Moving the Flipped Class

I have not written for almost two weeks now. Half of the reason is because of writer’s block, another half because school is crazy, and a third half because of some family issues that came up unexpectedly. I opened up my blog a few times with intention to write, but I could not get anything to form. But that’s okay. It gave me time to reflect on other’s posts and thoughts while trying to get all of mine to fit in my head.

There has been a lot happening with the Flipped Classroom recently…almost too much to list. For example:

Plus, dozens of articles on the flipped classroom.

As I have been reading and following articles and discussions, one thing stood out: the prevailing description of the flipped classroom is “videos at home, ‘homework’ in school.” And this bothers me.

The biggest complaint I hear from flipped class skeptics is that it still relies on homework and technology use. Any ideology that relies on any one tool is doomed. If your class relies on textbooks and kids do not bring their book, what will you do with no redundancy built in?

What is missed in so many articles on the flipped classroom is the fact that it does not rely on homework or video. That is simply one iteration of a larger process.

I have a flipped classroom, but I do not assign homework nor do I require students to watch lecture videos. What I do expect students to do is drive their own learning rather than relying on someone else (me) to crack the whip behind them. That is what the flipped classroom is about…reversing the learning roles. Not the video. Not the technology.

Flickr CC, Viernest

If you are a flipper, I want to encourage you to change the discussion focus from video to how we can better support student learning in a flipped classroom. What works well for you? What did not work well for you? How has your teaching changed since flipping? I do realize that video is a great tool in flipping, but it really is the smallest part of the puzzle and does not accurately represent the whole picture. If we want to move forward, we need to start having more deeper, connective conversations with other educators, just like we try to with our students.

Ugly Learning

Unfortunately, we are entrenched in an age of education that wants to be “pretty.” Students are all reaching “mastery” in every subject and they all move at the same pace through every class every year. Like all utopian societies, this is not attainable. True learning is ugly (to outsiders), and we need to embrace that thought before we can move forward in education.

When I am asked about what things should be done to flip a class successfully, I always respond with good pedagogy, collaboration, and reflection. If we are not reflecting, we are not growing. If we are reflecting properly, student voice will also be a major player in decisions as classes move forward.

I like to think of class adaptations like I think about Facebook changes. The outward appearance changes and people lose their minds about how terrible the new design is and how they want to go back to the old, familiar way of doing things (status quo). Teaching is no different. When a teacher flips for the first time, students are put under the microscope and they hate it…at least in my experience. They have to unlearn how they have been learning playing school up until your class. Needless to say, student surveys usually do not go well the first time they are asked about the new style.

Second, grades are imperfect. Students that play the school game well get good grades…that is just the way it is. Learning is messy. It requires failure, and in today’s grading atmosphere, that usually means a lower class average. Do not define your teaching by the grades of your students. Talk to other people (parents, students, administrators, colleagues) about why true learning is so ugly in the grade book…it is not rewarded by the traditional school model. Do not sacrifice what you know is right for your students because of a number on paper.

I want to encourage you, if you are flipping for the first time, to look at your survey results as reflex reactions to a new environment, and not necessarily as a success or failure in your book. You will never have 100% satisfaction or love from students, so do not expect it. If it is your first time, I would expect your results to be split 50-50. The first few weeks will be hard, and we do not talk about that enough. But, take heart…it does get better.

Listen to your students and work with them. Find ways to compromise on expectations or methods. Take their advice on how to improve instruction. Reward failure and look at the big picture being painted. Watching students learn is beautiful, and we need to begin to recognize the process, not snapshot performances. You, the teacher, know what is best for their learning, so keep doing what is right.

How to Create an Effective Study Guide

Final exams and standardized testing are right around the corner for us. My students have the obligation to sit in a large room and take multiple choice questions that (supposedly) tell us (them?) how much they have learned this year about biology. Naturally, the discussion about study guides comes up more and more frequently from students. Below are my suggestions as you prepare study guides.

  • Prepare early. Starting thinking about the guides from day one of school. Work to develop and understanding of what the completed guide will look like in the end. Be ready to change directions.
  • Do not focus on content. Our guides do not need more factoids or bullet points. Rather, focus on critical thinking and analytical questions to guide the learning.
  • Allow for flexibility. If we want guides that are multi-purpose, do not create them one-size-fits-all. Push for multiple uses and applications with each guide you are working on.
  • Encourage mistakes. Some of the best review happens when we realize (or identify) misconceptions and then correct them.
  • Allow for collaboration. Do not assign a grade for the guide, but recognize and praise the effort that goes into its production and use.
    These simple steps helped me prepare over 100 study guides this year. Hopefully, they can help you, too.

Flipped Classroom Point

I wrote the following essay as a response to the ISTE Community Point/Counterpoint question: “To Flip, or Not to Flip?” You can see the discussion on the ISTE Community Forum.


The Flipped Classroom has enjoyed a boost in popularity recently. Unfortunately, the focus has been on the distorted idea that students spend all their time listening to web-based lectures and completing worksheets.

A true flipped classroom is centered on the idea that technology can help us deliver quality teaching when and where the students are ready for it. Teaching methodology must be pedagogically sound in order for a flipped classroom to be effective, but that is no different than any other method being explored by teachers.

Having said that, the flipped classroom is an extremely effective way to A) reduce the cognitive load of learning new content (Musallam 2010), B) open up time with students for differentiation and personalized learning, and C) be a powerful tool in a teacher’s arsenal of teaching strategies.

There are multiple articles (Musallam 2010, Overmyer 2011) published that show that a flipped classroom (or even using video as a teaching tool) can help students learn difficult content at an appropriate pace. Not all material can or should be taught using constructivist or inquiry approaches, and it is a well-known fact that people learn at different rates. Rather than forcing pupils to learn on a set timetable, the flipped classroom allows students to learn in a variable, scaled environment. Students that work quickly through content can be pushed to higher levels of reasoning while students that work slower can be nurtured and guided by the teacher. The time I would spend talking to a group of passive listeners is now spent engaging every student every day at a level appropriate for their individual learning needs.

The flipped classroom does not claim to be 100% constructivist, nor is it exclusively based on direct instruction. Rather, it is a blend of tools used when and where they are appropriate. When direct instruction is appropriate, it can be recorded as a video. When inquiry is appropriate, I can use inquiry in class and then offer the opportunity of reinforcement through a short video tutorial. I do not require students to watch my videos, but they are an available resource for learning. Many times, students end up curating and sharing their own discoveries in their learning.

Finally, technology limitations are often a cited reason to avoid a flipped classroom at all costs. Again, there are workarounds to this problem. Many times, students can use a flash drive to share the content with one another. Sometimes, teachers are even taking a portion of their classroom budget to buy the drives for students lacking their own resources. DVD’s can also be burned (although on a limited basis for rare access situations) with the chapter’s videos for students to watch at home. In these cases, parents begin to learn with their students each night at home. With the optimal video length ranging from 8 – 15 minutes, there is usually a significant decrease in “homework” time listening to the material the first time through. Flipping can also be done without assigning homework at all. Particularly for me, there are students that choose to listen to videos in class in small, collaborative work groups (self-assigned groups). The groups then support one another through the material.

All in all, the flipped classroom is not a panacea, nor does it claim to be. It is unfair to relegate it to the section of “completely hopeless” education ideas. There is a growing number of educators, myself included, who are working to remove the time variable in schools by developing and supporting students in flipped classrooms, and that endeavor alone is a step in the right direction.

Why Risk is Scary

I have written a couple of posts lately on risk-taking being an essential component of change in a system. Much of this stems from the risks that I have taken this year (and also from of the ones I have not taken). Each time I write or talk about risk taking, I wonder why more teachers do not take the plunge into trying to change a habit.

The answer, I think, is that relationships are required, and that introduces the possibility of failure. When we are isolated from others, the possibility of failure is eliminated.

Allow me to elaborate.

Say you are planning a date for that certain someone. This is not a normal date…you want to surprise them. You have two choices:

  1. Do something you have both enjoyed in the past.
  2. Try something new.

Option 1 is safe. We have prior experience with the activity and the outcome, and we know that while it may not be as exciting, it is predictable and therefore, comfortable. Option 2, on the other hand, requires significant risk. Your date could be amazing, or it could flop completely and end in total failure. The reason this choice matters is because of the relationship that is involved in the choice.

Conversely, if you were trying to decide what to do alone, there is no risk of failure because there is no relationship associated with your choice. You can do something you have done before, or you can try something new. There is no one to let down if it does not work out the way you imagined.

Schools are exactly the same way. We have done things the same way for so long because they are predictable and “safe.” We continue to carry out routines that have been established since the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, there are so many relationships at stake with risk-taking in schools that we often shrug our idea off for the “If only I could…” file that gathers dust in our imaginations.

While taking a risk is hindered because of relationships, it also works the other way. Risks taken in relationship with others can be extremely rewarding, even in failure. Work with a PLC in your building or collaborate with others across the globe. There are people just like you trying to do the same thing, many of them reaching for support.

As a disclaimer, I do recognize that many people are not in a position to even attempt small, calculated change because of school climate, oversight, or other reasons. I am not advocating that we begin jumping off cliffs in the near future. What I am suggesting is that we begin to identify what relationship we are afraid of damaging to then take preventative steps to make sure it stays strong in success as well as failure. This often requires compromise and collaboration, which takes time to build. Keep the collaboration local if you can and work toward improving your community at the same time. Encourage administrators or parents to join you in your ideas.

If you find yourself as an island in school, look to Twitter for help and community. I want to encourage you to make sure you have a group of people, digital connections or in your school, that you can turn to when things get difficult.

Do not let relationships scare you out of taking a risk that will improve your teaching. Use your relationships as a support network to move forward.


In an attempt to build community, I would ask that you use #Edrisk to share your stories, successes, and failures. Let’s learn together in this.