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Flipping Your Classroom Without Making Your Students Dizzy!

AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by JB London
There has been a lot of press both locally and nationally,and punditry pro and con lately around "flipping" instruction. "Flipping" is when you create video of your lecture or a demonstration that you would normally do in class, and then post the video for students to watch as homework at home. Proponents point out that this then allows the teacher to either complete activities that normally would be done as homework in class with the support of the teacher, or it allows for hands on activities to take place in the classroom with facilitation from the teacher. 
Teachers may create their own videos, or rely on prepackaged video from publishing companies or others. Some believe that Sal Khan, creator of the "Khan Academy," is their favorite teacher, and some question the accolades. This past summer, Scott McLeod convened an expert panel to debate the issue. For those thinking of flipping, or flipping well, it is well worth an hour of your time! In this post, I'll review some of the origins of the flip, discuss best practices, and share two examples of how our Edina teachers are incorporating "flipping" into their instruction.

The idea for flipping originated with two Colorado Science teachers, Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann who who created video lectures in multiple formats for their students as homework, allowing for more hands-on activities in class. Originally called "Educational Vodcasting," Sams and Bergmann saw tremendous growth in student achievement and found students were more self-directed in this new pedagogical model. Rather than spending class-time, passively listening to lectures and taking notes, students were able to listen to and view the lectures at home, pause, rewind, and take notes on the important details. They work hard to provide multiple ways for students to view the content, whether it be posted directly online, downloadable as a podcast to view on their portable device, or burned to CD and DVD for students to take home. They now maintain a social network for educators interested in flipping their instruction.

Karl Fisch, who along with Scott McLeod created the "Did You Know...Shift Happens" video, and it's iterations, started flipping his math instruction when he returned to the classroom a few years ago. Daniel Pink, impressed by this pedagogical shift, coined the new technique the "Fisch Flip" in this article in September of 2010.
Fisch has a blog for his classes, and posts the videos along with resources there. Quoting from the Pink article, Fisch says:

“When you do a standard lecture in class, and then the students go home to do the problems, some of them are lost. They spend a whole lot of time being frustrated and, even worse, doing it wrong,” Fisch told me.
“The idea behind the videos was to flip it. The students can watch it outside of class, pause it, replay it, view it several times, even mute me if they want,” says Fisch, who emphasizes that he didn’t come up with the idea, nor is he the only teacher in the country giving it a try. “That allows us to work on what we used to do as homework when I’m they’re to help students and they’re there to help each other.”
Fisch argues that flipping allows for teachers to meet the demands of today's "mile wide" curriculum, that whether we like it or not, students are expected to know. He also notes that there are certain algorithms that are beneficial for students to master, and having the video resource available makes it easier to do so.

Sal Kahn
Sal Kahn is a former "hedge fund analyst" and M.I.T. graduate, who after tutoring his cousin and others in math for a few years, started posting his video explanations online. After 3 years of building up his Youtube channel, his site became so popular that he quit his job to devote all of his energies to developing the "Khan Academy." Khan now has over 2,600 videos and 207 practice excersizes created to assist students with learning everything from Algebra to Organic Chemistry and Finance. With funding from Bill Gates, and popular Ted talks, Khan has positioned himself as a force in educational reform. In the video below, he answers some of his critics and shares his vision.

I see Khan's videos as being a place to get a quick overview of a concept, much like Wikipedia. When preparing students at the knowledge level to learn a process and regurgitate the information, the videos are pretty good. My son's Algebra teacher actually prescribed some of the lessons from Khan Academy over the summer to help him with concepts that didn't come as easily during the school year. Along with the video, several sample problems were included to assure "mastery." I think that if used as an additional resource for students and parents, they can have a place. Who a student learns a concept from should be less important than whether they indeed learned it.
Critics of Khan point out that if the sole purpose of education is to prepare students to succeed on standardized tests, then they work pretty well. It's when we get to the higher level thinking of analysis and creation that we see a problem with Khan's pedagogy. Frank Noschese, a Physics teacher from New York points out on his blog that, "if we shift the purpose of education from consuming knowledge and stating answers to creating knowledge and exploring solutions, the fallacy of Khan Academy “reinventing education” is blatently apparent."
In addition to this, like Wikipedia, Khan's methodology and pedagogy has not been fully vetted. In fact, while viewing a video this summer, my son discovered an error in the presentation. Perhaps Khan IS developing higher level skills! Personally, I see much greater benefit to incorporating some of the ideas espoused by Dan Meyer in math instruction rather than a daily dose of Khan.

What we've done here in Edina:

Valley View Middle School 9th Grade math teacher, Mark Carlson, has been flipping his instruction for the last 3 years. Carlson, and his teaching partner,  Kim Griffiths, began using Jing to record explanations of a given unit, and upload the video to They then embedded the video into their Moodle Courses for Advanced Algebra and Geometry. They have since switched to using Camtasia for recording the videos and uploading them to Youtube, as it has improved the production value, and helped avoid questionable content on Blip! This past year, they have taken it one step further, by embedding the video in formative assessments within their Moodle course! Students are able to refer to the video while attempting to answer the questions in the Moodle Quiz. Carlson and Griffiths then get feedback on student understanding so that they can a) see who watched the videos and b) inform their instruction for the next class.
Below is a sample:

Valley View 8th grade Math Teacher, Christopher Hoffman uses a slightly different approach. He to records his video lessons, but using also includes a view of him going through the activity with his Webcam. He feels it gives the student a feeling of "sitting in the front row of class" and provides a more personal touch. Hoffman doesn't flip all of his lessons, but does include the videos of each section for students to refer to at home. Parents appreciate having a resource to view the new methodologies and terminology for how to complete the math problems since they were in school.

Final Thoughts
I agree with Karl Fisch that there IS a place for flipping instruction in today's educational landscape. One thing that Carlson, Griffiths and Hoffman all have in common is that they've put in a tremendous amount of work and effort to produce the videos in a high quality, and blend them into their instruction effectively. As a parent, I like having access to what my children see in class so that my outdated terminology doesn't confuse the issue if I'm trying to help with homework or study for a test. Here are a few tips to help keep your students from getting frustrated, or "dizzy!"
  1. As with any "blended instruction," it is important to make sure that all students have access to the resource. This is an advantage to being able to post to Youtube, embed on a Website, and even post to an iTunes podcast. Even then, some students may need the videos burned to a DVD in order to view it. We have also increased the before and after school hours of our Media Centers so that students can access online work. By providing multiple methods of access, students should be able to view the content, no matter what device they have access to.
  2. Time to complete the out of class work. Even in an affluent community like Edina, some families may only have 1 family computer for 2 or 3 children to access for homework. If all of those children are in the secondary schools, that may mean all needing access to video, Moodle discussions, and the creation of content. When assigning videos as homework, be sure to give the students a couple of days to complete the assignment.
  3. Model good note-taking methods. Rather than say, "watch this video and take notes on it," it is important to specify the expectation. Our district encourages the Cornell note-taking method for students.
  4. Vary Instructional methods and materials. Not every student will be an auditory or visual learner. By varying in-class activities, as well as outside of class activities, you can help keep your students actively engaged.
  5. Limit the length of the videos. Remember when Youtube used to limit uploads to less than 10 minutes? Part of the reason was that attention spans are limited! Screencastomatic has a 15 minute limit, which I think is the maximum length you should need.
These are a few of the tips I have for those interested in adding flipped instruction to your pedagogical repertoire. What other thoughts or ideas do you have?


Unknown said…
Mike, I appreciate the full discussion of "flipping" instruction with the special focus of what's going on in some Edina classrooms. It's interesting to note that the Edina stories you shared come from math classrooms. I'm curious how many other teachers are experimenting with the concept and/or what it might be like for a student to have all instruction in his/her day "flipped." Is there a risk or point of too much flipping and what responsibility does a system such as a school district have to monitor the amount of flipped instruction that an individual student might experience?
Jenni NW said…
I also appreciate the thoughtful nature of 'both sides' as well as some of the logistics. One great possibility is to create a body of shared work that allows for staff to more fully communicate about the impact of the lesson on students - rather like an 'e-version' of the Japanese Lesson study model that we know has a positive impact on student achievement.

On the topic of responsibility, I hold hope that as increasing use of technology moves the real responsibility for curriculum design to the team level that the attendant shift in district-level work might be to providing the kind of guidance suggested. Policy might determine the 'amount' of flipping, and other limitations but could concurrently more fully open access to staff and students for selecting both materials and process to support greater creativity as long as students were meeting required standards well.
Unknown said…
Chad and Jenni,
Thanks for the comments. I agree that it is important for schools and school districts to monitor the amount of "blended experiences" such as flipped instruction that students might have outside of the classroom walls. We have incorporated the suggestions I mentioned into our training for staff interested in Blended Learning experiences. I would point out that some "flipped" activities may still take part during the school day. For example, one of the first video demonstrations I assisted with was for a science teacher who demonstrated a lab to students on a day she was going to be out with a substitute. This year I'm also working with High School Art teachers to create videos on demonstrations that they can use for students who are absent. Those students would then be able to view the demonstration, without the teacher having to repeat themselves, or take themselves away from helping others. We've even had some elementary teachers create Youtube channels and sites to share resources as well. Hopefully this will form a repository not only of content, but best practices as well. Thanks for the mention of the "Japanese Lesson Study" model! Good reminder!

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