Give Them Something to Do, Not Something to Learn

Lead Features July 19 / July 21, 2019

 – Steve Griffiths –

I was a late starter to education, having had several careers before becoming a teacher. I must admit that one of the reasons I naively decided to become a teacher was the promise of working from 9 to 3, each day and having 12 weeks holiday per year!I could not have been more wrong about the hours. Like most teachers, I work countless hours of unpaid overtime each night and weekend and over the school holidays. I accepted that there would be extra hours in my first years of teaching because of the steep learning curve. However, I was surprised that the hours of overtime are not decreasing with more years of teaching under my belt. I expected that I would get more efficient with experience and take less time preparing for lessons. This was the myth I was living under: Experienced teachers don’t have to work as hard. I was so wrong! I feel that I am as busy as ever! What is even more interesting is that I am not despondent, overwhelmed or held back in any way by the workload. This is because I am motivated and driven to continue creating more engaging, more effective and more differentiated learning experiences every year. I will elaborate on this later, but first I need to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

An Inconvenient Truth

The elephant in the room is that creating Flipped Learning (FL) resources is time-consuming. There have been several studies that have identified that the time to create Flipped Learning resources is a factor that is holding teachers back from getting into Flipped Learning, and that’s no surprise. Another downside is that you need to be super organized to have the video lessons prepared and available to the students prior to the lesson. You can’t plan the lesson at the last minute as you are walking to your classroom!

Flipped Learning is time-consuming but highly worthwhile. So what, then, can be done to maximize the time investment?  

A recent meta-analysis published on Flipped Learning that identified only a fairly modest effect size for student performance with Flipped Learning cautioned that Flipped Learning may not be worth the effort. This study raises some important points. Firstly, the effect size calculated by this study was significantly lower than the effect size calculated in other meta-analyses on flipped learning. Second, the authors found it very difficult to compare different studies due to different methodologies, lack of detail in the descriptions of the in-class and out of class activities and a lack of control of extraneous variables in the studies. Third, the benefits of flipped learning are much broader than just student academic performance. Because flipped learning also facilitates differentiation, promotes self-regulation, fosters positive relationships, increases student satisfaction and engagement, and allows for active learning, the value proposition for flipped learning is significant despite the time and effort commitment. So flipped learning is time-consuming but highly worthwhile. What, then, can be done to maximize the time investment?

Organization Is Key

When I first started teaching I asked my boss for a filing cabinet. She asked me why I would need a filing cabinet. I told her I wanted to store my lesson resources for next year. She told me to do what she does – throw everything out and start again the next year. She was not able to provide any logical or philosophical reason for doing so either. I thought that was a crazy waste of time and resources. When I create flipped learning resources, I do so with the intention of using them for many years, and I do so with the intention of continuing to build on the quality of the lessons each year; tweaking what didn’t work well and expanding what did. 

Lessons I leave to the last minute to plan are the lessons that are teacher-centered, non-differentiated, non-active and teacher-controlled; the exact opposite of all of the benefits that Flipped Learning affords. 

For flipped learning to be successful, video lessons need to be available to the students before the class. Additionally, in the “in-class flipped mastery” classroom students work through the course content at their own pace, so the flipped resources need to be available well in advance for students to access the lessons when they are ready. Unfortunately, if you leave it to the last minute to plan a lesson, flipped learning will not work. It is my experience that lessons which I leave to the last minute to plan are the lessons that are teacher-centered, non-differentiated, non-active, and teacher-controlled: the exact opposite of all of the benefits that flipped learning affords. 

So the key is to be organized. I like to plan my whole unit and create all the flipped learning resources before the start of the unit. I know that sounds daunting, but it gets much easier year after year because most of the work is done. Also, during the term, the lesson planning is greatly reduced so I can focus on differentiation and creating additional engaging active learning experiences. I store all of my flipped learning resources on the school’s learning management system (LMS). The LMS provides a location or a hub for me to store and organize my resources and it is also how my students and other teachers access the resources. If your school doesn’t have its own LMS, use Google Docs, Dropbox, OneNote, OneDrive etc.

Do One Class at a Time

I don’t 100% flip all of my classes. I wish that I did, however, I don’t have the time. The first time I teach a new subject, generally I will teach it with a blended approach with some flipped lessons and some traditional lessons. As I get to know the subject and the content, I create more resources as I go. I try to use other teachers’ resources initially. Either resources created by other teachers at my school or quality and trusted resources I can source from YouTube and the internet. So my advice here is do not try to flip all of your classes at once – you are likely to burn out. It really isn’t possible to create quality resources for all classes at once and maintain a work-life balance. Just take it slow and know that if you are organized, the resources you create this year can be reused again next year, and that next year will afford you the time to create even more. 

Share Your Resources

Creating flipped resources is time-consuming. However, you can leverage the time investment by sharing your resources with other teachers. I have one course that I have been flipping for the last five or six years. I have created high quality flipped resources that have been steadily improved upon each year. I share this course with 8 other teachers and collectively we teach 15 classes or 350 students each year. So whilst I invested the effort to create the resources, my students are not the only ones to benefit. The other teachers benefit for a number of reasons: firstly, their lesson preparation time is reduced; second, they can focus their prep time on differentiation; third, they can try out flipped learning, and as an added bonus, they too can tweak and improve those resources making them even better for the next time I use them. There are also many benefits to the students because there is consistency between classes and because the students gain all of the benefits of flipped learning such as: active learning, differentiation, student choice and control and positive teacher-student relationships.

So Why Am I Not Burnt Out?

Because I am not reinventing the wheel each year, I am continuing to build better and better lessons and units. I focus on creating units that engage students in active inquiry tasks. I focus on meeting the learning needs of every one of my students. I focus on creating the absolute best lessons that practice and deepen knowledge and develop 21st Century skills of creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. I focus on designing learning experiences that are relevant to my students’ lives outside of the classroom. I try to design learning experiences where students pull knowledge for themselves, instead of me pushing the knowledge, and I focus on cross-curricular priorities like numeracy and digital literacy. I am driven to create the best learning experiences I can for my students. This is where the efficiency comes in. If I was recreating lessons each year, I would not have time to create excellence. So I am exploiting the work I have previously done and taking it to the next level each year.

One of my favorite education quotes is from John Dewey:

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”

My new obsession is designing learning experiences that give students something to do. Here are some examples of what I mean:

    •  To teach electrical circuits I had students create a drawing robot and create a novel musical instrument or computer game interface using Makey ( an electronic invention tool that allows users to connect everyday objects to computer programs). 
    • To teach forensic archaeology, I had students dig up bones and then determine if they were human or from an extinct hominid species.
    • To teach levers I had students make a bionic hand out of straws.
    • To teach earthquakes, I had students build earthquake-resistant buildings out of foam blocks that we then put on a shaker table. 
    • To teach natural selection, I had students use various feeding utensils to feed on seeds, mimicking the benefits and disadvantages of different types of bird beaks. 

What all of these activities have in common is that I do the hard work prior to the lesson, and during the lesson, the students are doing the hard work (which leads to deep learning). This is what keeps me motivated to put effort into planning lessons. This is what keeps me from burning out. Ultimately, engaging active learning tasks are more beneficial to my students and they are far more fulfilling to me as an educator. Clearly, it is a myth that experienced teachers spend less time preparing lessons. However, preparation time can be more targeted and the learning experiences higher quality. Efficiency and experience allow me to spend my preparation time designing high-quality learning experiences that give my students something to do and learning naturally results.

Learning about natural selection by feeding on grains.


Learning about electricity by making a drawbot.



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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