The Flipped Classroom: A How-to Guide

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It’s a buzz word in education, but many people wonder by definition, what are flipped classrooms? There is a distinct stereotype about what school is supposed to look like and it generally includes direct instruction from a teacher. If not for this, how else would students learn the basic foundation of their curriculum? The flipped classroom approach turns all this on its head and once it is fully implemented in the classroom, as an educator, you will never go back.

One common question that many teachers who are new to student-centered learning often ask is, “How are the students going to learn the initial information if I don’t tell them about it?” As a history teacher by trade, I often get blank stares when I explain that I don’t lecture in my class.

With so much content in that subject area, the same question always comes up,  “How is that possible?!”  I always tell them, “It’s easy. I run a flipped classroom.”

Man pondering under caption: "Flipped classroom, a total game changer"

Many times people assume that a student-centered classroom is a free for all…that students haphazardly learn about the subject matter with no sense of direction.

Frankly, this isn’t even close.

There are standards and curriculum and objectives to meet. If you don’t make sure that each member of your course is meeting these to the best of his or her abilities, you are failing your students as their teacher.

There needs to be some consistency, no matter how differentiated it is. At the end of the day, all the students should have an understanding of the same concepts.

So how does it happen?

person typing on computer with caption "Implementing a flipped classroom is easier than you would think"

How to Effectively Run a Flipped Classroom

Having a flipped classroom is turning learning on its head. Instead of learning the content in class and then practicing it for homework as is what happens in a traditional teacher-led classroom, the students learn the content at home and then utilize that content with hands-on activities in the classroom.

How can this be done? There certainly is no “one size fits all” model. After trial and error, you will figure out what will work with your particular students. It can be a journal article or a comprehensive reading of sorts, for instance.

My personal go-to is using a program called EdPuzzle, which is video-based.

Our students are currently part of Generation Z who learn on their own accord on platforms like YouTube, so this method has pretty quick buy-in with them.

With EdPuzzle, you can assign the students a video to watch. This can be something pulled right from YouTube, for instance, or can be something you have made and uploaded yourself. You can edit, crop, add in your own voice overs, AND, the best part, you embed questions right into the video.

When it is time for a question, the video stops and if the student is unsure of the answer, they can re-watch that particular section to be sure they have the information right. By default, it is set so it cannot be fast-forwarded (though you can change that if you wish), and the student does not have to do it all in one sitting…they can come back to it later and it will pick up right where they left off.

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I usually give my students at least a week lead-in time before the information is needed in class, just so they have this option. One thing that I always emphasize to my students is that I understand they have a life outside for four walls of my classroom and that things happen.

If I truly believe that, I need to make sure they have adequate time to do what I am asking of them in a flipped classroom. The EdPuzzle can be done on a computer, tablet, or smartphone. It has, to put it in the most simple way possible, changed everything about what I do in the classroom.

To learn a little more about having a  flipped classroom with EdPuzzle, you can take their online training module to see how it works.

I’ll be honest with you….I can see your eye rolls through the screen.

woman with hand on face, rolling eyes with caption, "Put your eye roll away. The flipped classroom works!"

Most of you probably went right to those students who don’t complete their homework in your mind. How can our entire lesson be based on something the student may not even complete and be prepared for? The flipped classroom definitely wouldn’t work for me.

I had the same concerns when I first heard about the idea of a flipped classroom. It just didn’t seem realistic. I attended a conference called Techstock at Stockton University in 2016 and I chose a workshop about the flipped classroom. That was the FIRST question that came up.

Our presenter was fabulous. He explained that there was no better way to differentiate than with a flipped classroom. That line in and of itself had everyone leaning in a bit further to hear what he had to say.

Man looking intrigued at what woman is saying with caption, "There’s no better way to differentiate than by using a flipped classroom!"

When you utilize a program like EdPuzzle, you can see the students’ achievement in real-time. You can group your hands-on lessons based on what you are seeing in the data.

For instance, you can put all the students who did not complete the prep work in one group. Before they do anything, they need to complete the assignment to start (There is something called an “in-class flip” if they participate in the flipped classroom component while in school. This might be beneficial overall if your students do not readily have internet access at home).

Then, you can create another group for students who may not have performed well on the flipped assignment (with EdPuzzle, you know before they even get to class). They cannot move forward with the “deeper understanding” activities if they didn’t understand the basics.

Then you can get to the meat of the hands-on environment with the students who completed the assignment and did it well. They can be the ones working on the higher-level activities (the “fun stuff”, if you will).

Too often we spend our time focusing on bringing up the lower-tiered students; this method gives those students the extra assistance they need to understand the basic concepts but also reaches the higher-level students that often don’t receive the attention they also deserve.

Literally everybody wins….and it works, ya’ll!

With the great homework debate, people on both ends of the spectrum have strong opinions on the purpose and worth of homework. Some feel it is useless and others feel like it is absolutely necessary.

The flipped classroom appeases both sides.

It makes the work relevant, prepares the students for class, and creates questions for them to walk into the room with right off the bat. I have heard regular college-prep students get into HEATED arguments over content by their interpretations of what they watched on their EdPuzzle.

It. Is. Awesome.

If you’re still skeptical, give it a try once or twice. See how it goes.
Chances are, you won’t be disappointed.

Flipping the Classroom Without Home Access

However, many teachers are unwilling to try this because of the lack of access to technology on behalf of their students.

We know within our classrooms, no matter if you are in the richest of rich districts or poorest of poor, there is a spectrum of socioeconomic needs for the students that are staring back at us. We often need to remember that they have no control over the financial gains or struggles of their family. They are just along for the ride.

It is also an element that can change with the flip of a switch. One job loss or sudden inheritance could change the entire dynamic of the financial structure for a specific child’s family. However, all of our students are entitled to the same education and to be given the same opportunities to be able to excel to their fullest potential in life.

Little boy child playing mobile games on smartphone in the park.

Flipping the classroom can help narrow this divide in education. It is the ultimate tool in differentiating. A fantastic read that explains this in detail is “Time for Learning: Top 10 Reasons Why Flipping the Classroom Can Change Education“ by Kathleen Fulton (ad). I would suggest checking it out.

However, this still does not change the fact that there are some students out there that do not have access to technology which is so often the focus of a flipped lesson.

This could be because they do not have consistent access to a device, may not have access to the Internet, or do not have the skills to utilize the technology appropriately.

When looking at a bunch of students that may have these barriers and more in the way, it seems like it would be a futile attempt to even try to flip a classroom. However, there are solutions and workarounds for this problem.

The first thing you need to realize is the benefits of the flipped classroom. When a student can work on his or her own, they are able to work at a pace that is appropriate for them in their own learning styles. They do not have to feel embarrassed if they need to rewatch something or go over a concept more than once to understand. They are also able to spend time with the teacher engaging with the material as opposed to passively learning it, which is huge in the student-centered model.

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Because of this, teachers can interact one-on-one with more students daily that they would not have access to if they were trying to do a full class activity. With the teacher able to circulate more, it creates a better dynamic for the classroom and results for the students.

Personally, I always would complete a survey on the first day of school to find out what technology the students had access to. I would not just check their technology access, but I would also focus on what their backup plan was. Sure, a student may have access to a computer, but what if their Internet goes down? What if they can’t use the device that they were planning to use? What is their backup plan?

Many students have neighbors, relatives, or even a local establishment that has Wi-Fi readily available. Having a backup plan is the first step in making sure certain that your students know all of the bases in order to make this work.

As time progresses, there are even more and more opportunities to access the Internet that there weren’t before. Even gaming systems that many students have can access the Internet and be used for schoolwork. There is always an option, and always a Plan B.

Except when there isn’t.

If there are students that just straight up don’t have access to technology outside of school, there are a number of different options to remedy this on some level depending on what you, your district, and the student’s parents are willing to work with.

Tired female resting head on laptop at desk

If it is a device issue, perhaps there is a program within your school where a student can sign out a device to be able to work from home. There is the option of using alternative locations and times to be able to complete assignments, such as before school, during lunch, during study hall, in the library, etc. Personally, I always had a computer available so if a student had an issue, they were able to come and speak to me and we would find a time that worked for everybody that was least disruptive to have them complete the assignment. Rarely did I get any pushback from this and they were thankful that I was willing to work with them.

There is always the option as well to have stations set up in your classroom so if anybody was unable to complete the assignment, they are able to work on it in class before moving forward to the activity that other students are taking part in. How often do we focus on the kids that didn’t do their work as opposed to spending time with the students who did? This is an opportunity for everybody to be equally attended to while having all their needs still met.

There is always the option as well to send home DVD’s or flash drives with the material on it so if the Internet is the issue, but a device is not, there is still a way to access the information. At the end of the day, the teacher could always print out a version of whatever the information is for this student to look over. For instance, if it is a video you could always get the transcript and have them annotate to get the same information, just in a different way.

The key is to always be thinking about another way to make the magic happen. Flipping the classroom will change everything you know about education and finding ways to help students access that information outside of your classroom will benefit everyone in the long run. It’s not like your class is the only one that the student will ever need to use technology outside of the classroom, not in this day in age. By helping them find a local Wi-Fi spot or a way to access technology that they may not have known before, it will help them as they move forward throughout their school careers. Where there’s a will there’s a way, and students not having access to technology should not be a reason to feel that flipping the classroom is impossible.

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