Flipping Your Classroom: The First Steps

[Note: This article was originally written for Carolina Biological’s Articles & News section.]

One of my Physics colleagues took an online Flipped Classroom course over the summer which required her to create a short (3-5 minute) video explaining a topic of her choosing. She hated the assignment. She hates the sound of her own voice, but, more importantly, she is not tech-savvy, so the assignment really scared her as to whether she could pull off a full-year Flipped Classroom. When we sat down together during the first days of the school year, she expressed to me all of her concerns:

  1. What program do I use to make my videos and where do I find all of the equipment?
  2. Videos take so long to make. How am I am going to get them all done in time?
  3. Am I going to be spending all my time making videos and not preparing any other activities for my class?

Many people have similar concerns when they first flip. Like any method of instruction you need to focus on what you are trying to accomplish by trying something non-traditional. For me, I wanted to increase time with my students assisting them with problem sets in class to tackle any problems they might encounter and complete more laboratory activities. The video is not the focus of my Flipped Classroom, but rather the method I use to achieve greater inquiry in science.

To get my students ready for instructional videos later in the year, I start them with watching certain TED Ed Videos found on ed.ted.com. We start the year with the Periodic Table and Atomic Theory. Instead of me standing in front of the room talking about Mendeleev and his ideas, we watch The Genius of Mendeleev’s Periodic Table (https://goo.gl/tJneiL) in class and then discuss why his ideas were insightful or why they may have been misguided. When we move to Atomic Theory, my students watch How Small Is An Atom? (https://goo.gl/ZWDLuz) for homework and complete the 5 multiple choice questions that are in the THINK section. When they come to class the next day, we discuss their answers and some of the interesting things said in the video.

The benefit of starting the year with TED Ed videos is they are concise and animated so they keep the students’ attention very well. During these early videos, I don’t ask students to write anything down for two reasons. First, I generate the notes about the topic based on their comments from the in-class discussion. Students don’t always know what is important so they need a little guidance filtering the information. But also, some students have really insightful ideas generated from the video and I want to make sure to include them in the class notes. Second, I want their first impression of instructional videos to be a positive one, not one where they listen to me drone on (i.e. read a PowerPoint slide to them) about a topic that is difficult to visualize.

After these introductory units, I begin to use short videos for daily instruction that I have made. But if you are like my colleague, making videos can be overwhelming so don’t feel like you need to reinvent the wheel. Start by finding videos on YouTube created by teachers who are teaching the same subject as you are. This may require some hunting and watching videos with various styles and qualities. Here are some suggestions my students have given me when they have watched other teachers’ videos for my class:

  1. Find someone who matches your energy level when you speak. If you are high energy, don’t pick someone who speaks calmly and with a monotone voice.
  2. Videos need visuals. This may mean someone standing in front of the camera or text bubbles or simply writing/picture appearing. Don’t choose someone who is simply reading text.
  3. Watch the entire video and make sure it covers the exact topic(s) you want. I talked with a Calculus teacher who used a college professor’s videos. They were over an hour long and often went into topics that didn’t apply to what the students were learning at that time. There is no better way to create disconnected students than giving them irrelevant videos to watch.

Keep all the videos you find that you like in a YouTube playlist, even the ones you aren’t going to show to your students. This will give you quality examples to refer back to when you decide to make the leap into creating your own. Like your first year teaching, the first year flipping your classroom is the hardest so find ways that allow you to be innovative in all aspects of the learning process.

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