How to Unflip the Flipped Classroom

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In this edition of the Hack Learning Podcast, Mark Barnes is unflipping the popular flipped classroom. Listen to what Mark says about the flipped classroom in the podcast episode above and learn more about the in-class flip in this excerpt from Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School, by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez.

The Problem: Flipped Learning Can Fall Apart at Home

Flipped learning has become wildly popular in education. Unlike a traditional course setup, where content is delivered in class and students apply and practice their learning through homework, the flipped classroom turns that arrangement on its head: The initial content delivery happens at home (often through a video of some sort), and then students and teachers re-converge in class to apply and practice their learning.

The thinking behind this arrangement is that teachers’ expertise is much more valuable during that application stage; when content is delivered in an automated format, this frees up the teacher to really interact with students as they use and engage with the content through discussion, practice, role-play and simulation, inquiry, and hands-on projects.

Here’s the thing, though: If a lesson is going to flip with any success, the at-home learning absolutely has to happen. Students must learn the initial content in order to apply it. This requires every student to have at home a working device, a reliable, consistent Internet connection, and an environment conducive to concentration. Unfortunately, in many communities, securing all three can be challenging. Even in cases when all of these things can be arranged, their stability can be questionable.

For some teachers, these complications have been enough to make them abandon flipping altogether. They quickly write off flipped learning as a trend that just doesn’t work or isn’t worth the trouble. This is a shame, because in too many cases, these teachers resign themselves to staying in the role of content provider, allowing their time to be consumed with lecture and demonstration when it could be better spent engaging directly with students.

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What if you and your students could still get the benefits of flipped learning without messing with all the variables of the home environment? What if the whole flipped process could remain in school?

The Hack: Flip Your Class…In Class

The In-Class Flip moves the flipped learning model inside the walls of your classroom. Using a set of iPads, tablets, a few classroom computers, or even students’ own devices, the content delivery portion of a lesson—the “home” part in a true flip—would be set up as a station in the classroom. This allows students to receive the content in the same way that they would at home, while freeing up the teacher to engage remaining students as they apply the learning from the video or from previous lessons.

To demonstrate, let’s assume a teacher has a 10-minute recorded video lesson to deliver some portion of his content, and his classroom has six tablets for student use. He sets those tablets up as one station (with earbuds for non-disruptive listening) and arranges to have the 10-minute video accessible through those tablets.

in class flip stations via Hacking Education

In-class flip station model from Hacking Education

Next, he sets up a station where students will directly apply the concepts introduced in the video, such as a writing assignment, a set of discussion cards, a game, or a practice sheet.

Students will go to this station only after they have seen the video. Because he has 24 students, but only six tablets, the teacher needs more stations, so he sets up three more that do not rely on the information from the video. These can be short hands-on activities, skills practices, games, or reviews of prior learning.

When students arrive, they are divided into groups of six and placed at the first four stations. Note that station 5, which students can only do after they have watched the video, stays empty for the first round.

For the following round, students rotate to the next station. This time, the first group of students watching the video is able to apply that content in the next station. Although stations 1 through 3 are just basic classroom activities, the rotation from station 4 to station 5 in this example is basically what replicates a flip. Instead of delivering the new content himself, this teacher now has Station 4 to do it for him. This frees him up to rotate around to the other stations, interacting with students as they engage with both the new content at Station 5 and prior learning at Stations 1 through 3.

What You Can Do Tomorrow

Although setting up an In-Class Flip requires planning and preparation, you can get a taste of how it works by trying this mini-version:

  • Go on a treasure hunt. Locate a video online that delivers some simple piece of content related to your subject area—something you haven’t taught yet. If YouTube isn’t an option at your school, try looking at Vimeo, TED-Ed, or TeacherTube.
  • Prepare a post-video activity. Create some kind of task students can do after they have viewed the video—a written assignment, a quiz, discussion questions, something hands-on, or even an activity that you would run yourself—that will require application of the learning from the video.
  • Prepare another independent activity. This task should not be directly related to or dependent upon the video in any way. It is not necessary to create a full set of stations for the “non-flipped” time; as long as you assign independent work that will engage the rest of the class while other students rotate through the flip, the class should run smoothly.
  • Complete a test run. As part of tomorrow’s class, have students take turns sitting at the video viewing station, then completing the post-video task. Make yourself available to answer questions during the task. Instruct students who are not watching the video or have not yet seen it to do the independent activity during the remaining time.

A Blueprint for Full Implementation

Step 1: Take inventory.
Determine how many reliable classroom devices you have access to on a regular basis. These do not all have to be the same kind; a combination of tablets, laptops, desktop computers, and even smartphones would work—anything that allows students to view pre-recorded videos, either through an Internet connection or by storing the videos on the devices themselves. If you are very short on devices—say, you only have two—consider whether students might be able to pair up on the same device at the same time. Headphone splitters can be purchased for less than $5, allowing you to plug two sets of headphones into the same output jack.

Step 2: Choose lessons to flip.
Decide what portion of the content will be delivered through video. (Although video is not the only way to deliver content in a flip, it is the most common, so we’ll use that in our discussion here). The content should be something students can grasp reasonably well on their own. It could be a short lesson that explains a new concept and gives examples, a demonstration of a hands-on task they will do later, or the steps of a skill they will practice after the video is done. Students will only be able to absorb small amounts of content in one stretch, so consider how you will break up the content, providing stops during the video for students to take notes, answer comprehension questions, or briefly practice skills.

Step 3: Record the lessons, or find pre-made videos online.
This is the time-consuming part. If you want to start by looking for videos created by others, consider the libraries offered on sites like EDpuzzle, eduCanon, and TED-Ed. If you are unable to find videos that meet your specific needs—and for many people, this is the case—you’ll need to start making your own. Creating these videos is easier than you think: One way to do it is to build a presentation using PowerPoint or Google Slides, then present it in slideshow mode while you talk, recording the whole thing using screencasting software like Screencast-O-Matic, Jing, or ShowMe.

More on the in-class flip and other quick fixes for every school

Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School

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Featured image credit: I flip for you via photopin (license)

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