The Teacher’s Guide To Flipped Classrooms

guide to flipped classrooms

Since Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams first experimented with the idea in their Colorado classrooms in 2004, flipped learning has exploded onto the larger educational scene. It’s been one of the hottest topics in education for several years running and doesn’t seem to be losing steam.

Basically, it all started when Bergman and Sams first came across a technology that makes it easy to record videos. They had a lot of students that regularly missed class and saw an opportunity to make sure that missing class didn’t mean missing out on the lessons. Once students had the option of reviewing the lessons at home, the teachers quickly realized the shift opened up additional time in class for more productive, interactive activities than the lectures they’d been giving.

And voila: a movement began.

A 2014 survey from the Flipped Learning network found that 78% of teachers said they’d flipped a lesson, and 96% of those that tried it said they’d recommend it.

What is a flipped classroom?

Once a new idea becomes a buzzword, pinning down the definition can become a tad more challenging. The flipped learning network has developed what they hope will be seen as the definitive definition:

“Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.”

That gets the idea across, but it’s a bit of a mouthful. The gist, in somewhat simpler terms, is that it’s about moving the more passive elements of learning (watching a lecture, reading a chapter, etc.) outside of the classroom, so that more class time is available for interactive, hands-on learning.

Most people hear “flipped learning” and picture kids watching videos at home, but proponents of it suggest that it doesn’t have to be exclusively about videos. Teachers are encouraged to give students options – some students will still learn better by reading a textbook chapter, but others will benefit from videos, audio files, or any other type of material you can find or create that covers a given topic.

flipped classrooms

The Benefits of Flipping Your Classroom

For a veteran teacher, flipping the classroom means completely re-thinking how to do the job you’ve done a certain way for years. And it comes with some extra work. That being the case, why would any teacher bother?

1. Flipped learning keeps students more engaged.

The flipped classroom model addresses how students learn best. We all know how hard it can be to stay focused during a long lecture, even if it’s on a subject we’re especially interested in. Discussions and hands-on activities tend to keep students’ interest. While you work with students directly as they explore the concepts they’re learning in class, you can provide immediate feedback that helps them improve their learning as they go.

2. Teachers provide more personalized attention.

Students don’t all learn at the same pace and in the same ways. That’s always been a complicating factor in teaching. The question of how to meet thirty or more unique students at their own levels is one that keeps teachers up at night.

The flipped classroom model gives teachers more opportunities to work directly with students. They can therefore clearly see when an individual student is having trouble with a concept and work with them directly to get through it. The increased interaction with students in the classroom will help teachers gain a clearer idea of the different learning styles of their students, so they can tailor their instruction to the needs of each one.

3. Students can work at their own pace.

A student sitting in a lecture, diligently taking notes will almost certainly miss one thing the professor says while writing down another. And that’s still a vast improvement over the student whose mind wanders so they don’t catch much of anything.

If they’re watching a video at home instead, they have the power to pause the lecture while they write something down, and rewind and re-watch a particular part they didn’t fully understand the first time. If they feel they could really use a second viewing to better understand the concept, they have that option. They have more power over the way and process by which they study and learn.

Examples of Flipped Classrooms

As in most things, there’s no one right way to flip a classroom or lesson. But knowing how other teachers have done it can help give you ideas about what will work best for you.

The Backwards Classroom

Stacy Roshan’s classroom is probably the closest to what most people think of as a “flipped classroom” of those on our list, although she’s referred to it as the “backwards classroom” herself. She flipped her classroom largely to help reduce the anxiety she saw students experience in her AP Calculus class whenever she’d introduce complicated new concepts.

For homework, her students watch videos she’s recorded in advance that cover the concepts explored in each chapter of her textbook. They spend their time in class doing the types of math problems that students have traditionally done as homework. If they have difficulty working through a problem, the teacher’s right there for them to ask for help.

She does have to spend a lot of time creating those videos, but is happy enough with the results of using a flipped model that she’s been at it for over four years now and is taking the time to experiment with new ways to make it better, like including embedded quizzes in the videos that students watch at home.

The Faux Flipped Classroom

One of the common criticisms leveled at flipped learning is that it depends on a certain amount of privilege: what about all the students who don’t have a computer at home to watch videos on? Tracey Gillies addresses this concern with what she calls the “faux flipped” classroom.

Students who don’t have a computer at home can watch the assigned video in class. Gillies’ classroom is full of students each doing their own thing – watching a video, working out problems, taking quizzes, or posting or commenting on an online discussion board to get input from other students. Each of them is able to work on an assignment for as long as they need in order to master it, and then move on.

And Gillies is there to work with anyone who needs her help, at whatever point in the process they are at.

An Evolved Flipped Classroom

Shelley Wright embraced the flipped classroom back in 2011 and wrote a post about her experiences with flipped learning so far. But she followed it up a year later with a new post about how her flipped classroom had turned into something else – not a reversion back to the traditional way, but a more evolved version of the student-centered classroom she was seeking by flipping her lessons.

As students in her classroom became better at taking the lead on finding valuable resources and pursuing learning their own way, she shifted her focus to helping them with the process of learning how to learn better on their own rather than teaching about the subjects directly.

Her lesson to other teachers interested in flipped learning seems to boil down to: don’t think it’s all about the videos, they can be a part of it or not. It’s about shifting from passive learning to active learning, in whatever way works for you and your students.

The Tools of Flipped Learning

A comprehensive list of every possible tool educators could use to flip a classroom would require a book (and probably still miss some), but we wanted to address a few resources that are common in flipped classrooms.

Of course, familiar tools like YouTube, Evernote, Google Drive, and blogging platforms can play a role as well, but here are a few more specifically suited to flipped learning.

1. Camtasia

To create videos for students to watch at home, you’ll need easy-to-use screencasting software. Camtasia isn’t the only one on the market; you can find a list of some of the other screencasting tools you can use here (including some free ones). We’re highlighting Camtasia, because the company has optimized the tool for flipped classrooms.

Using Camtasia is fairly intuitive for new users. It allows you to record either your screen, or yourself. And, in one of the features that most sets it apart, it allows you to add interactive elements to your video. You can include quizzes throughout a video to test students’ comprehension of what they’ve just seen, and you can include links out to any additional materials you want them to read or view. It does cost $75 if you’re buying the Mac version, and $179 for the PC version, so it’s a bit of an investment.  But there are volume discounts that may help out if enough teachers in one institution are interested in exploring the flipped classroom.

2. Wikispaces

Part of the appeal of flipped classrooms is that all that extra class time provides more opportunities for collaboration amongst students. Wikispaces is a great tool for encouraging and enabling that collaboration. It’s free, unless your school is interested in purchasing a more secure version of the product.

The free version provides a lot of useful features though. You can give students assignments through the wiki, for both individual and group projects. You can load content for them to review and comment on, start discussions (or let them do so), and track how engaged different students are with the content you’ve assigned. It’s plenty useful for non-flipped classrooms as well, but can help students collaborate and interact more both within and outside of the classroom, so lends itself especially well to the challenges of flipped learning.

3. EdModo

EdModo is one of the most commonly used education tools in the world and can even claim the title of largest K-12 social network. It enables a lot of the same kind of tasks that Wikispaces does: loading content and assignments for your students to access, and allowing students to share discussions and comments, for instance. But it adds a much larger social element since you can interact with other students and educators beyond your own classroom. That means you can tap into the content and lessons beyond those you’ve developed and students can seek out insights beyond those their own classmates have.

The tool also provides analytics that help you spot who needs help with what so you can make your class time more productive. And students can access everything loaded to Edmodo on mobile devices as well as desktops, so they can do their learning wherever works best for them.

4. Moodle

Like WikiSpaces and Edmodo, Moodle has the functionality to serve as the platform for a flipped classroom. Teachers can load resources, including any relevant ones they find shared by other teachers in Moodle, to create the assignments and curriculum for each class.

Conveniently, an educator from Northwest Regional ESD created a course on how to flip a class using Moodle within Moodle itself. So you can learn about some of the best practices and processes, while also seeing an example of what a course in Moodle looks like at the same time.  You can load all the content related to each module, divide it according to topics, and include a variety of content formats.

5. Poll Everywhere

The last resource on our list is less about providing or organizing content and assignments for your students, and more about actively soliciting their feedback. If the goal of a flipped classroom is to make the learning experience more student-centered, then it makes sense to regularly check in with them.

You can use Poll Everywhere both for occasional quizzes to see how students are doing throughout a class period and to solicit input from the class on which concepts to focus on and how to address them. If you have three ideas for activities students can do together to explore a particular concept, make them choices students can vote on. You can group the students according to their preferences, or focus on the winning option for activities that involve the whole class.

Additional Helpful Resources

As you’ve noticed by now, this is a big subject. You can find a lot more to learn and say about flipped learning than we’ve covered here. If you want more information before trying the flipped classroom out, here are some helpful places to start:

  • The Flipped Institute has a number of different instructional materials to help teachers through the process of flipping a classroom. If you still have questions after reviewing their materials, they have an “Ask an Expert” feature to help teachers with their more particular difficulties.
  • The Flipped Learning Network also has many different resources, including webinars and a conference, that range from helping teachers new to flipped learning understand the basics, to tracking the larger trends and best practices of the movement.
  • The Center for Teaching and Learning has a Flip-Quick start guide you can download to help you work through the basic process.

In Conclusion

The flipped classroom may not be for everyone. It involves some extra upfront work and just might not mesh with the teaching style of every educator out there. But enough of the teachers that have tried it are having success that you may find it worthwhile to experiment with flipping a lesson or two to see what happens. You might just become a convert.

Editor’s note: This article is a revision and combination of several older Edudemic articles, updated and re-analyzed to reflect the latest innovations.