Flipped Classroom Exit Letters

I asked my students on the last day of school to write letters to next year’s students, whoever they are. I took all of those responses, removed the common words, and then pasted all of the letters into Wordle.

The assignment was: “Write a letter explaining how a future student can be successful in a flipped classroom.”

So, are videos still the most important part?


I sat outside this morning drinking coffee and watching a bumblebee flop its way through a camellia, hunting for nectar. With each foray, her hairy body was saturated with pollen to be distributed to the next flower. All of the plant’s energy had gone into a gamble that an insect would visit and take some of the pollen and donate some to another lucky flower.

It's not a camellia, but that's okay.

Flickr CC, Express Monorail

The Indiana state biology standards do not have a place for pollination, or even basic plant and animal anatomy, unless you count identifying the differences between their cells, and even that has significant room for improvement. Kids do not care about the differences in the cells unless they can see how it makes a difference in their world.

Without bees, there would be no new flowers each season. Without the flowers, bees would not have a source of nutrition. Cells, when added up, make a difference.

Every day spent with students is an opportunity to question, observe, debate, explain, and create. Unfortunately, we are under the impression that our hands are tied. I chose to believe in standards, rather than observation and questioning, and I regret the opportunities I missed with my students.

Does the bee realize the opportunity it is providing each flower with each stop? I’m not sure, but it doesn’t matter. Be aware of the moment and let learning opportunities happen. Do what is right for your kids and the rest will sort itself out.

Three Example Flips

In response to some emails and tweets I received on my last post, I decided to write three short examples of flipping that can happen at varying levels and content areas. Keep in mind, my experience is in high school science, and I am not, in any way, intending these to be used straight from this post in the classroom. You do not need to ask permission to modify, change, or use any of these examples in your class.

Flickr CC, WTL photos

Elementary Math – Building Bridges

Students are given time in class by the teacher to identify different shapes in the classroom. They can make a chart of the properties of the shapes in comparison to one another (ex. triangle vs. circle). Then, have them look for different shapes in bridges. How can they show the differences between two different shapes? How are the bridges different?

Give students time in class to draw a bridge comparison. Talk about what shapes are the most common. Why are they common? What makes them good for building? Can they design and build their own structure using those shapes?

Give students options to begin building a bridge using the shape they think is best. Which one holds the most weight? Take pictures of their bridge with the weight and explain why it works.


Essential Questions

– How can we describe different shapes?

– What shapes are similar or different from one another?

– What shapes are used in bridges based on observation? Why do you think those are used?

– If you designed a bridge, what shape would you make it? Why?

Technology Applications

– Models of different shapes to describe

– Photos of different bridges (i.e. suspension vs. iron lattice)

– Camera for students to photograph or film bridges with

Flickr CC, by jox.

Middle School English – Hero Analysis

Students choose a short story/novella/novel to read based on their interest. Concurrently, they are working on hero and villain character sketches, describing different attributes of protagonists and antagonists. Students produce a book trailer for the piece they read and they are shared with the class as a whole.

Students are grouped (you decide how) and they have a discussion about the heroes and villains in their books. Try to fit each character into the model developed from literary history. Do contemporary heroes and villains fit in that model? Are there outliers? Why?

Students swap heroes and villains and they re-write a book trailer, mashing the new characters into their book’s storyline. Does the book end the same way? Is the plot the same, or does it change based on the traits of the new hero?

Essential Questions

– What are the attributes of heroes and villains?

– Do attributes of heroes and villains cross between stories?

– Are heroes and villains interchangeable within a storyline, or is a story specific to that hero?

Technology Applications

– Book availability

– Computers for video editing (either local or web-based editing)

– Internet connectivity

Flickr CC, Entrer dans le rêve

High School Language – Interviewing a Native Speaker

Rather than teaching culture from an American perspective, have students find a native speaker to speak to about food, culture, their city, or life as a student in their country. If possible, have students record their interview (either with a screencast or as audio only) for review and sharing with peers. In the same interview, if possible, reverse the rolls and have your students practice English with their interview partner.

As a follow-up, write monthly letters or emails in the language you are learning as a way to practice the written grammar and conventions.

Essential Questions

– How is American perspective of a foreign culture accurate or inaccurate?

– How is American culture accurate or inaccurate from an outsider’s perspective?

– What current events are similar in our societies?

Technology Applications

– Internet connection

– Web chatting application (Skype, Google+, FaceTime, etc…)

– Email account for follow up

– Collaborative blog (for correspondance or co-blogging with a pen-pal)


Notice, the common denominator in each of these applications is choice and a redesign of the learning time in class. Video is not the center of a flipped class, it is the experience and interaction that happens with peers and teachers during the school day.

Redesigning Learning in a Flipped Classroom

Flickr CC, TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³

A comment I hear frequently after a visit is, “That looked nothing like what I thought it would.” It’s a good place to start a discussion about the total redesign a flipped classroom brings.

A major criticism of the flipped classroom is that lecture is given as homework, and homework becomes the new class work. This view is too simplistic and leads to a labyrinth of other misconceptions. The main part of this argument assumes a flipped classroom simply injects video into a traditional teaching format. Assignments are not modified and class expectations do not change.

I think of this like adding more salt to saltines. It may increase the flavor a little, but you are not doing anything revolutionary to that cracker. Inevitably, the saltine tastes the same.

In order to leverage the power of video, either as instruction or as extension, you have to rethink what class looks like.

I do not have a preference where my students learn chemistry. I have a group that watches the videos the night before and then uses class time (extremely effectively, I might add) to work through challenge problems, labs, quizzes, and projects. In the same class, I have two students that work 30-35 hours each week outside of school. They use the class time to watch the videos together and then move forward. They rarely do chemistry at home, which is fine with me. Yet a third group does most of their chemistry at home, checks with me in class, and then moves on to geometry for the rest of the period. Each group is totally different than the others, but they are still learning.

I had to re-think what class looks like when information is available anywhere, any time.

Learning about and moving to a flipped classroom requires that you shift your thinking about class time in general. Your role, as the teacher, changes entirely. You have to be okay with students using class to learn chemistry, or using it to learn english, or math, or history. Part of the beauty in a flipped classroom is that it is no longer limited to my content. I can learn alongside students every day. (Did you know, frogs blink their eyes to help them swallow? So. Cool.)

At this point, you may be thinking, “This sounds like something that could easily end up in anarchy.” I want to reassure you, that although this sounds uncoordinated and chaotic, it is a good, fulfilling chaos. Students are engaged in their learning. They are coaching one another through hard questions. Groups form spontaneously, based on self-identified needs. There is freedom to be wrong, free from a fear of failure or negative consequence. Since the class is student time, the “noise” is really hypothesis, creation, and critique in their purest forms. Also bear in mind, this change does not happen overnight. This movement requires a shift that has to occur in both the student’s, as well as the teacher’s, perception of school and the learning process. This requires a healthy investment of time and energy.

Don’t simply salt your class with video and call it a flipped classroom. Many teachers begin by adding some of the new with the old, but that approach will rapidly stagnate and your class will not feel any different than when you started. Challenge yourself to think outside the box about the time in class. Ask students for their opinions. You could even go so far as to implement an iteration of Google’s now-famous 20% time initiatives. By simply allowing for flexibility, your class dynamic can change dramatically.

Time spent in school should be spent meeting your student’s learning needs, not defining learning for them. We seem to have lost that vision in the age of industrialized education.

A true flip is not in when or where videos are assigned…it is time to go deeper. Flip your thinking about where learning happens and work with students on making the change. Working together, you will all land on your feet.

Teacher Appreciation Week

At the start of teacher appreciation week, I feel selfish.

“I’m a teacher and I deserve to be recognized. Yes, I’ll take a PTA lunch. Thank you for the cards and candy. I’m awesome.”

Then I remember that I’m only a teacher because of the people around me. How much more meaningful would this week be if we take time to appreciate what it means to be a teacher?

I spent an entire class period this year talking with a student about a bad breakup. What did that mean to her? What does it mean when I stay at school to five or six o’clock with a club? What does it mean when I go to the school play or musical?

I wouldn’t get to have those experiences or relationships if I wasn’t a teacher.

I appreciate students and the hard work of learning. I appreciate my administrators and colleagues.

I love a fist bump in the hallway as a student walks by. I love laughing and crying with students. I love jokes and serious conversations and everything in between.

I’m blessed to be a teacher.

No More Copies

We learn by emulating or imitating. To begin our frog dissections this week, I demonstrated proper cutting procedures on a frog. Students watched and then imitated my cuts. Soon, they were off on their own with a new skill under their belt.

“Mr. Bennett, to get through the muscle, I made a pinch cut again”

“I cut to the jaw instead of the larynx because it gave me more room to work. I pinched and then cut laterally to the jawbone hinge.”


The same goes for teachers. We learn by watching other teachers and we can then imitate or emulate the tool or style in our own classes. This is especially true of first-year teachers, fresh out of watching and practicing with a seasoned teacher for a full semester. As far as preparation for a career, I think teaching has the best method (no comment on styles of teaching right now, simply the practice of watching and learning).

As we learn new practices and skills, we need to remember to put our own spin on what we do. I can tell you right now, a lesson copied from someone else will not be successful. We can see this even between classes. One method of instruction may work for one group of my students, but fail completely with another. I need to adapt my approach to meet the needs of each group.

Flickr CC, jonrawlinson

This comes up a lot with the flipped classroom. I see ads for “solutions to flipping” and “use service ____ to unlock your flipped classroom!” I am getting more and more questions from people asking, in a step-by-step instruction manual, how to flip. There is no answer to that question, there is no service that you can use and magically change your teaching.

The best I can do is show you what I do, and then you can take what you like and leave the rest. My class is not your class. My student’s needs are different from your student’s needs. Do not go searching for the “perfect” flipped class to copy because it does not exist.

Repeated copying ends up diluting the sharp contrast and color of a beautiful original. Be original in what you do because you and your students are one of a kind.

Summer 2012

I cannot believe the year is ending in just over two weeks. We are down to 13 days here in Evansville, and the crunch is definitely starting. This week, we are enjoying the End of Course Assessments, courtesy of the Indiana DOE. Then, we will spend the last eight days of school doing frog dissections and putting together dissection guides for future biology students.

Just as my school schedule is bursting at the seams, my summer schedule is just as busy. I will be travelling to multiple conferences to share the flipped classroom with as many people as I can and (hopefully) to run into many people I speak with on Twitter for the first time. My current schedule is below…I would love to hear in the comments if our travels will overlap at any point so we can try to meet one another.

Right now, I do not have any dates in July, but if you are looking for someone to speak on technology in education or on the flipped classroom (full training), please feel free to contact me and we can speak about specifics.


(May 31) – 1: W. Leyden High School, Chicago IL

9 – 11: Strelka University, Moscow, Russia

18 – 20: Flipped Class Conference, Chicago, IL

23 – 27: ISTE, San Diego, CA

Finally, this year, my wife and I will be transitioning to South Bend, Indiana. It has been a good year in Evansville, but due to changing family circumstances and opportunities coming my way, South Bend is the next step in our path. I want to thank everyone for the support you have shown me this year and for all the growth opportunities you have provided.