6 Smart Steps to Successfully Start a Flipped School Year

Lead Features August 19 / Top Feature August 19 / August 14, 2019

— Steve Griffiths —

At the start of the last school year, I was on bus duty in the second week of the year. I overheard two mothers chatting about their daughters’ math teacher (it wasn’t me). One of the mothers said, “She does this thing called flipped learning, and she doesn’t even teach them. The students just watch videos.” Their impression was that this teacher is lazy because she didn’t lecture from the whiteboard. It reinforced to me that parents don’t understand Flipped Learning because it is different from how they learned at school. It also reinforced to me how important it is to educate parents and get them on board if Flipped Learning is going to be successfully implemented.

From experience, the success of Flipped Learning often comes down to how well I introduce it to my students and their parents. Here are my tips for successfully introducing flipped learning to your students.

Make the first experience fun and experiential

In my first lesson, I do a fun, practical activity with my students to illustrate how they can learn from watching teacher-made video lessons. I make a video to teach students a practical skill that they then practice in class. For example, I have taught students how to make origami, draw an eye, fold a shirt, tie a Windsor knot, and bottle flip. Students watch the video in class on their computer and then practice the task. I watch eagerly as the students pause and rewind the video a few times and then practice the skill. They usually then go back to the video again, and then have another try. Often the students will then help each other. Students are engaged, have fun and enjoy success. I finish the tasks with a discussion about how the students used the video to learn. The students share their observations about watching the video several times and pausing and rewinding until they have mastered the technique. We also discuss how they have possibly searched for and watched videos on YouTube previously to learn new skills.

Don’t assign video homework until they are ready

I don’t assign students video lessons for homework until I am satisfied that they are watching the videos effectively in class. The first lessons of the year, I instruct my students how I need them to watch the videos. They need to be “in the zone” and free from distractions. The students watch the video twice. The first time is all the way through, and the second time they pause and take notes. I also teach my students how I want them to take notes from the videos. We use Cornell style notes, so I need to show them how to do that. In this video I demonstrate the workbooks that I use for junior high school science, and I explain how we use Cornell notes. I also need to tell them to listen carefully and write a summary of what is said in the video, and not write a transcript of every word the teacher says.

Once I am satisfied with the quality of notes and how students are interacting with the videos in class, I will start assigning videos for homework. 

Involve the parents

Before I start assigning video homework for my students, I do assign the students’ parents homework. I ask the parents to watch a video of me introducing myself. I explain to the parents how their child will be learning science this year. I outline my expectations for what the students need to bring to class and the homework expectations. I also explain to the parents the benefits of using a Flipped Learning approach. I encourage the parents to watch some of the videos with their child and get involved in the homework. 

I recently helped a colleague implement a leading practice in parent involvement. She invited all of the parents of the children she teachers to a session at school after hours to discuss Flipped Learning. I provided the background information about Flipped Learning, and the benefits of the approach and my colleague spoke specifically about how she implements it in her classes. The parents were encouraged to ask questions at that time and at any time in the future.

Find a wingman

Find a colleague that you can go with on the Flipped Learning journey. It is exceptionally valuable to have someone to bounce ideas off of, to reflect with and for moral support. We have put together an informal professional learning team at my school as a support group for fellow flippers. We share some resources and share a lot of ideas. We also act as a sounding board for each other and provide a lot of moral support. We find that it is tremendously rewarding to be in a group of educators with the same beliefs about teaching, learning and pedagogy.

Design learner-centered class activities

I know that I am stating the obvious here when I say that Flipped Learning 3.0 is not just about the videos. Reaching every student is as much about designing engaging, authentic active learning experiences for our students as it is about the pre-lesson activities. When I plan a lesson, I use a simple checklist to ensure that my learning experiences are learner-centered. These are the questions I consider:

    • How do I differentiate instruction to meet individual student needs?
    • How do I build positive relationships with students by reaching every student in the lesson?
    • How do I give students some choice and control over their learning?
    • How do I provide authentic, active learning tasks?

I also use this checklist to reflect on the effectiveness of the lesson and unit of work. 

You can’t eat an elephant in one bite

Finally, take it easy. Don’t be too ambitious with the number of classes you try to start flipping at any one time. I have been flipping for six years and still haven’t been able to flip all of my classes. I would recommend starting with one class at a time and focusing on creating a great learner-centered course. Then, as capacity permits, start working on the next one. 

Good luck

In my part of the world, we are halfway through our school year. I have done the hard yards to embed Flipped Learning into my classes for this year. I am now reaping the benefits of engaged, hard-working students with whom I have a great relationship. I do acknowledge that the first few weeks are hard work, but with planning and preparation, you can set yourself up for another awesome year. So good luck.

*** You can catch me at RESCON Australia Friday and Saturday, October 2019 Griffith University, Queensland College of Arts Southbank Brisbane Australia. Details here.

Steve Griffiths
Steve Griffiths
I have been a high school science teacher for 6 years. I am now also teaching digital technologies. I have been flipping my classroom for four years and have made over 1000 videos. My preference is the lightboard. I have presented at a number of conferences and courses on flipped learning. My specialties are video making and designing active learning experiences

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