assessment to determine if they completed the assignment. Those who do move on to the higher level enrichment activities to follow up and expand/elaborate, whereas those who did not complete the assignment end up with making up the assignment during class time. However, would that not put us back at square one, with many students spending class time doing (a more technology oriented) seat work/lecture, and differentiated instruction going on for those who already "get it?"

In simple terms, how does the flipped classroom concept deal with those students who are a struggle to motivate/engage/connect with?

Rachel Cornelius's picture

I'm wondering if, with the approval of parents and administration, having students who do not do the homework stay after school to complete assignments would lead to improved completion rates. If parents are in partnership with the school I would hope they'd approve of this consequence. I know that "detention" is a touchy topic but if students don't want to be kept after school, maybe they'd be more inclined to do their homework. It may not work for all but you may capture some of the disengaged students. Some disengaged students actually do have parents that would support the idea. The parents who do not support the idea should be making sure that their children are getting their homework done every night. Some improvement in homework completion rates should be seen over time.

Lee Michelle's picture

Thank-you for a great article on flipping your classroom. It presents many advantages, yet doesn't gloss over the cons. There are also plenty of links and resources to support my efforts. My district has not gone to a 1:1 technology model yet, but has implemented a "bring your own technology" or BYOT policy this year, which is making it easier to flip a classroom. I have been interested in the idea of a flipped classroom for several years, but have only started to implement some strategies this year. I think Mr. Musallam is correct in reminding us that the flipped classroom is only possible with sound pedagogy and teaching methods, it is not a replacement for it. I especially liked Mr. Musallam's reflection steps for teachers, and plan to use it. We ask our students to be reflective in their learning, so why not teachers, too? I have also found Jon Bergman and Aaron Sams' series "Flipped-Learning Toolkit" immensely informative and encouraging. In my early efforts, I too have struggled with students who refuse to do any outside work, as sems_shock noted, and find that I am wasting a lot of time back-peddling to get them caught up, and not as much time with inquiry or critical thinking as I would like. What I am realizing is that just because you offer students the opportunity to use technology outside of class, does not mean that they will "like" it or accept the responsibility and do it. It really takes a shift in thinking, teacher and student, as well as a pedagogical shift, and this takes time. I plan to continue trying different ideas, learning from others, and making changes gradually.

Alin's picture

What the indicator flipped classroom?? Please help me for my study

Desire' Truter's picture

I believe you have hit the nerve that deters many teachers from employing what could be a very advantageous pedagogical approach. How to motivate our students to want to learn has always been the million dollar question. Teaching secondary school students with the typical apathy towards their learning characteristic of many teenagers, my problem has always been getting compliance with work completion and content engagement. I agree that for many students, some form of accountability by way of completing a question or small task which will indicate that they have done the out-of-class viewing or reading of material, is probably needed, but I'd like to imagine that the classroom activities we engage in will be such that the students will recognise the advantages of having done the preparation as they see their peers progress while they are still in 'catch-up' mode because of not having viewed the videos or read the texts beforehand. While this will not necessarily solve the problem of student motivation, research seems to suggest that students in flipped classrooms are more actively engaged, especially as there is greater opportunity for the teacher to connect individually with all the students instead of operating in lecture-mode during class time. I believe it all comes down to the fact that flipping the classroom requires careful planning (with clear goal-setting) of class time activities on the part of the teacher to incorporate the 'inquiry, collaboration and critical thinking' that Mussallam speaks of. Also, using a flipped apporach is merely a tool, and teachers must plan very intentionally in order to be 'facilitators, mentors and guides' in the classroom.

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