Starting to teach in a flipped classroom environment can be daunting. Here are tips to help it succeed from start to finish.
Every teacher that chooses to flip his/her classroom has different reasons. Mine? I wanted more time with students face-to-face.
On its face (pun intended), this doesn’t seem to make much sense. However, I had over twenty-eight students in one of my first semester dual credit classes. At that size, I couldn’t effectively meet the needs of my most struggling students.
Flipping would give my highest-achieving students a new, developmentally appropriate challenge while freeing up my attention in the classroom for those most in need of help.
Of course, there were some other reasons too:
- Increase my ability to provide more interactive, engaging material.
- Give students the flexibility to choose the learning style (in person, online) which best suits them.
- Provide students the opportunity to flex their independent learning and organizational skills crucial to success in any post-secondary environment.
At the beginning of this spring semester, I started teaching my dual credit U.S. History class (“DCUSH”) using the flipped classroom (blended learning) method — partially taken online and in-person.
Beech Grove High School, where I teach, is a 1:1 district with Chromebooks. I’ve had a supportive administration and a pretty great IT and tech support team. I definitely want to acknowledge that not all educators are so fortunate and I was pretty lucky take this journey.
And oh my, has it been a journey.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned and ideas you can use to do it, too:
Communicating a change like this to parents is really important and should be well thought out. Here’s the letter I sent to mine. (Feel free to copy and modify it for your own use!) Besides this letter, I sent out many other reminders and notifications weeks in advance. You’ll want to let parents, just as much as students, know what to expect.
Setting Up the Structure
When I set up my structure for the flipped DCUSH course, I wanted to make sure that I was providing students with a high level of support while giving them the flexibility to try out something new. With that thought in mind, here are the options that I gave to students:
- You don’t have to flip if you don’t want to. If you enjoy being in class each day and learn better that way, you can attend class like normal. I’ll teach the same material in class that you would have online.
- You can start out the semester attending in class at first, then transition to flipping as time goes by.
- Or, you can start flipping right away.
You’ll notice that students have the option of attending class in person or online, and if they choose to be physically present, I’ll be there in the room teaching the same lesson. If your scheduling situation doesn’t allow for this to happen, don’t worry– I would just provide extra opportunities for students to ask for help or provide more support for their online learning.
If they’re not physically present in the class, where are they? Depending on when the class is offered, some sleep in. Some take a long lunch. Some do work for other classes in the library.
The school administration is aware, and ahead of time, I worked with school staff to find a space in school for them to work. As long as students are learning and making progress in the class, they can continue to learn wherever they’d like during my class on “flipped days.” (More on that below!)
I decided early on that students and I would share a calendar that has each day’s objectives, homework, and other relevant assignments. Here’s the link to the schedule we’re currently using. (We’re on a block schedule.)
You’ll notice a few things with this schedule:
- Mandatory Days and Flipped Days: Some days, usually when there’s more challenging material or something that can’t be done digitally, I require my students–all of them–to be physically present in class.
- Homework Listed: To help students keep track of all of the things going on, I’ve created a few kinds of labels.
- Slide Homework: This is homework that was given in class on that day’s Google Slide. I use “HyperSlides” in class, which are basically artsy “HyperDocs”. Here’s a couple of samples of those: Example 1 / Example 2.
- Extra Homework: I don’t use a textbook (hey, “Ditch That Textbook”, am I right?), so students have some supplementary readings and other things like that they need to do.
- Continuing Homework: What’s been assigned already, but due sometime in the future.
- Flipgrid Reflections: If students choose to flip, they must also complete a weekly Flipgrid reflection on material from class. Here’s a sample!
- Tests and Quizzes: I’ve allowed my students to take quizzes and tests online using our LMS (learning management system), Canvas. If you do so, beware the plethora of issues that can happen (cheating, access issues etc.). In my case, I feel comfortable doing so because Canvas monitors what students’ screen is on and what they’re doing while answering questions.
I made four qualifications that my students have to meet in order to flip. Pretty much, this is to ensure that students are mastering the content, developing the skills, and keeping up the work ethic necessary for success. If you decide to make your own, be sure to consult your school administration for guidance and recommendations.
For me, students:
- Cannot miss any “Mandatory Days” in the current academic unit.
- Maintain a 70% (C-) in the course, as measured by updated grades each Friday.
- Have at most 1 missing assignment in the current academic unit.
- Complete a weekly or bi-weekly FlipGrid reflection.
Just to be clear, students must meet ALL four of these qualifications in order to flip. Miss one, and they’ll be attending class until the next time I check eligibility (usually every other week).
Also, I let students know at the beginning of the semester that simply earning a C- or C and passing doesn’t guarantee that a college will decide to take any earned Dual Credit. In other words, they are told that “able to flip” does not equal “a university accepts your DCUSH credit”.
If you’re going to have students flipping — and especially if you have eligibility qualifiers like me — be prepared to track lots of data.
Attendance: I keep a tracker (using Google Forms) that lists my students’ last names, and when they’re not in class, I mark them absent in using this attendance sheet. If the students was supposed to be in class (meaning, they were not allowed to flip), they are marked absent in our school’s attendance system. If they are allowed to flip and not in the room, they are marked present in the school system.
Eligibility: A sample of the other tracker that I use is here. You’ll notice that the log (taken every week or bi-weekly) keeps track of all four qualifiers. If a student is not allowed to flip, they get an email that looks like this.
Keeping in Communication
Keeping in touch with students and parents is crucial. I highly recommend copious amounts of emailing, use of apps like Remind, phone calls, or a combination of them. Carrier pigeons are another effective, but more messy, option as well.
Preparing Your Students
Preparing your students will really help smooth your transition from a “brick & mortar” to a “flipped” classroom. I taught the following skills several times before my students began their first flipped semester.
Keep an agenda/planner.
Schedule time to work on course material & study.
Be able to access all course materials fluidly.
Know how to access the internet at home or use Google Apps offline.
Stick to the expectations established in DCUSH at the beginning of the year.
Spend time reflecting on your learning (note box number 4 under flipping eligibility).
Advocate for yourself by sending/asking lots of questions about material, homework, or skills that you need help with.
Doing the Actual Flipping:
From my experience, the following principles should show up throughout your flipped–and non-flipped–classroom:
- Increase access and reduce barriers.
- Make tech interactive.
- Provide students options to choose how to learn through different processes and products (in short, differentiate).
Want a taste of how one of my lessons looks? Check it out here! I also provide students an interactive tutorial of the lesson using an app called iorad. You can find the tutorial students use here and the link to Iorad here.
Until then, happy flipping!
Nate is a tech-loving history teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana and a co-author of Don’t Ditch That Tech: Differentiation in a Digital World. He specializes in lesson design and also is licensed in Special Education Mild Interventions. He’s taught in both middle school and high school settings, but currently is enjoying teaching World History & Dual Credit U.S. History. He is currently finishing a Masters degree in History at the University of Indianapolis.