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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 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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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.

EduTechLover's picture

I've been trying out Knowlounge ( for flipped learning. The service is pretty new but the features it offers are perfect for the flipped classroom (shared whiteboard, ability to quiz students etc). It's also good for including students who learn from remote locations in a classroom environment since it can use your webcam too.

Kate Morrison's picture
Kate Morrison
eLearning content developer

As a Computer Science teacher, I felt that flipped learning wasn't really a choice, but a must for me.
I created a few interactive courses divided into chapters with a practice task or a quiz in each of them.
What is especially great about the flipped model is how enthusiastic my students are about discussing their projects and comparing them to their friends'. Of course, before students submit their projects there are the intermediate lessons, where they can explain the difficulties they faced and ask questions.

Amber Benson Chubb's picture

I recently attended a PD session on flipped classrooms and found the content appealing, but also a little overwhelming as it, in some ways, completely changes the classroom practices and strategies that are typically used in delivering content and managing class time. However, in considering the intimate connection between students and technology and the changed ways in which they manage and use their time in and out of the classroom, I think it is a valuable topic for discussion and consideration. The steps provided in the post help to breakdown this process a bit more manageably and the resources included by other posters in this thread are certainly helpful. Thanks to all who contributed!

Kajal Sengupta's picture

I was a classroom teacher for a long time and was frustrated to repeat year after year a certain portion of the content in class. I wondered how much energy would have been saved if part of what I am doing in class could be communicated to them in a passive way. Then I came to know about flipped classes. Alas by that time I started teaching online and was doing mostly one to one tutoring. Still I am a believer of flipped classes. My take is that it may not be applicable in all situations but that does not mean that it is not viable. One has to be careful when and how it has to be applied. One size does not fit all. Certainly in fields like surgery where you need hands on experience flipped classes will not work. Educators are smart enough to figure out how and when it can work. Happy teaching!

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