Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thinking about the Flip

Item #2 on my Elephant list:  Experiment with flipped/inverted classroom.

Just a few months ago, I read about the idea of the inverted or "flipped" classroom for the first time. Since then, I have noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere are talking about it. I am completely intrigued by the idea. Instead of giving direct instruction and sending kids home to practice, you assign a video as homework and do the practice in class.

One thing I love about this idea is that it doesn't feel like it would be that big of a stretch for my teaching style. I have been recording videos of lessons for several years now, using an interwrite pad:

This device allows me to record my voice and handwriting as I teach. I can record an explanation live, and make it available to students who were absent. I have also left videos for a substitute when I was gone for the day. Once, when I had a terrible sore throat and could barely talk, I played a pre-recorded video in class to save myself from the talking. The thought never occurred to me to record a lecture and assign it as homework. But why wouldn't that work? I want to try it.

Here are a few of my concerns:

1.  I am not sure how to make the videos accessible to all students.

2.  I don't know if I have enough time to record a bunch of videos.

3.  I don't know how to make videos anymore. I know I said I've been making videos like this for years, but now that we are in a new school I have a completely new set of audio/visual gadgets to figure out. My interwrite pad has been replaced with a smart slate. It is supposed to be the same, but for me it hasn't been as user-friendly.

4.  What if a student shows up to class without having completed the homework?

To help process my thoughts, I had a discussion with my current calculus class about the idea. I was just curious what they would think. In general, they weren't thrilled. The main concern they had was that they want to be able to ask questions if they don't understand something in the lecture. They are also worried about accessibility of the videos, as some of them do homework during their break at work, or riding the bus to and from a sports event. I was sort of surprised. I kind of expected them to be more excited about the idea.

One of my students said "What is the point?". He wasn't being rude, he legitimately wondered what was the advantage of flipping. Good question. My answer was that it takes the part of the lesson that students are most likely to need help with, and puts them in the classroom with teacher and peer support while they are doing that.

But now I am starting to question it myself. Why? I don't want to do something just because it is new and interesting and it seems like it would work. Will it truly enhance learning? I think the key is going to be a combination of quality videos AND how I choose to structure the practice time in class. If all I am going to do is say, "Any questions on the video? Okay, here's your practice", then it probably isn't anymore affective than teaching the traditional way.

I still plan on experimenting with the flip in calculus next year. I can see that it might be a harder sell than I originally thought. . .


  1. 1. You can burn all the videos onto a dvd. That way students have access to it even if they don't have the Internet. I've taken an informal poll and even in this low income area everyone has some device they can watch a dvd on. Also, I imagine handing out a dvd instead of a textbook. Much more cost effective and easy to replace.

    2. Have each student make a video of a topic from throughout the year as a end of year review. That topic will be reinforced for the kid and you will have a library of videos already. Create a review worksheet that students complete by watching the videos. This could be a review for end of course or final exams or just a good way to end the year.

    3. Use Jing. It is very simple and free. Use Powerpoint or SMART Notebook to create the actual problems and then use Jing to record the screencast and voiceover. Super simple.

    4. What do you do now if a student doesn't complete the homework? Create guided notes to go with the videos that are fill in the blank style. Have students pause videos to work out examples before watching the correct answer. Those who just copy everything down won't know what to do but will have notes copied down. At least they have something to refer back to. If they don't watch it at all, hopefully you will have more time in class to devote to that student since other students should have at least a head start on the material.

    My students loved the idea because they said it sounded like something college kids would do. But of course I have freshmen and sophomores...

  2. Hi Misscalcul8! Thank you for those ideas -- that definitely gives me something to think about. I am still asking myself what is the overall payoff for all that extra work? Are students really going to be learning more? But I am going to give it a try before I decide that it won't work! Amy

  3. I have been using a similar approach lately, but with guided notes. I think that I spend too much time giving definitions/theorems in geometry and not enough time practicing problems with them. But my students think HW and they think it is some thing that they have to pass in. So I am working out the kinks. Yours sound like a great idea. keep us posted on your progress.

  4. Something I have tried recently is to let students do notes on their own. Before, I would create guided notes and lead them through it at the board. Twice I've tried letting them complete the notes in teams without me leading. It's easier than just an open-ended discovery lesson because the notes are scaffolded (hence the name 'guided') but there is more buy in and retention when they stumble upon patterns and formulas on their own rather than me just telling them what to do. I think this a step toward flipping the classroom by removing more of my influence out of the way of their thinking.

  5. I'm ambivalent about this. It sounds great in theory but so many theories only work with adults (college-level) who have different time pressures and levels of responsibility.

  6. Hi Curmudgeon! Thank you for reading my blog and sharing your thoughts. I just finished reading your post on this topic and almost everything you wrote has gone through my head as I think about this. I did not realize the idea originated in college, and that certainly brings a new perspective. At this point, I am leaning towards recording my direct instruction "live" to create a bank of unedited videos. In that case, it will be a full school year before I could implement the flip. In the meantime, I could make the videos available to students who are absent or who want to review the lesson.

  7. Sounds like a good thing. Please keep accurate notes and data? Pretty please?

  8. Hi Amy,
    I was so excited to read your post today! I have been thinking along the same lines. I have used the interwrite panel for a year now, but haven't done recording...just saving screenshots.

    Anyway, I have to pass along this link to a video about a Ph.D. project that tested retention in watching khan academy science videos: The point of the video is that when students watch videos they often assume they know what they are going to learn so they don't learn as much as they could.
    Anyway, I hope to follow your journey because I like the idea of having students watch videos for vocabulary and to develop questions about the content. Instead of going through homework (which can be a time waster), start the class with a review and discussion of the video and possible misconceptions.
    Thanks for sharing...I look forward to reading more...I am blogless, but want to start one at some point.
    Algebra I teacher in CA

  9. I know this post is from last year, but I've just come across it and thought I would join in...

    I've been flipping for the last few months and I have really seen great benefits - I can't imagine myself going back to my old way of teaching. Your concerns are all valid, and I've had my fair share of students who struggle with the new way of learning and doing. One of my goals is that students learn how to take responsibility for themselves and to become independent learners who can be successful in everyday life and in society as adults. That is not an easy change to make. I really don't feel me spoon-feeding them in class was helping them. Flipping is not the be-all end-all, and is not the magic solution, but it is one that I am seeing helps with some of those issues I was trying to find solutions to.

    To be successful, I believe that flipping the classroom has to be about so much more than just videos at home. I have set up a system in class that engages students in deep conversations and questioning about the content and allows them to work at their own pace, ahead or a little behind of the class, and still feel success. They don't move on until they feel comfortable with the current content- unlike a traditional class where if they were lost one day they will probably be even more lost the next day.

    Overall though, I've seen success. I am collecting data all semester comparing my scores last year in a non-flip to this year in a flip. My first unit test for Math Analysis saw a 7.5% class average increase and a 16% percent increase in # of students scoring proficient (80%+). I'm keeping a reflective blog all year on the pros, cons, upsides and downsides at

    Sorry for being so long, but just wanted to share some thoughts!