Is This Teaching Tool Useless or Useful? 10 Ways to Tell

Editors Features January / January 14, 2019

-Errol St.Clair Smith-


Have you noticed that simple things get done and complex things often don’t? When you look around your desktop, do you find that simple tools get used while complicated ones collect virtual dust? Increasingly people are saying, “if it ain’t easy I’m not interested.”  Today, a good solution to a problem is not good enough. If the solution isn’t simple and easy it’s useless. But wait… many things in our lives are complex. Not everything can be simplified to the point where it can fit on a napkin, a bumper sticker or a tweet.  This is certainly true in education. So how should we handle the elements of education that are just fundamentally complex? Perhaps, this is where we take a tip from Albert:

Everything should be as simple as it can be, But not simpler – Einstein


The big takeaway from 2018 is that Flipped Learning is simple, but “effective” Flipped Learning is more complicated than most of us thought. The good news is that 100+ delegates from 49 countries have unanimously identified the 187 essential best practices to effective flipped learning. The bad news is that there are 187 essential best practices to effective Flipped Learning. This is overwhelming.

And so the search began for a simple way to think about, talk about, learn, and teach 187 essential best practices. That search started with a text message and a series of questions:


Errol:    What is the value to chemistry teachers of the periodic table of elements?

Jon:      It’s the foundation of chemistry.

Errol:    What does the table allow chemists to do that would be harder to do without the table?

Jon:      It organizes all of our thinking,  it’s like a roadmap.

Errol:    Connecting dots… a table of Flipped Learning best practices…  would it be useful?

Jon:      Yes. Not sure what it would look like. Are you thinking of arranging the standards in that kind of fashion?

Errol:    Yes.

Jon:      Any thoughts on how to organize it?

Errol     LOL… I was hoping the chemistry teacher would. It could be a powerful way to present the standards.

Jon:      Sketching now… Problem… We have 187 standards, only 108 elements.

Errol:    Sounds like a creative challenge to me. We’ll need to think out of the box. The real questions are, what is the rationale behind the order of the chemistry table and what is the analogous rationale for flipped standards?

And so began the project to build a framework to simplify the Academy of Active Learning Arts and Sciences (AALAS) Global Standards for Flipped Learning.



It’s ironic that anyone would look to the hyper-complicated Periodic Table to attempt to simplify anything. But the magic of the Periodic Table of Elements (whether we understand it or not) is that we all recognize it instantly. So we pressed on.

Researching the genesis of the original periodic table was fascinating on many levels. I was struck by the initial controversy the table created and the debate that continues some 150 years later. It was also fascinating to discover that the table has evolved, and that blank spaces were designed into the table to accommodate expected new elements. Hmmm…

But the big takeaway was that the rationale for grouping elements in chemistry wouldn’t directly apply to Flipped Learning. And so the standards were grouped into families based on their unique relationships in Flipped Learning. The very first draft of the table looked like this:



Simpler and Easier

Over several weeks, we refined the initial layout of the framework, kicked the word “periodic”  to the curb, and adopted the name Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning (GEEFL).  

In November of 2018, FLGI published the interactive version of the GEEFL. The interactive application simplified the table and made it easy to understand and use. (See it here: GEEFL)


Take a Left at Bloom’s Street

As Jon Bergman and I began to share the table with colleagues for their review and input, the possibilities of the GEEFL quickly became more lucid. Within weeks, we stopped looking at the periodic table as the model for how the GEEFL would be used in education and started looking instead at Bloom’s Taxonomy.

The GEEFL has 10 qualities in common with Bloom’s Taxonomy that made Bloom’s a good model for thinking about how the GEEFL could be used in education and what the road ahead might be:


— Both came out of the need to easily classify and simplify.

— Both were created through a collaboration of committed educators.

— Both provide a common vocabulary and shorthand for talking about what’s required for effective teaching and learning.

— Both provide a tool for planning and implementing instruction.

— Both provide a way to troubleshoot when and where instruction goes wrong.

— Both provide a tool for self-assessment and defining needed professional development.

— Both allow teachers to see more clearly the complex relationships involved in the process of instruction.

— Both help teachers think in more structured ways about the relationships of the elements involved in effective learning.

— Both offer researchers a common framework for comparing and evaluating the application of instructional strategies.

— Both provide a clear roadmap to effective learning.


Useful or Useless?

Commonalities with the Periodic Table and Bloom’s Taxonomy aside, the most important question is: does the GEEFL actually help educators to do anything more easily than if the table didn’t exist? In short, is the GEEFL useful or useless? This is is the question we set out to answer in the first FLR issue of 2019.

In this issue, Terra Graves, Thomas Mennella, and Dan Jones share practical examples of how they have begun to use the GEEFL to think, plan, evaluate, implement, identify areas of needed professional development, and cross-pollinate Flipped Learning principles with other instructional models. You’ll want to read:


Why I Resolved to Set Much Smaller Goals in 2019  – In this piece, Dan Jones talks about how he used the GEEFL for self-assessment and setting professional development goals.



So What? How Will This Help Me Teach Better Today?   – This month Terra Graves takes on the “R” word  (research) and shows us how to extract practical ideas that you can apply in the classroom today.  In the process, she demonstrates how to use the GEEFL to connect to other frameworks for deeper understanding.        






Why 2019 May Provide a Roadmap to the Future of Higher Ed  – Dr. Thomas Mennella goes big picture on us as he crafts a road map for the future of higher education using the GEEFL.




A Radically New Professional Development Model  –  In this month’s cover story, you’ll preview an example of a program that was completely redesigned from the ground up using the GEEFL as a checklist of key ingredients.


Of course, not everyone is thrilled with the Global Standards Project or the GEEFL. One reason is to be expected – the global standards and the GEEFL mean a change to the status quo,  so resistance comes with the territory.  However, it’s worth noting that neither the periodic table of elements nor Bloom’s Taxonomy were immediately embraced by the education community when they were introduced. But this year the periodic table celebrates 150 years in use and Blooms taxonomy turns 62.


As Simple As Possible

Following the advice of Einstein, we continued to look for ways to make learning and teaching the elements simpler. So this month, FLGI kicked off 2019 with a new series to introduce you to one of the elements every day.  The video series is called “Do This, Not That.” In less than 90 seconds daily, you’ll meet one of the Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning and reflect on what you’ll want to start doing, stop doing, or continue doing to reach every student in every class every day. Dividing the table into 90-second bite-sized chunks makes learning to use the elements even simpler.  Here’s the first episode:



Predictions for 2019

At the beginning of every year prognosticators, soothsayers, pundits, and talking heads, routinely make bold, brazen, bombastic predictions for the year ahead. “The economy will… the president will… education technology will…”

So keeping with the spirit of the new year, I’ll close with my own bold prediction for 2019.

In 365 days from today, we’ll know much, much more about how the GEEFL can support effective Flipped Learning than we know today. If I’m wrong, I’ll eat my computer.


Learn More

Save these dates to learn more about GEEFL at these upcoming events:

  • FETC – Jan- 27-30th
  • RESCON /ASCD – Mar 16-18   
  • ATD – May 19- 22
  • RESCON ANZ – October 18 and 19  
  • UNC Higher ED Conference – June 12-14

Happy New Year!

Errol St.Clair Smith
I am the Director of Global Development at the Flipped Learning Global Initiative. I joined the education community in 2005, working closely with national education organizations on community outreach and professional development. Over the last decade, I’ve led the development of community platforms for The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE); the Association of Curriculum Developers (ASCD); the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Associations for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA), and the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO). I'm honored to have received four Emmy nominations and an Emmy Award for public affairs programming. In 2017 I co-authored Flipped Learning 3.0 with Jon Bergmann. The book was updated based on the AALAS Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning in 2019.

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