Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Truly Flipped Classroom

Several years ago, two high school chemistry teachers from Colorado shifted their teaching practice dramatically.  Where previously they had lectured to students during class time, then assigned their students homework tasks meant to reinforce the lecture, they flipped that model around.  They created videos of their lectures and asked their students to watch them as homework, then used in-class time to complete the tasks that used to be done at home.  In-class time could now focus on experiments, discussions, and more active forms of learning.  Over time, they began calling this the “flipped classroom” model of instruction, and it has spread rapidly (in various forms) to a large number of classrooms.

During this same time span, 1:1 classrooms – where each student has a computing device available to be used whenever needed – have also spread quickly.  As technology continues to get more powerful, more ubiquitous, and cheaper in the coming years, this trend is assured to continue.  I believe that there is a huge opportunity for these two trends to join forces: that the principles of the flipped classroom model of instruction combined with the power of 1:1 technology can create a truly flipped classroom where it isn’t just the lectures and homework assignments that have been flipped, but rather the underlying structure of the class itself.  Here are three key areas in which such a shift can and should occur.

1.  A Shift in Pacing

The vast majority of classrooms, especially at the secondary level, expect all students within a class to learn the given material in one set, standard amount of time.  1:1 technology, combined with the power of the flipped classroom, frees us to allow students to complete material at a more individualized pace.  With students able to learn content through videos that can be watched and re-watched as needed, then work with that content at their own pace through online practice problems, simulations, or discussions, there’s no need for us to force students through material in lockstep fashion.  Individual classrooms can make major strides in individualizing student pacing on their own, but the real shift will come when entire schools choose to use mastery rather than seat-time as the key indicator for when a student has completed a class.

2.  A Shift in Classroom Ownership

Flipping the classroom can also lead to a fundamental shift in terms of who “owns” the class.  Whereas the traditional classroom has been very teacher-centered, the use of 1:1 technology allows for a much more student-centered classroom.  Instead of students listening to a standard lecture, class time can now focus on specific student questions and wonderings, and the plan for any given day can adjust immediately based on student errors or misconceptions (as shown through real-time online assessment data).  A truly flipped classroom must shift to meet the needs of the students it serves.

3.  A Shift from Passive Content Consumption to Active Content Creation

The traditional model of learning is one in which the students are generally passive recipients of content (such as a lecture).  Even in the standard flipped classroom, the students remain passive during the homework time (when they watch videos), but are at least freed to be more active learners during class time.  1:1 technology can take this one step further: students can not only become active learners; instead, they can utilize the power of technology to actually create their own content for classmates and other learners throughout the world.  Whether through a podcast, individual blog, classroom wiki, or another Web 2.0 tool, students can become the authors, lecturers, and collaborators working together to teach content to each other and to interested observers outside the classroom.

The flipped classroom is an excellent first step in making students’ in-class experiences more active, more student-centered, and more meaningful.  Combining the best aspects of the flipped classroom with the power of 1:1 technology would allow for an even more radical reshaping of the classroom.  School could become a place where students can learn at their own individual paces, can become active content creators instead of solely passive content recipients, and can learn in an environment that they “own” which adjusts rapidly to meet their learning needs and interests.


  1. The concept sounds interesting, but what happens if the students don't do the assigned homework? Just trying to imagine the issues I would have in my classroom...


    1. A high school chemistry teacher in my district uses this teaching technique and feels it really has changed the dynamics of student learning...What happens when students don't do their homework now?

  2. I am one of those two Colorado chemistry teachers referred to in the article. Students who dont watch the video had to watch it in class while the rest did the activity and got help on the assignment that was taught in the video. After 1yr of flipping we began a modified self paced mastery program which was wildly successful. We call this the Flipped- Mastery model. Learn more at