Is it time to FLIP your classroom?

Is it time to FLIP your classroom?

One goal at my school this year was to switch how we teach towards a flipped instructional model. On the surface, it may sound simple. Students learn from videos, online collaboration, and recorded lectures at home instead of at school; and voilà! — loads of valuable classroom time is freed up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy.

Let me rewind back to phase one of our technology plan. Our first meeting revolved around questions like, “How come the Starbucks down the street only has one of those spaceship-looking thingies on the ceiling and about 200 people on the internet, while we have 5 of those things and no one can stream videos?” Yikes! Eventually, we figured out to send our most tech savvy staff to trainings and conferences to figure out our bandwidth issues!

Enter phase two — a 1:1 iPad program and full suite of great apps. We discovered a Learning Management System that allowed teachers to post assignments and videos, create “bundles” of lesson plans and units, and give students access to chat sessions, polls, and organizational systems. All year-long teachers and students collaborated to learn from each other using these amazing tools.

By phase three teachers were ready for seamless integration! I recall, in my relentless optimism, saying, “We aren’t going to assign any homework this year! It’s just practice!” I imagined shouts of joy, fist pumps, maybe even a student throwing a pile of worksheets in the air in ironic celebration of our new, paperless workflow.

By the end of the year it was clear that there were as many triumphs as there were challenges when it came to the flipped classroom. Both students and teachers agreed that organization was streamlined with an LMS, and we truly achieved a nearly paperless workflow. The copy machine soon lost its status as an activity hub and we got a Keurig! Students benefitted from the ability to review lessons online at any time and advanced students were able to work more independently and complete extra credit activities. Differentiation became easy and authentic. Students enjoyed online collaboration, something more familiar and natural for them. Everyone agreed that flipped homework was both meaningful and engaging — the way homework was meant to be.

Interestingly enough, the challenges we identified were some of the same associated with regular, old, technology-free teaching: lack of time for lesson development and the issue of incomplete homework assignments. The same culprits turned up unprepared for class. Without “pre-learning” the flipped model comes to a grinding halt. Teachers are once more faced with the choice of holding conscientious students back or plowing onward, regardless. Development and curation of bundles and lesson plans took hours and hours of prep time. It would have been very tempting for teachers to simply give up, considering these obstacles.

All things considered, year one of flipped instruction went well for us. If we were to do it all over again I’d recommend that other schools be sure to set aside as much teacher-training and preparation time as possible. Encourage your staff to “play” with this technology, make mistakes, and fail brilliantly. Start small. Ask teachers to post one video on your LMS per night. This might be all you get from tentative tech-users for a while, until students start asking for more — and they will. Know that effective teachers are not always effective online instructional designers, but blended learning can balance this out. Finally, remember that the flipped model is only a catalyst for learning. Students are still the center of the classroom and sound teaching methodologies and strategies are still as vital as ever.