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The Flipped Mobile Classroom: Learning "Upside Down"

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In the past few months, the flipped-learning model has hit mainstream media with articles appearing in the New York Times and even Southwest Airlines' Spirit magazine. Traditionally, students learn new information through lecture or direct instruction while in school. Conversely, in a flipped class, students gain content knowledge at home through audio, video and text, so that more class time can be devoted to discussion, exploration and experimentation.

By using a flipped model, teachers provide content through a variety of modalities, giving students not only the ability to learn at their own pace but also in the way that best suits their learning needs. However, if we take the time to make our content available outside of class, what does learning look in school? Flipped benefits students in two ways:

  1. It provides multiple pathways to gain knowledge and understanding.
  2. As a result of this pedagogical shift, new learning opportunities can start to emerge.

Flipping Macbeth

As a ninth grade English teacher, I struggled to find the balance between helping my students learn active reading strategies and literary conventions while still enjoying the text. We labored through poetry, drama and short stories, breaking down the literature and language, and consequently missing the beauty of the experience.

What if class time had been used to read out loud and experience the reading instead of analyzing it? For example, when teaching Macbeth, I wanted my students to understand Shakespeare's language, the vocabulary, and the significance of key quotes and concepts. However, in focusing on these mechanics, they missed the fact that Macbeth was a play full of adventure and drama. What if I had flipped Macbeth so that we'd used class time to experience Shakespeare as a sort of "theater in the round," and used homework as a way for students to reread and analyze the text?

What if students created a mini-project each day to showcase their active reading and illustrate their knowledge of key concepts such as in the example below? These students used Animoto -- a free, cross-platform video creation tool -- to summarize the previous day's reading, demonstrate their understanding of vocabulary, identify key quotes and make their active reading strategies visual.


Every day, for the first ten minutes, students in this eighth grade class collaborated on these videos. They could use only photos of their books, and the theme had to match their content. The students then shared their creations with the class, giving them ownership of the content, establishing them as experts, and allowing their teacher to quickly assess their understanding before continuing with the current day's theatrical reading.

Flipping Science Labs

A few years ago, I heard a wonderful presentation from a middle school science teacher in Massachusetts. She recognized that she lost one class period each week demonstrating pre-labs that most of her students either could not see because of the crowd around the table or could not process because of the pace. Using her iPad, she decided to flip her labs.

Each week, she filmed herself doing the pre-lab and posted it to a class wiki. For homework, the students watched the video as many times as necessary to then create their own lab procedures. During the lab periods themselves, students could not only refer back to the video on their devices, but also use the wiki's commenting feature to post observations and ask questions. As an additional unintended consequence, students started collaborating across lab groups to make inquiries and troubleshoot problems. In the end, the teacher had transferred ownership of the process and the content, empowering her students and transforming her class.

Spinning the Class

Two major assumptions of the flipped model are:

  1. Students have access to the content outside of school.
  2. Students have the capacity to be independent learners.

This can pose a challenge, particularly in elementary classes, where students may not have devices or the ability to learn on their own. Suzy Brooks (@SimplySuzy), a third grade teacher in Falmouth, Massachusetts, wanted to use the flipped tenets in her classroom while being mindful of these assumptions, so she came up with the concept of spinning her instruction.

Rather than having her students learn independently at home, she leveraged multimodal content for them to use at school. By providing videos to introduce, teach or reteach concepts, she created a means to support her students at their own pace. Additionally, now that her class has access to iPads, students can also demonstrate their understanding through a variety of modalities.

Flipped Learning

As flipped classroom pioneer Jon Bergmann says, "The flipped classroom helps teachers break the habit of lecture." Flipping provides a mechanism to transition toward deeper learning, opening up avenues for exploration and experimentation by freeing up class time. Beyond supporting teachers in their transition from "sage on the stage" to "guide by their side," what really happens in a flipped classroom is that the students become empowered learners with a host of tools to demonstrate their understanding. If we see flipped as an opportunity to break the habit of lecture, then a whole new set of learning opportunities begins to emerge.

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Debora Wondercheck's picture
Debora Wondercheck
Executive Director, Founder of Arts & Learning Conservatory

Very great post,I think Music,videos and art is the best way to convey our message easily into the students and student captures it very easily.True concept to have the kids arrive at the classroom already prepared to take full advantage of a labs and practical or to explore the things as well.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hi Carlos!

I think there's always an element of "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." Kids have to at least try or meet you half way. Are there access issues at home or barriers to getting it done? Can you ask the parents to help you reinforce the lessons? I would think the video has got to be more interesting than reading a text book, but if not, have you asked why not? Can you give us more specifics and we can help brainstorm things to try.
If kids are below grade level, video may be a great way to help differentiate the work or find other stuff for them on Khan Academy that is level appropriate. You can't make a kid a better reader overnight, but you can give them the information in another format like video or audio to help facilitate mastery, right? And with those kids, i would also seriously refer them for special educational services they may need in order to catch up- if a sixth grader is reading on a second grade level, they need additional supports a regular ed classroom might not be able to supply while still meeting the needs of the other kids in the class.

Carlos Jorgen's picture

Hi Whitney,

Thanks for your reply! There are a number of elements in play. Firstly, there are some access issues- these kids may not have technology at home but we run homework centre and the library is open so they can access technology.
Secondly, there is often a genuine lack of ability relating to English issues, understanding of culture and society, understanding of core concepts, prior education (some refugee or indigenous students have never had formal education prior to arriving at our high school) and we have students with a variety of learning disabilities.
Thirdly, there are attitude issues. There is a sense of inflated ability (they think they are doing better than they are or they think they can scrape through doing the minimum) where negative comments or bluntly truthful statements are often discouraging and can lead to parent complaints but gently worded statements often don't actually see any improvement. Students often have a poor attitude and work ethic on top, in some cases, caused by a lack of ability but in some cases motivated by a combination of laziness, apathy and knowing that they won't be held back a grade even if they fail.
Parents are difficult- they sometimes don't understand the education system, don't speak English or don't have authority over their children, especially male children. We have a bilingual school support officer who works with these communities but there's a lot of work to do. Some parents would back the school up, others would be uncontactable, have no power or simply not support us.
In terms of doing the homework, I don't think it is a question of being more interesting than reading the book, rather less interesting than anything else so I worry it still won't get a look in in the changed format! (Having said this, I'm still going to try it!) These students aren't doing any homework, not my work in particular.
The students who need special education services have been referred on before. We have programs in place but the programs don't address their needs to enough of a degree and they can't cope with the large amount of needy students. My site is experiencing a transition from being an academic school to servicing a socially and economically challenged population including large volumes of English as a second language students and a large migrant/refugee population.
The school does not officially approve of setting and streaming. Many of our senior students have the reading levels of a year 4 to a year 6 or lower and many have had no formal education before that. To attempt to teach a class of students ranging from a year 1-8 level in a year 10 class is something I've really struggled to do. I've tried a number of things, often beginning with me doing an extreme, unsustainable amount of preparation and ending with little real gain. The students who need to be extended often need a teacher to get them started- to highlight areas to improve, discuss more technical language, facilitate discussions of more difficult concepts and ideas. The students who struggle literally often cannot and/or will not do anything without the teacher supporting them.

It creates a very challenging situation, leading to my question of fairness for the students who do actually do the work. In my classes there are always students who work hard and who want to get ahead, but the other students who can't or won't do the work. The problem is this inequity often leads to the harder working students having an artificially inflated sense of ability and then beginning to become lazy themselves and/or resentment at doing more work than others!
I am going to try this idea- even though deep down I know flipping won't be a magic fix!

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

We wish there was a magic answer to everything that happens in schools. And if there was a magic answer, we would all be wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice.
I think the best way to approach kids of all ages is with an experimental approach coupled with close listening. Too often, we just look in our bag of teacher tools and pick out the next one on the list to "fix" the problem without necessarily really understanding the problem in the first place, or talking to the kid and asking them what's standing in their way of learning. So never miss that part of the equation- asking the kid what they need and why they aren't engaging, and not settling for the pat answers of "boring, stupid" etc. That either means too easy or too hard or they don't understand- you need more in order to help.

We have a large ESL population here, and it's hard on the middle school age kids who are perhaps conversational in english, but not ready to learn at grade level in a classroom in their nonnative language. (I would feel the same way if you stuck me in a classroom at any grade level with my minimal french skills. I might sort of understand, but not get the nuance of what's being asked or taught.) the trick is trying to keep kids engaged and interested in at least trying something else to get them to the end point, without giving up on you or themselves in the process.

Empathy goes a long way sometimes, in trying to understand it from the kid's point of view. It has to be within the scope of what they can do, not so far above it seems hopeless to achieve and succeed. That's what we always have to keep in mind, or they will write us off and it's over- no trust and no progress for anyone.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Great point Whitney. "I think the best way to approach kids of all ages is with an experimental approach coupled with close listening." As you said, there's no single tool that's going to work in all situations- sometimes flipping the classroom is a great idea, sometimes it's not a good fit. Same goes for homework- sometimes it's an effective way to have kids practice and review, sometimes it's simply more trouble than it's worth.

I think the key is having a lot of different tools in your toolbox, and recognizing which ones are going to work in which situations. For Carlos, flipping may not be a good fit right now. I might suggest a move towards PBL, with a gradual release of responsibility?

jwalnut's picture

This sounds much like the Harkness Table approach used by Exeter and many universities. Come to class prepared to participate. If calling it a flipped classroom allows for better understanding of how it should work-super!!

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Johns Hopkins University Doctoral Candidate & EdTechTeacher Instructor

With this particular example, class time was devoted to students experiencing the play and acting it out in class rather than the teacher essentially leading a class on active reading strategies. Students were able to focus on the difficult skills of creating content and synthesizing information in class while re-reading and defining vocabulary outside of class.

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Johns Hopkins University Doctoral Candidate & EdTechTeacher Instructor

Carlos and Whitney,

You both bring up great points. Last week, I had the fortune of hearing Jon Bergmann (flipped guru) speak about "Flipped Learning." He made an extraordinary point:

"We are in exciting times where we need to move to the project-based, inquiry-based classrooms, but we "have school backwards where we send kids home to do the hard stuff." Cognitively, applying and creating is the difficult task that we ask students to do at home. What if we flipped Bloom's Taxonomy upside-down so that students are creating, evaluating, analyzing, and applying in school and working towards understanding and remembering at home."

Jon also stresses that by approaching flipped by looking at Bloom's Taxonomy first, then the at-home component does NOT have to be technology based. The goal is to have students taking advantage of "the expert in the room" (aka - the teacher) in order to make inquiries and create new demonstrations of learning.

I live-blogged Jon's whole session - - if you are interested. He made some excellent points that may help.

Krystal Morrison's picture

How Cool!

Of course I ran across this from a class, but I love the ideas expressed herein. I love how you got your eighth graders to learn about Macbeth. I wish we could have learned like that at my old school. That would have allowed us to understand the plays we read better.


Teila's picture

This sounds great! I would love to try this in my classroom. Any ideas on how flipping can work for 6th grade students with specific learning disabilities.

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