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Five Easy Steps for Creating a Flipped Learning Lesson

Flipped learning has become one of those pedagogy buzzwords over the past few years. I think it’s worth the hype and use it a lot with my students, but wish I’d had some advice on getting started before I began the process!

For those that haven’t really delved into this flipped classroom idea, here is the summary: teaching using a flipped classroom approach involves students learning content at home in advance of the lesson, and then they spend the lesson doing activities that allow them to engage with the topic in more depth.

For any teacher who’s willing to try it, it’s really easy to get started with flipped learning, and it doesn’t need to take any more time than planning a regular non-flipped lesson.

You’ve quite possibly seen a few similar posts to this one, other articles or podcasts along the lines of, “X number of steps for a great flipped classroom”. It seems to me that most of these focus on making a presentation to share with your students. There are lots of resources you can use as the pre-class task for flipped learning, and presentations made into videos are one of the most common ways, but for the purpose of introducing flipped learning (and keeping it fast and simple), I’m assuming you’re NOT making your own video content (yet). My focus here is on the lesson as a whole.

So here are five easy steps to creating a flipped learning lesson:

1. Find your input task

The input task is the part where the students get the facts. Examples include online videos, listening activities, research, or sometimes just reading a page from their textbook. The main aim is to make sure all of the knowledge objectives of your lesson are covered. You’ll rarely struggle to find the content you need on Youtube, so have a browse and see what you can find. If you do choose to use videos, my advice is to choose ones that are five minutes in length or shorter. Try to consider your students’ attention spans.

Recent news articles or educational podcasts can make for interesting tasks if having something current is important in your learning objectives. In my lessons I cover a lot of contemporary environmental issues with high school students and so news articles on things like the effects of climate change provide quite a wealth of material. The content you choose will depend on the subject you teach and the age group you work with, but I don’t think you’ll find it difficult to get good educational content online in this day and age.

Remember that the idea is to give students all of the facts they need via this input method. Sure, facts and rote learning are not something you’re focusing on in the grand scheme of things, but view this in the context of Bloom’s Taxonomy; “remember” is right there at the base level, and the students aren’t able to access higher order thinking, like applying knowledge, unless they have those facts as a foundation. Make sure your input task contains good solid facts – the things you want to focus on for that lesson.

2. Create the engagement task

Once you’ve got the input task chosen, create some engagement work. The purpose of this is to give the students a focus while watching the video (or following whatever input task you set). I don’t expect my students to gain the knowledge from a video without having some sort of focus while doing it. Usually I think a question sheet is the best choice for an engagement task. As they watch the video or do the reading, they answer 5 to 10 questions based on it, which directs their attention to the main points, the points you hope to cover in the lesson. Question sheets also provide a good opportunity for you to give feedback at the very beginning of the lesson.

When you’re setting flipped learning homework, your instructions for students will probably be, “Watch the video and use it to answer this question sheet before next lesson.”

Remember that you would probably create a homework tasks for a non-flipped lesson anyway, so this doesn’t take any more time than making resources for a “normal” lesson.

3. Get a blog for sharing content with the class.

Flipped learning opens up a lot of doorways to the way you share information with students. You will probably end up using online videos, (online) newspaper articles, podcast episodes… all sorts of digital media. It’s great to reach the students in a range of ways, but it does get difficult to share this kind of content easily. It’s often impossible to share the web addresses for a specific video/article in class because web addresses can be lonnnnnnng.

A class blog is great because you can tell the students, “Watch the video and use it to answer the questions. You’ll find the link to today’s video on our class blog”. It saves a lot of time and effort in the long run.

4. Plan your class activities carefully for higher order thinking.

Think about Bloom’s Taxonomy here. Your students hopefully have reached the “remember” and “understand” levels of the ladder before they start the lesson. So what activities can you plan that help them reach higher order thinking? Here are some ideas I like to work with:

“Write a [pamphlet] about…”

Replace pamphlet with whatever is appropriate for the topic. As a Biology teacher, I could ask students to create a pamphlet warning about ways to reduce the transmission of disease (as part of a chapter on disease and transmission).

“Create a presentation to [a company/the local council] convincing them to [do something].”

This is very adaptable to many topics. The loose premise is to have students create a presentation proving that they understand the topic they did for homework, while reformulating their knowledge. Examples include presenting to the local council to convince them to use more energy efficient technology (for a lesson on renewable energy), or to a historical figure encouraging them to take a different course of action (for a history lesson).

“Teach the teacher.”

Tell the students that they are the teacher for the lesson and they have to teach you (role-playing the student for the lesson) about the topic. This is inherently differentiated because some students will only be able to re-iterate the main points of the lesson, while others will be able to reformulate and create new ideas based on the content, which is very high order thinking. The lesson is accessible and beneficial to all levels. To make that is true, I would recommend setting your expectations very clearly on this before the students begin; make sure they know that reformulating the ideas they’ve learnt is a target for the task, possibly by giving a rubric or possibly by setting a new context. For example, if my lesson focused on conservation strategies for endangered species, some thing I do teach often, the “teach the teacher” task might be, “Teach me how to create a nature reserve here in this town to protect species X, Y, and Z”. From this, reformulating ideas and applying knowledge is more of a requirement.

Whatever your chosen activity is, make sure it involves some creative thinking on the part of the students, as well as analysis and application of the concepts they covered for homework. As I mentioned, it’s also really helpful to give students an assessment rubric for any work you set. Which leads us to point five.

5. Think about feedback and assessment

All types of assessment will change a little with a flipped lesson. The activities don’t lend themselves to traditional marking so assigning a grade or score can be tricky, and as there is often less writing, you have to think more carefully about what you will base your feedback on.

In my flipped lessons I minimize student writing time and solo work. This presents the problem: how do I assess the students, both formatively and summatively? First of all, the activities usually lend themselves to effective informal assessment (via teacher monitoring), but second of all, they are great opportunities for rubric-based assessment, and therefore feedback. Giving out the criteria to students before they start the activity gives the students a focus for completing their task, and the criteria can be used by their peers (and you, the teacher) to assess students (and assign a summative assessment score if that’s one of your goals for the lesson).

Wrap-up

It may sound complicated at first but once you do one lesson you’ll realize two things. Firstly, it takes about the same amount of planning and effort to create a flipped learning lesson as it does to make a “normal” lesson, and secondly, it’s a lot more fun (for students AND their teacher) to have a flipped classroom. Good luck!

Reflecting on a flipped learning lesson


Recently I did a flipped learning lesson on enzymes for a year 10 (age 14-15) IGCSE Biology class. The results were fantastic, and the lesson was well received by the students. The content was covered far more efficiently than with a traditional (non-flipped) lesson, and students were obviously having a great time.

(The full lesson plan and all resources are available here.)

At this point I should mention that not all of my lessons are flipped; I think flipped learning is a positive paradigm shift in teaching and I aim to maximise its use, but I don’t think teaching is a one-trick show. I don’t think there is one teaching method that suits every topic, every teacher, and every student. (And the science supports this; students learn better when there is variety, but more on that in a later post).

The basic outline of the lesson went like this:

  • At the end of Monday’s lesson (Monday’s lesson wasn’t related to enzymes), I gave the students the worksheet on enzymes, and directed them to the video on Youtube that would give them the information to complete the sheet.
  • At the very beginning of the next lesson (which was on Thursday), students did peer checking to compare answers. The work wasn’t assessed as it was a learning task, not an assessment task, so students were told that changing answers is OK here, it’s not “cheating”.
  • After the peer review, we did a class review, then I took questions. The students were all engaged, and most of them took additional notes on their homework sheet as part of the group review. By now we were 10 minutes into the lesson and all students had covered all the content and reviewed it. Of course, the level of understanding each student had, and their ability to apply the work, was unknown at this point, but that’s OK for now.
  • Next, the students started the in-class task. They had to create a role-play to demonstrate enzyme function, including the effects of extreme temperatures. (For the non-science teachers: Enzymes change shape and therefore can’t do their job if the temperature gets too high, and this is an appropriately challenging concept to demonstrate as a role-play). I’ve used role-plays a lot in different types of lessons and for different topics. From experience I know that these can be quite non-inclusive as students who are shy, or possibly don’t fully understand the work, tend to say nothing and just do as instructed by the other students to complete the role-play. My solution for this was a staggered planning phase:
    • Students work in pairs to plan the role-play.
    • Students find a new partner and share their ideas again.
    • Pairs join pairs (to make a group of four) and then collaborate on the best way to do the role-play.
    • Repeat this until the group sizes are as you want. I ended up doing some extra re-shuffling and had groups of 6 for the role-play

 

By the time that large group work got underway, every student had had a chance to apply the work in a pair setting. Careful teacher monitoring is important here, and throughout this lesson, as a form of micro formative assessment to determine how much understanding and application there is. The room was a hive of activity and enthusiastic discussion throughout the pair-share sections. Keep Bloom’s taxonomy in mind here: the students “remembered” and hopefully “understood” before the discussions even began. In the pair activities some students had the chance to gain an understanding from their partner, while others were at the level of “applying” and “creating” as they came up with ideas for the role-play. Do you see the implication here?! Some students were reaching the highest order of thinking within 15 minutes of their first lesson on the topic!

The role-plays at the end of the lesson were really useful for me and the students. For the students, the role-play gave them a goal to pull everything together; the idea of performing a role-play to the class gives a healthy sense of pressure. But for me, this was a great chance for some formative assessment; the performances were a direct reflection of student understanding and highlighted any misconceptions. I was pleased to see, there were very few.

I can’t talk about all of the pros without addressing some of the cons associated with this approach. In the past I have taught this topic the traditional (non-flipped) way. Typically it would take around three lessons to cover the amount of work covered here. Over those lessons, new ideas would be introduced, and each time a new idea is introduced it would be presented in the context of what had already been studied. In short, students would have had several lessons to review and re-apply the key concepts of the topic. Does this flipped method race through the content and deny students important review opportunities? My instinct says, “no”. My long-term plan would be the same regardless of the teaching method: the amount of time I have available to teach the chapter on Enzymes is the same. The students may have covered most of the chapter in a single lesson, but that doesn’t mean this is the only lesson we will spend on it. The only consequence I can see is that I now have “too much” time available. This is never a bad thing. Here is the chance to fit in an extra practical activity or maybe try some other idea that I’ve wanted to implement for a while but never had the time to schedule it.

I rounded off the lesson by a quick show of hands from the students, asking how many preferred the “learn at home first” way and how many preferred the “learn at school” method. The results were 18 to 2 for flipped learning. There’s not too much to read into this because what a students wants, and what is best for their learning, are often two very different things. Nonetheless, giving students a chance to share their opinions on their own learning is always important, and asking these questions as way to tell students that their opinion matters. It’s good for rapport building at the very least.

If you want to try the Enzyme lesson describe here, all resources including the homework, video and lesson plan are available here at Science Sauce Online.