Think Before You Flip

A Misplaced Hero

Famed entrepreneur Salman Kahn the founder of the incredibly popular Kahn Academy is in many respects one of today’s most important and yet somewhat misplaced heroes in contemporary education. It is true that he has made thousands of instructional videos spanning a broad range of content topics that have benefited countless students throughout the world. Not to his own fault, however, many educators including myself have incorrectly identified his inspiring work as flipped classroom instruction. While this post is not about Salman Kahn, his work does provide an open door to examine more closely the realities of the flipped classroom. My own past experiences with flipped classroom instruction have taught me that it’s truly more than just making videos.

Still Trying to Get it Right

My first experiences in fundamentally changing the delivery of lesson content via teacher-created videos occurred in 2009 during a summer technology workshop when I was introduced to a new screencasting application called Jing. Diving in without knowing how or what to do, I started to experiment. While crude by today’s standards, my early screencast videos were created out of a need for continued instruction during personal absences from the classroom. My guest teachers were not qualified to teach math, and I did not want my students to fall unnecessarily behind. Following some initial successes, I started to respond to students’ homework questions sent to me by email with custom made answers via a personalized screencast. The following school year, I decided as a professional learning goal to introduce each new unit in my math courses with a lesson delivered via a video. I also upgraded to a more versatile screencasting platform called Screencastomatic which allowed me to include a separate webcam presence in addition to the captured tablet screen. My goal was to make homework nights following unit tests more meaningful. Because of the changes I made in the delivery of lesson content, I was able to use newly available time to conduct valuable one-on-one post-test conferences with my students. By my third and fourth year, I was successfully flipping entire courses including an Advanced Placement Statistics course. My measures of success were increased academic engagement, improved overall course grades, and higher standardized test scores, Fast forward to today with over 400 lesson videos now behind me, I am still learning and trying to get it right! The paragraphs that follow are mostly based on reflections from my own experiences in flipping classroom instruction over the past 8 years. As the saying goes, if I only knew now what I didn’t know then. The infographic below serves as a visual map of my journey, reflections, and recommendations.

Think Before You Flip – The Realities of Flipping a Classroom

Think_Before_You_Flip

1. Discover

There is an abundance of resources available to educators providing detailed information about the philosophy and development of flipped classroom instruction. To fully understand the pedagogy behind the name, teachers need to take the time to learn and understand this innovative approach to teaching and learning prior to its implementation. So what is flipped classroom instruction? The leadership at the Flipped Learning Network, provides the following 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.

While I was able to figure things out by trial and error and somehow stumble across a reasonable approximation of the definition above, a little bit of background research in my early days would have gone a long ways in terms of shortening my learning curve.

2. Define a Purpose

Flipping a classroom can serve a wide variety of instructional purposes. What do you want to accomplish? Do you want your students to access higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy? Is your goal to redefine teacher and student roles in the classroom? Is there a targeted group of learners you want to reach and serve in different ways? Maybe you looking for new opportunities to infuse technology in your teaching? There are all sorts of reasons, some good and some not so good, for making the shift to a flipped classroom. If you are unsure, a quick Google search will help you articulate a purpose of your own. Whatever the reason, knowing your motive ahead of time will help you focus your efforts and maximize your students’ learning results in the long run.

3. Learn How

Learn how to leverage and infuse technology to support your flipped classroom instruction, but just don’t do it by yourself. Especially in larger schools, teachers can succumb to their own self-imposed yet unintended isolation. We learn something new at a workshop or read about it in an article and decide it’s worth trying in our own classrooms without fully accessing the support and expertise that others can provide to increase our chances of successful implementation. Over the past years, IT support staff have provided me with a variety of valuable resources and instruction including the use of studio quality microphones and webcams, and access to screencasting applications such as Explain EverythingCamtasia, and SnagIT. Conversations with other teachers have led to new discoveries and experience-based support that would have otherwise not likely occurred while working in isolation. The access to and use of PLN’s adds an entirely new dimension to a newbie’s flipped classroom support network.

4. Sell the Product

Nothing strikes fear in the hearts and minds of administrators, parents, and students like the lack of information and misinformation. Sell your ideas, plans, and goals before you start to flip. One of the most important lessons I learned in implementing the flipped classroom model was to have as much control over the flow of information as possible. Let all stakeholders know why you want to make the change, how it will help learners, and what it will look like in classroom. The last thing any educator wants is to have someone think he or she is no longer teaching students when in fact nothing could be further from the truth in the realities of flipped classroom instruction. Providing the sort of information found in the handout The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P by the Flipped Learning Network can go a a long ways in reducing the fear and anxiety sometimes associated with educational change. I especially like the highly student-centered facts listed on the right side of the document.

5. Make Videos

The road to successfully implementing a flipped classroom is paved with a lot discarded videos and frustration. Choices have to be made ahead of time regarding who will make the videos and how they will be made and accessed. Making, editing, publishing, and posting a single 15 minute video can easily be an hour or longer affair. Doing this 150 times in one year to flip an entire course requires large amounts of planning and perseverance. Doing it with two completely different courses can be breathtakingly overwhelming. Given the case where a person works on a team with multiple teachers who teach the same course, I recommend that all members contribute to making lesson videos including having two or more teachers being present on the same video. Working solo? Take it slow. You don’t need to build Rome in one year. These reflections raise the question of whether or not the teacher always needs to be the one making the videos? I’ve learned that the answer is usually no. There are many other content resources available including TeacherTube, YouTube, and Khan Academy with thousands of well-made videos across a wide range of subject areas to choose from. You as the teacher can choose the videos or students can learn to select video content that best meets their learning needs. On two occasions in the past I have had students make and share their own screencasts as part of a formative assessment process. There are plenty of resources available that outline best practices when it comes to making video screencasts for flipped classrooms. Here are a few of my own suggestions from past experience.

  • Choose a place for students to access your videos that meets learners’ needs and complies with school requirements.
  • Take time in advance to teach students how to effectively watch and interact with a video screencast. Don’t assume that, “they’ll just figure it out.”
  • Select a quiet place and time of the day to make your screencasts without interruptions. No one likes hearing an announcement made on the public address system at an unwanted time.
  • Be comfortable with your voice, presence, and little mistakes. Tiny imperfections in your videos will not cause the Earth to quit revolving around its axis.
  • Know what’s in your video background. Do you really want the world to see ______? Fill the blank in for yourself.
  • Is there anything on your screen that would be an infringement of copyright law?
  • Seriously, don’t drink soda pop or other carbonated beverages during your video for obvious reasons, water yes.

6. Being Accountable

Presentation3One of the most powerful memories I ever had when first starting my journey in the world of flipped classroom instruction was when a fellow colleague asked me, “what will you do if they don’t watch the video?” It’s a great question about student learning accountability. There will be days when students return to your classroom without watching the assigned video. They may have been absent the day before, or they may have forgotten. Some may have chosen not to watch your video lesson despite understanding the requirement and consequences. The bottom line is that they will be back in your classroom the next day. What will you do when they return?

Presentation2There are many ways that teachers can monitor students’ engagement with online content. The screenshot above is from one of my former flipped middle school algebra courses that I managed and delivered via Moodle. I currently use Blackboard which provides a similar content tracking mechanism. Despite these advances in technology there is no guarantee that a student will truly watch and engage with your flipped lesson content. As I have discovered with brutally honest students, a kid merely needs to click on a link, walk away, and then let a video run its course. I have used and still do to some degree of success, create short formative assessments such as the exit question quizzes shown on the right that accompany video segments. Again, there are some students who will guess and click their way through the assessment without ever watching the video. There are others who will minimally engage with the video content and still successfully complete the formative assessments. They simply figure the content out on their own. In the end, I have learned that the only true measure of accountability is the summative assessment provided at the end of a unit. If a student manages to demonstrate mastery by applying his or her own learning resourcefulness without the benefit of your flipped classroom does it really matter anyway? They’ve succeeded.

7. Adapt to Your New Role

At no other time in my career as an educator can I honestly say that I have felt more like a facilitator and consultant of learning than I have while using the flipped classroom model. In many respects, identifying and adapting to my new role happened as a natural consequence of the learning environment that I created. The evolution of my role in the classroom has, in my opinion, contributed to the following five most important outcomes in my practice. These outcomes are largely synonymous with many other reports of positive benefits associated with flipped classroom instruction. Notice that increased student achievement levels, although realized, is not mentioned.

  1. An overall more flexible learning environment
  2. The development of more independent learners
  3. More positive and meaningful interactions with my students
  4. Deeper student and teacher engagement with learning content
  5. A shared increase in the enjoyment of teaching and learning

Simply because of the incredible shift that has taken place in how learning content is delivered and accessed, all teachers’ roles will somehow change in the flipped classroom model. The one constant that will exist in all cases is that classrooms will become less teacher and more student centered.

8. Know When to Flip

A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology giving a lecture. CC BY-SA 3.0

For those who say that the lecture is dead, I fully disagree. While other models of teaching and advances in technology have led to new and innovative ways of delivering content and engaging students, to be fair, lecture as an effective method is far from dead. Call it professional judgement or teacher instinct, there are many times in my own content areas of math and science that I would very wisely choose not to deliver content in a form other than lecture. Using lecture as a delivery model still involves dialog, questioning, and vast opportunities for collaboration. Done right, it it includes inspiration, story telling, and the development of new ideas. It is far from a completely passive form of learning. Furthermore, lecture can still be supported by other resources including teacher-developed videos and other forms of shared online content. Likewise, there are times as by evidence in the preceding paragraphs that lecture is completely inappropriate as a teaching and learning model. The most skilled, flexible, and open-minded educator will know when and how to use the best approach for any given situation including lecture and flipped classroom learning.

 

12 thoughts on “Think Before You Flip

  1. I think I probably made it pretty clear that I have conflicted feelings about flipped classroom. I have taken (and dropped out of) enough MOOCs to know that I really rebel against having to watch videos with talking heads. That said, I do think that the videos can be used as problem-solving resources and can be used for differentiation. I think what is most important is giving the kids a reason to watch a video (a tricky question they WANT to answer) rather than homework.

    That said, I really love all your practical advice for how to implement a flipped classroom. You post clearly identifies that it’s not about the videos…its about a cultural understanding in your classroom about what the role of a teacher is. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences!

    Reply
  2. Chris,

    I flipped (or blended) my math class for my 5th graders the past two years and my husband has managed to flip/blend his classes for IB HL and SL. I think the key learning we both had was that it’s not about the videos, in fact those are the least important part (of course you want to make a quality interactive video) but I found that it is all about what I do in class with the time I would have been instructing. I tried to make my classes student choice with lots of problems they face on a daily basis that they needed the math skills to solve. I also tried to incorporate different learning modalities. I agree with you, it’s not all about the videos and I think it is misrepresented when people say they flip their classes when they are just sending their students to a site with supplemental material. As far as accountability, I found that including a Google Form is a great way for me to see which students got it and whom I need to work with the next day in class. Let me know if you want to know more about using Forms.

    Thanks for your advice, I will point teachers to it when they ask questions regarding flipping.

    Megan

    Reply
    • Hello Megan,

      Yes, please don’t hesitate to send others my way for questions and assistance. I fully agree with you. It’s not about the videos. In fact, I think the over emphasis on videos as a method of content delivery in the flipped classroom setting has given it somewhat of a bad or misunderstood name. It is in fact about so much more. Students can be asked to access information outside of the classroom from a variety of sources, not just videos. One thing I’d like to do more of in the future is to have students search for, use, and assess other lesson videos available on line. Salman Khan while good, is not the sole owner of all things math available on YouTube. It’s great to hear that you and your husband are both exploring this teaching and learning strategy. Having the ability to share ideas and experiences is huge in making it successful.

      Thank you again for your comments and reflections.

      Best wishes,

      Chris

      Reply
  3. Chris, thanks so much for this really insightful blog. I have not flipped my room and am not 100% sure if I want to however, your resources and links were fantastic. I noticed you used Piktochart too which is also a great reminder how that can be used. It sounds like the creating of videos, and quizzes are not only the time-consuming part, but the development from research to getting student and parent buy in is too.

    I think after reading the articles and watching many videos about flipped learning for COETAIL I can check number 1 off the list. I am definitely on number 2 as I really don’t know what my purpose would be other than freeing up class-time for more hand-on opportunities. I mentioned some of my ideas in my post link to coetail.com however, even at the end of the post I am still not sure.

    I think if I was to do this I’d need to start small. I am familiar with ExplainEverything but not Jing, SnagIT or Screencastomatic. I do often share YouTube, Vimeo and TeacherTube videos with my students. I think if I was to flip my room I’d want to create some of the videos as it would also be great experience for me. I have noticed in class students will often be playing instructional videos even if it isn’t a part of the task I set. Students are definitely used to these as a way of learning new artistic skills, but I also like the dynamics when I am demonstrating, getting students to replicate, critique and answer questions during my introduction classes.

    I saw a great video that a teacher created to demonstrate her changed classroom. link to youtube.com. It was really cool because it explained the reasons for the change the benefits for the students and the benefits for the teacher. I would like to be that convinced about introducing it to my classes. This video is what I thought of when you mentioned number 4. If I was to flip my room I would use this idea of presenting a video too. Maybe with a GoogleDoc quiz or task so they can see and feel what it would be like to flip instructions.

    I will definitely refer back your blog post once I have made some decisions about my art room after COETAIL. I love that you said you are still learning and trying to get it right. As Valdir said, link to coetail.com we as teachers should always be learning 5,10 and 15 years from now! Thanks for the insightful post.

    Reply
    • Hello Rebecca,

      Thanks for the link to the teacher video at link to youtube.com. I also enjoyed reading your post and having the opportunity to see the list of resources that you have provided. After reading your comment I thought to myself that if I were to start this all over again, I would probably not use the term “flipped classroom” but rather simply refer to it as 21st century learning. While I do use videos a lot as a means of introducing concepts, it doesn’t have to be that way. Students can access learning content from a variety of sources including videos. I think the whole point of flipping classrooms is to shift the focus of the classroom away from the teacher and back to the student.

      If you do decide to flip your classroom, please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you may have. I would be glad to help.

      Best wishes,

      Chris

      Reply
  4. Hi Chris,
    Like Rebekah I have mixed feelings on the flipped classroom approach. My criticism has always been that students end up doing more homework. I really appreciate how you outlined your approach on how to tackle it. You’re approach seems very similar to Paul Anderson’s. It seems to be less about the videos and more about the purpose behind the flipping and allowing students to move at their own pace. This is something I could buy into.

    Reply
    • Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for the tip on Paul Anderson. He has a new Twitter follower today. By a percentage, I think the video aspect of flipping a classroom or doing blended learning is about 20%, not too much. You brought up a really good point about homework. When I started flipping lessons or just introducing content via a screencast video, not many people were doing it. By the time I left my last school, a lot of faculty were. All of a sudden students were doing tons of video watching at home. Needless to say a lot of ref flags went up with nervous reactions from parents. I also noted at that time that people were filling classroom time with more and more work that amounted too excessively large numbers of minutes required in and outside of the class. Flipping a classroom is not a justifiable reason to stuff 10 pounds of stuff into a 5 pound bag so to speak. For many other reasons too, it’s a way to open doors to more differentiated and deeper levels of instruction.

      Thanks for the feedback and the tip to Mr. Anderson.

      Best wishes,

      Chris Hoffman

      Reply
  5. Hello Chris,

    My name is Glenda Frank and I am a high school math teacher at the American Community School in Abu Dhabi. I am part of the Coetail Online Cohort6 group and we are just in the process of finishing up Course 2. I read your post about flipped classrooms in mathematics with great interest.

    I have always been a great skeptic when it comes to flipping classrooms in mathematics. To me learning mathematics is all about investigating and meaning-making through exploration. To me mathematics isn’t something that can be truly learned by watching. I do everything that I can in my classroom to avoid telling students “stuff”. I try to teach students mathematical concepts by getting them to investigate, observe patterns and make deductions based on their observations. I rarely, if ever, tell students here is the concept – this is what you do. Partner discussions are a big part of meaning making in my classroom, and I strive to build an atmosphere of collaborative, engaged learners. To me, the flipped math classroom has always meant passive learning, where a student sits and is told what to do — and that is the part that bothers me. Yes, I see huge benefits in coming into a classroom after having learned something and working with others on tougher, richer problems, but what about the importance of inquiry, discovery and meaning-making during the initial contact with the concept? Is that lost in a flipped classroom?

    Now I acknowledge that I have no hard evidence for my thoughts. I have never seen a flipped classroom in action – unless you consider the online university math classes I have been taking through the University of Waterloo to be flipped? This is part of the reason that I liked your post. You caused me to reflect more deeply on flipped classrooms in mathematics. I see myself as a facilitator or “learning consultant” as you put it, and I am always looking for ways to improve student engagement and ownership in the learning process. If a flipped classroom is something that can do that, then I am all for exploring its potential in my classroom and I am considering experimenting with a flipped classroom in one of my courses next year. The resources that you shared, and the advice that you gave, will most definitely help me in my journey.

    Thanks again for your post.

    Glenda

    Reply
    • Hello Glenda,

      First, great reflections and questions. I think that you have mentioned some very key components to effectively teaching mathematics: investigations, observations, discussions, and collaboration. I do try to make these happen on a daily basis in my classroom. Part of my decision to flip or blend the learning experiences for my students was to address the diversity of needs in my classroom and the continual challenge of having students access home work questions that involved higher order thinking skills. Too often in my public school environment students would skip this type of practice, approach it with little effort, or quite simply copy the answers from the answer keys posted on line. I also wanted the students to have greater access to me and each other during class so that I could make the things that you have mentioned more of our everyday experience. Often times a lot of my students miss key parts of the school year due to illnesses, absences for trips abroad to competitions, or other reasons. Sometimes these absences were days or weeks long. Flipping or blending my classroom monumentally helped alleviate these challenges.

      I don’t advocate just telling students stuff whether online or in person. I do advocate telling students stuff via video or in person when it makes sense to. There are certain algorithmic processes that we teach students that don’t always need elaborate methods. I have had a lot of success with it over the years including in my AP Statistics course but still don’t consider it to be a silver bullet of education. At this point, I would never go back to my old ways of teaching. I think starting out small is a good approach along with lots of parent communication and student preparation.

      Thanks again for the feedback and good luck with your future math teaching experiences.

      Chris

      Reply
    • Hi Glenda,

      By the way, if you ever do flip your math classroom or parts of it, please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you may have. I am at hoffmanc@tas.tw. I would be glad to help.

      Reply

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