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How to Launch a Flipped Classroom

Flipped classroom
(Image credit: Pixabay)

The realities of pandemic teaching have made the concept of a flipped classroom and flipped learning more appealing than ever before for many educators. 

“The entire conversation has changed in the last 12 months around flipped learning,” says Matthew Moore, a high school math teacher and board member of Flipped Learning Network, a nonprofit online hub for flipped classroom practitioners.  

Previously, an educator’s lack of experience with technology was a potential barrier to establishing a flipped classroom. “It used to be, where you would start would be, ‘Well, what kind of technology are you working with?’ ‘How adept are you at using technology?’ But in the last 12 months every teacher in America and around the world has gone into tech boot camp,” Moore says. 

Now the vast majority of educators are comfortable using an LMS and video conferencing. “People who would never have been on camera in an old flipped classroom -- ‘Well, I don't want to show my face’ -- we've all gotten over that,” Moore says. 

What Is A Flipped Classroom? 

“Flipped learning always asked this one simple question: what’s the best use of your face-to-face class time,” says Jon Bergmann, a high school science teacher and a pioneer of flipped learning who has written more than 13 books on the topic. 

In flipped classrooms, material that would be traditionally introduced during in-class lectures is assigned to students outside of class time often in the form of videos or reading. Class time is reserved for students to actively engage in higher-level concepts and problem solving with the teacher available to help them. 

While simply “flipping a class” is relatively easy, flipped enthusiasts say that to truly offer “flipped learning” educators need to create an individualized flexible learning environment built around active learning and student-centered education. In this environment students are given feedback relevant in the moment. 

I Want to Create a Flipped Classroom. How Do I Start? 

It sounds obvious but making sure you’re actually interested in teaching a true flipped classroom, incorporating flipped learning, is an important first step. 

Moore is frequently contacted by colleagues asking about flipped who are actually interested in adding some video or some asynchronous tools to their class but not in fundamentally shifting the way they utilize synchronous class time. “The first thing I'm going to ask is what's your educational goal. Is your goal to make more time in whatever the group environment is for interaction by moving some learning components to the individual space?” he says. 

If a teacher is truly interested in creating a flipped classroom, he advises looking at your classroom material and deciding what lessons you need to be synchronous. “Vocabulary components, basic learning and Blooms, I don't need to be live-present with most kids in that component of learning,” he says. “I can introduce to you what sine, cosine, and tangent is in a video or in a reading or in whatever it happens to be. What you need me for is, ‘Great, now that I know that this equals this over this, now let's put it to work.’” 

I Don’t Like Making Videos. Does that Mean A Flipped Classroom is Not For Me?  

While many flipped classroom educators do make their own videos, it’s not a requirement. 

“There's this mindset around flipped learning: that one, it has to be video; and two, that it has to be you,” says Angela Barnett, a third grade teacher in California who runs flipped classrooms successfully without making her own videos. Instead she uses existing videos from BrainPop and National Geographic Kids

Some flipped class enthusiasts are dedicated to making their own videos and believe that helps foster a deeper connection between the instructor and students. Barnett acknowledges that can be true in some cases but hasn’t found using video resources made by others has hampered her. “My kiddos, they see me everyday, 8:30 to 1:40,” she says. “I'm like, ‘Do they really need to hear my voice?’” 

The videos she can find online feature animations and vibrant colors that help make them more kid-friendly and engaging than what she’d be able to make on her own. 

Bergmann agrees that running a flipped classroom does not automatically mean you have to make videos. “A lot of people think flipped is all about watching videos but my students were reading textbooks or other texts as the pre-learning activity,” Bergmann says. 

Do I Need To Help My Students Adjust To a Flipped Classroom?  

Students in a flipped classroom may need to learn how to watch videos in an education setting and do other necessary work outside of class. “My first video is how to watch a video,” says Andrew Swan, a middle school social studies teacher in Massachusetts. “You know it's different than when you’re just binge watching a Netflix show or something you can tune out for five minutes and come back and see some drama. You can't do that with a Mr. Swan video.” 

While students grow up watching YouTube and other videos they need to be reminded to actively engage with class videos as well as other material and readings assigned outside of class. 

Videos should be kept short in general, and shorter still for younger students. “The age of your child is the maximum number of minutes that you can have a video, and never, ever, ever, ever over 15 minutes,” Bergmann says. “Most of my videos for my classes are seven to 12 minutes. I've seen some teachers who argue that that's too long.” 

What if Students’ Don’t Watch The Video or Do The Flipped Classroom Homework? 

If students don’t do the outside of class work in a flipped classroom, repeating the material in class is a mistake as that will signal to the students that they don’t have to do that work. Instead, educators should have the students watch the video or do the required readings in the back of the class while the prepared students work with the instructors. 

Bergmann doesn’t have this problem much anymore but in the past he would have those students watch the videos during class time. “What happened was that the kids who are watching it in the class weren't getting help on the hard stuff, and then they had to take the hard stuff home,” he says. “They said, ‘Wait a second. Number one, Mr. Bergmann took off some points for me having it late, and then I had to do these extra problems that all my friends finished in class and I had to do this hard stuff at home. And mom didn't know any chemistry where Mr Bergmann knows chemistry ... hmm.’ Most of them have that epiphany and learn it's actually easier to do the work ahead of time.” 

Can Flipped Classrooms Work for Students at Any Level?  

Flipped classrooms have been incorporated throughout K-12 and in higher ed at both the graduate and undergraduate level. 

In 2015, Harvard Medical School launched a new curriculum designed to enhance critical thinking and encourage students to take ownership of their education and flipped classrooms were implemented across the institution. The change was implemented after Harvard conducted a study comparing medical students who learned via case-based collaborative learning compared to traditional problem-based learning curriculum. While the overall scores between the two groups were similar, the case-based learning students who had previously struggled academically did better than their problem-based counterparts. 

“This style is much more engaging for the students and the faculty. They feel like they are ‘real doctors’ finally,” says Richard M. Schwartzstein, MD, and Ellen and Melvin Gordon Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Medical Education at Harvard Medical School. “An engaged student is usually someone who is learning.” 

Though most like the new style, there are some students who find it challenging, Schwartzstein says. “Some complain about the amount of prep work they have to do and that we don’t give them the exact right answer because we deal more with nuances and how one thinks about the problem.” 

What Are Some Flipped Classroom Resources? 

Bergmann offers a wealth of advice on flipped classrooms and flipped learning on his personal website as well as through the Flipped Learning Global Initiative. At the Flipped Learning Global Initiative, there are certificate courses available for educators working in both K-12 and higher ed. 

The Flipped Learning Network also offers free resources, ranging from videos to podcasts. Opportunities also exist to connect with other educators interested in flipped classrooms and flipped learning through a dedicated Slack channel and Facebook group. 

Erik Ofgang is Tech & Learning's senior staff writer. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.