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This blog was first appeared on Edutopia.org on Nov 18, 2013

I have been asked on a number of occasions what is the biggest hurdle that teachers need to overcome in order to flip their classrooms. In my experience, the number one hurdle is that teachers need to flip their thinking about class time.

Stepping Back from an Old Model

When teachers flip their classes, I believe they must ask one key question: What is the best use of class time? Is it information dissemination, or is it something else? I argue that we need to get away from direct instruction to the whole group and instead use class time for richer and more meaningful activities and interactions.

Why is this a big hurdle? I think it is because many of us have been doing school the same way for many years. I spent 19 years as a lecture/discussion teacher. I knew how to teach that way. In fact, I reached the point where if you told me the topic of the day, I could flick a switch and start teaching that topic without any notes. So in 2007, when Aaron Sams and I came up with the idea of what is now known as the Flipped Classroom, I was the hesitant one. I didn’t want to give up my lecture time. You see, I was a good lecturer (or at least I thought I was). I liked being the center of attention and enjoyed engaging a whole group of students in science.

My class was well structured, and I liked being in control of all that was happening. So when I flipped my class, I had to surrender control of the learning to the students. That was not easy for me. But you know what? It was the best thing I ever did in my teaching career.

Teaching Learners

I should provide some context for this experiment. We started flipping our classes after a conversation with our assistant superintendent. She saw how we were recording our live lectures with screencasting software and told us how her daughter loved it when her professor at a local university recorded his lectures, because she didn’t have to go to class anymore. That’s when we asked the question, “What then is the point of class time if we make it so they can get all of the content by watching a video?” The obvious answer was that we could make class time more enriching and more valuable.

So as I reluctantly gave up control, I was relieved to see students taking ownership for their learning. For example, I had one student who during the first semester was not really taking class seriously. She struggled to learn in our Flipped-Mastery Model because it required her to actually learn the content. She wanted to just get by instead of engage in the content. I insisted that she learn the material before she moved on. Some time in January, I noticed a change in her. She was learning! In fact she was learning how to learn. During one conversation with her, I commented on the positive change I saw in her and told her how I was proud of her newfound success. To that she remarked, “You know what, Mr. Bergmann, I found it was actually easier if I learned it right the first time.” I chuckled, but also saw great growth in this student as she was really learning how to learn.

I realized in this encounter that maybe the best thing I am teaching students is how to be learners. My thinking flipped from my class being about the content to being about the process of learning. I have said for many years, “I don’t teach science, I teach kids.” But today I want to change that and say, “I don’t teach science, I teach kids how to learn.” This was a seismic change in how I thought about my role as a teacher. I realized that I needed to get away from being a teacher who disseminates content, and instead become a learning facilitator and coach.

Alternative Assessments

Another way I flipped my thinking about learning was when I allowed students to demonstrate mastery of content by means of alternative assessments. In our Flipped-Mastery Model, we required every student to pass each summative assessment with a 75 percent. I was very rigid on this. A 74 percent was not good enough. But as I embraced alternative assessments, I was pleasantly surprised at how students were able to show me what they had learned without having to prove it on traditional tests. I had students designing video games, making videos and doing art projects. They pushed me to rethink what assessment should look like. Ultimately we saw about 25 percent of our students who regularly chose to do alternative assessments instead of the traditional tests. Alternative assessments helped me flip my thinking about assessment.

So if you are at all like me and have been teaching the same way for many, many years, I encourage you to rethink class time. I encourage you to flip your thinking and give the control of the learning back to the students. As you do this, you will find, as I did, how it affects every aspect of your teaching. No longer will you be the person who disseminates knowledge — instead you will become the learning facilitator of your classroom.

My questions for you:

  • If you have already flipped your class, what was your biggest hurdle?
  • If you haven’t flipped your class, what do you think would be your biggest hurdle?

12 thoughts on “The Biggest Hurdle to Flipping Your Class

  1. My biggest hurdle was explaining the teaching method to my first set of students and the dean. They were not ready to understand the process, and thought I was not going to be doing any work.

      1. The dean still doesn’t get it, but he also doesn’t believe you can teach math online successfully (which we have been doing since 1998) I always have one of two students that don’t understand what I expect of them until the middle of the semester.
        My class only meets once a week ( i teach Statistics at a community college) so the students have to submit their notes to me so I can figure out what needs further explanation. This semester they account for about 18% of the final grade, and yet i still have students that do not turn them in.

        For alternative assessment, I break the class into groups and have them create unit exams that I grade based upon completeness of exam, difficulty, correctness and understanding of the concepts covered.

  2. You may be interested in an article I have written describing flipped learning and the link to what I call “Learning Quotient”, “LQ” or “Learning Intelligence. I have referenced a number of your articles and comments. To me flipped learning changes the learning environment and LQ is all about managing the learning environment to meet your own learning needs.

    Here is the link to the recent article: http://wp.me/p2LphS-5K

    You will find 18 articles covering the attributes, attitudes, behaviours and skills associated with LQ at the same blog.


  3. I’ve just started flipping my classroom – I teach Year 5 (UK system).

    Now, i am happy making the videos and sorted out how I get my class to watch them but I’m finding the thinking of really creative activities to do in class with a bunch of expert children(!) really tricky.

    Does the activity always have to be really creative or can you just take the opportunity to get the class to explore problems/tasks at a higher level than they would have experienced before?

    I like the ideas of designing a video game and also I might try getting them to design their own lesson on the topic but are there other great ideas out there?

    1. Sometimes the best thing to do IN CLASS is just to give kids time to work with and wrestle with difficult topics. You are there to help them and work with individuals and small groups. So don’t feel that class has to always be creative and entertaining. It should be sometimes, but remember that the point of school is for the pupils to learn.

      Thanks for the great comment and keep on doing what is best for your students.

  4. I love reading your posts Jon. Your success and that of Aaron and many others is inspirational to all of us out here working on this cause. Can you identify any personalized professional development programs that are working with teachers to flip the learning in their classrooms? From, following your progress and researching this on the internet and working through Google+ etc, I have yet to meet anyone who is flipping and or has already flipped their classrooms. There is a lot of information about flipping the classroom, however after over a year of working to support this movement, I am left with the impression that there is a huge disconnect between those who subscribe to the movement and those who don’t. I have been giving this conundrum a lot of thought lately and have this observation to make. People who choose to be teachers are brought up within the old pedagogical industrialized education model. They adapted to the system to the point that they became the system. To them bells, halls, rooms, rows and columns of chairs, students grouped by age, tests and getting through all the content are normal behaviors because that is what the do. They never left school because they liked it. If they didn’t like it, then they wouldn’t want to work there. So herein lies the Catch 22. So when you say, “flip your thinking”, you are asking them to believe in something, of which they themselves have no experience in. This is a good way to introduce them to the concept, then perhaps later comes their new behavior that we are looking for. They have to become the students, it is not enough to know your content subject area anymore and lecture endlessly. Teachers will need training in order to learn these new pedagogical skill sets. There is a movement in education where teachers are establishing personalized professional development plans, rather like an individual educational plan or IEP only for professional development. What I have not seen and would like to be a part of is supplying the content for these lessons and offering them to teachers, with PD credit. I would also like to see the flipped learning pedagogy taught to college students who are preparing to become teachers. Are you or any of the readers herein aware of such activity and can you point me to it?

  5. Ralph, we created free online Flip Teaching PD so in less than an hour, you can teach yourself the basics of How To Record, with short 5 or 10 minute tutorials, using free software on Windows or Mac. This is all on http://www.FlippinTeachers.com. The way we teach how to record makes it “crazy easy” to record your video lessons.

    We also have the only free online system specifically Designed By Flip Teachers, For Flip Teachers with ad-free hosting plus numerous other features for teacher/student facilitation at http://www.CrazyForEducation.com. Our system is “crazy easy” to use.

    I suggest you start with the Teacher Success Stories from teachers all over the U.S. If you have any questions, you can contact us through the Contact links. We’ve had many teachers hear an hour presentation and start Flipping their classes within a week or two.

    Jon, thank you to you and Aaron for the fantastic work you’re doing in spreading Flip Teaching and revolutionizing education.

  6. I am a first time Flipped teacher as well. This is my 20th year, but only the 3rd year since I decided I was doing it wrong for the first 17 years. I have become a professional learning sponge in the last 3 years and am developing my teacher-leader skills. I sympathize With Rob V. in an earlier post. As stated in the last 3 I have learned the components of what I would call good teaching.( I was the worksheet king for the first 17 years). I am really embracing the ideas of student centered learning and all its wonderful learning experiences, inquiry learning (so important in science (I teach HS biology and earth Sci), and other rigorous (deeper thinking) learning experiences. My struggle now, is gluing these all together. I sometimes call it a creative block. I know my content and I know the components of good teaching I just falter when it comes to designing instruction to fit my content. I am soooooo looking forward to NGSS. This way if i can design a project based lesson then I wont have the breadth of content constraining me like we do now in Kentucky with the ACT quality Core. In other words, to design a great student centered lesson that takes into account ALL the objectives in a standard using our current standards is very difficult and lengthy.

    To sum it up, i have the puzzle pieces on the kitchen table and i KNOW exactly what part of the picture each piece is AND I know what the finished puzzle will look like, I just cant seem to put the puzzle together.

    Hope this makes sense.

    Greg Prater

  7. Your work has changed my world as a veteran teacher. The last three years flipping and blending have been the most productive in over 30. Stepping off stage felt very strange at first but now I can’t seem to teach the old way when I have to! Thank you for being a major change agent in education.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Aaron and I continue to be humbled by the response to Flipped learning and are excited to see how it is transforming education.

  8. I am entering my 3rd year of teaching and I am an elementary special education interventionist. Our state has recently done away with modified state assessments, so all special education students will be required to take the same assessments as every other student in their grade level. My struggle next year will be balancing my students’ IEP goals (below grade level) with meaningful exposure to their grade-level curriculum. Our school does not have flipped classrooms but I’ve been pondering if I could flip the general education classroom for my special education students. However, the purpose would be a little different. I would like them to have a preview of the lesson material and then hear it again from their classroom teacher. What do you think about this strategy? Have flipped classrooms been used in special education? Any suggestions, comments, or resource recommendations would be appreciated. Thank you!

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