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So... You've Decided to Flip Your Classroom... Now What?

Kim Haynes

So... You've Decided to Flip Your Classroom... Now What?

So you've decided to flip your classroom...

... for a unit, a semester, or for good. Or maybe you’re considering it. In any case, what do you do with all that class time? Read on for a few ideas to help you get started!

Defining the “Flip”

A “flipped” classroom refers to a learning environment where the introduction of new concepts via lecture or presentation happens at home, leaving the in-class time for practice and application. Most of the time, new content is presented through an online video or presentation, either one made by the teacher or an already-created one from a source like the Khan Academy.

The availability of online video and the tools to make online video has turned “flipping” into a hot trend. We’ll leave it to others to discuss how to flip your classroom, which tools to use, and so forth. For now, let’s focus on a real pressing question: if you’re not introducing new content in your classroom, what do you do with your time?

Step One: Self-evaluate.

Look through your lesson plans for a month. How much time did you spend introducing new concepts? For most teachers, the answer is: quite a bit. Take a close look, so you have an idea of how much “extra” time you may gain by having students study these concepts at home.

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At the same time, look at which concepts you have been introducing. Are there any you want to reserve for an in-person explanation? Maybe you have a demonstration of a scientific concept that you know always works well. No one says you have to present every new idea via video. Or maybe there’s a difficult or even controversial topic ahead that you’d rather handle in person. Figure that out before you start the process of flipping.

Step Two: Establish a “reason to watch.”

A flipped classroom doesn’t work if the students don’t actually watch the presentations you painstakingly put together. Solve that by creating a reason for students to watch, even if there’s a good basketball game on or their best friend is texting them.

Simple Ideas:

  • Let students know that you may have a “pop quiz” at any time based on the previous evening’s video. Then have the quizzes frequently enough to convince students they need to watch. Make sure you structure the quizzes so that if a student watched but genuinely didn’t understand, their grades won’t suffer. Offer a chance to “make up” the quiz grade by doing well on the in-class practice assignment or throw out each student’s two lowest quiz scores.
  • Set up a system that tells you when a student has viewed a video. Some online programs include this feature. If you don’t have it built in, establish a policy with your students – for example, they have to comment (appropriately) on each video they watch or send you an email when they’ve finished. Make it a participation grade.

More Complex Ideas:

  • Use Project-Based Learning to create an authentic need to know. Imagine telling a room full of high school math students that they are going to serve as accountants to help people do their taxes. Do you think they’d pay more attention to math videos that would help them handle the accounting procedures? Middle-school students might make more of an effort to watch your presentation on poetry if you announce that they’re going to serve as judges for a poetry contest at the local elementary school.
  • In a smaller way, if you can tell students about an upcoming assignment or activity that will use the knowledge in the videos, you’ll increase the chances they are going to watch. For example, you might tell students in your science class that they are going to do a dissection (live or virtually) the next day. In order to successfully complete the dissection, they need to know some basics about the animal’s anatomy, which are in the video they should watch for homework. After a few students flounder during the dissection because they skipped the video, the message will start to get across.

Step Three: Respond to individual student needs.

Teachers know students need individual attention. The struggling students need the extra help, the advanced students benefit from being pushed a bit harder, and every student can develop a better relationship with the teacher after a little personal interaction. With a flipped classroom, you might finally have the time to do it!

Ideas:

  • Create an opportunity for students to practice the concepts they just studied at home – for example, by assigning a set of math problems or a grammar worksheet. While they work, stop at each desk to answer a question or just say hello.
  • Give each student an index card. On it have them write “I have a question about…” and “I can answer a question about….” Tell students to complete each sentence, focusing on the topic they viewed for homework or another recent topic. For example, a student learning Spanish might write “I have a question about how to conjugate a verb in the future tense”/”I can answer a question about how to conjugate a verb in the past tense.” Once students have written these cards, ask them to move through the room and try to find someone who can answer their question. Then circulate through the room yourself and check in with each pair. Also take time to identify anything that a large number of students are confused about. This approach helps all students take ownership of some part of their learning while also being honest about what is confusing them.

Step Four: Do one of those activities you always want to do, but never have time for.

Most teachers have a wish list of projects, units, or activities they’ve always wanted to do, but never had time for. Take the time now! Find a project that connects to one of your topics and explore some new activities.

Ideas:

  • Make connections between what students are studying and the “real” world. Have students research careers connected to the subject you’re teaching or search for news stories that address a similar topic. For example, students reading Of Mice and Men might look at topics about how mentally disabled people are treated, the use of animals for therapy with sick or disabled people, or the financial challenges faced by farmers.
  • Hold a debate, mock trial, or student congress.
  • Bring in a guest speaker who can talk about the subject you’re studying. Stretch outside your subject area, if appropriate  – for example, have a therapist or psychologist talk to your English class about healthy and unhealthy romantic relationships in connection with your reading of Romeo and Juliet or Othello.
  • Search online for games, virtual field trips, or other activities connected to your topic and give students the chance to try them out.
  • Offer a mini-unit on a topic you think students would enjoy. For example, maybe a science class could do a brief CSI/introduction to forensics. You could cover some biology and chemistry concepts in a fun way.

Many of these activities can also help create the “reason to watch,” since students won’t want to be left behind during the fun.

The flipped classroom may seem like just another trendy topic, but if handled right, it can offer you a lot of flexibility in how you teach your students. Whether you use it to expand on the fun projects or just take time to review a tricky concept, both you and your students can benefit!