Flipping Me Off

In school, when it comes to kids and teachers and expectations, the arms race always escalates. As soon as teachers set a rule to “make” kids do a thing, kids will find a work-around to not do that thing.

I’ve been aware of the concept of the flipped classroom for almost a decade, since I read an article in THE Journal about a pair of science teachers in Colorado who wanted to open up classtime for their students to do hands-on activities. A year after I arrived at my current school the flipped instruction model took my department by storm.

Recognizing that my Algebra II students needed more time & support in class I flipped my class at the start of second semester three years ago and never looked back. Students definitely appreciated the help in class, from me or from their friends.


I noticed an issue almost right from the jump. Some students were not watching the videos and taking notes. They were moving the scroll bar until they found an example, copied it down, and moved on to the next example until they finished the notes.

It’s not a problem local to my class. I’ve heard the same from my colleagues in the building and even from my PLN (one of my online teacher connects calls it “the power of the pause”).

There’s no learning happening. It’s like ditching every class and getting the notes from a friend. You got the notes but missed out on the learning. And that’s not good.

So: how to fix that?

A few years ago I’d have got all indignant and made a speech. I’m a little more grown up these days, a little more cognizant that I can’t make my students do anything.

So instead I decided to ask them what do they need from me to help them learn. I put together a Google Form back in the fall, gathering 114 responses.

And here’s what they told me:

Roughly 40% my students admitted to pausing the video to copy examples, rather than watching and listening to the notes.
We were already doing the 3-2-1 summary, so I was happy that they’d be willing to continue that. But the Google Form answer? Hmmm…
At the time I was locked out of my Youtube channel and couldn’t upload video with captions. Instead they just got the mp4 embedded in Canvas. That has since been rectified.

So we made some changes. I didn’t move to the Google Form (yet). Started by implementing some retrieval practice tools (courtesy of Pooja Agarwal & Patrice Bain and their book Powerful Teaching), and to encourage compliance I bribed them with points on the notes summary and the in-class work “check for understanding” page.

I felt like maybe we were on to something.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and we closed schools and embarked on two months of emergency remote teaching. Working off advice from a former colleague, I started using GForms as my shell (easier start-up than EdPuzzle), now I could ask questions whose answers came directly from the notes, insert questions where they worked out an exercise and either inserted an answer to the form (had to be the exact answer – if not, they can’t submit the form, and they would email me which started a math convo) or took a snap of their work and uploaded it.

This version of The Flip was perfect for emergency online teaching. How will it look in a regular face-to-face classroom? Hmmm…

Some of my math department colleagues are wondering if the flip is the best way going forward – a couple of them strategically “unflipped” portions of a module or two this year. Myself, I want to find a way to get the basics to my students before we meet, saving classtime for practice and productive conversations and partnerships.

And to be honest, I’m never going back to assigning “homework” – regardless of district our students have unequal access to support at home, and with the popularity of Mathway and Photomath I have to assume that any procedural math that isn’t done in front of me was done by an app and not by a student. Which is doubly unfair.

I’m exploring some ways to build a “blended” classroom rather than a strict “flipped” classroom. As always I’ll have way more usable tools than I have time for in one class period. So similar to the way I approached extended e-learning, I’ll have to pick one and roll with it. That sounds like work for the summer.

I’m hopeful that I might be able to glean some ideas from Michele Eaton‘s new book The Perfect Blend. Her experiences with online/blended learning in Indianapolis should be informing all of our plans for hybrid or 100% online formats when school resumes in August.

The Director of Virtual and Blended Learning for Wayne Twp. Schools in Indianapolis sharing her knowlege.

I’m thankful my students were honest with me when I asked them about the flip and how it could be improved. I think they were thankful that I asked them in good faith how our class could be better, instead of lighting them up for “cheating” on notes. And I think implementing some of the tactics I gleaned from professional reading paid off this past school year and will continue to in the future.

Did the reading on my own, consulted with friends and experts when I had questions. Kind of like a mini-flipped learning model. Hmmm…

This is my contribution to the #MTBoS2020 blogging initiative started by Jennifer Fairbanks. That makes 4 out of the 5 months so far (I’m on a roll now). But take a look at the #MTBoS2020 tag for some great thinking about teaching and math from my online PLN.

Author: thedullguy

High School Math/PLTW teacher, Valparaiso High School, Valparaiso, IN. Opinions mine.

5 thoughts on “Flipping Me Off”

  1. Steve, you are basically me 3 years ago. So in a real sense, I am you 3 years in the future. Let me just tell you, it’s amazing. I flipped maybe 5 or 6 years ago and then decided to move away from it (until recently, of course). But in that time I arrived at the same place you did. I really wanted to hear what my students thought, good or bad. I’ve sent a couple dozen similar surveys over the years, so I was excited when I read that you had sent one out.

    What I also find interesting is that when I used the flipped classroom model, it was difficult to get students to buy into it because they knew they had class coming up anyway. With the understanding that some coursework will be online, will students be more willing to accept a flipped model as “normal?”

    It will be interesting to see what the state of Indiana decides for the fall since that will have a significant impact on how exactly to blend best.


    1. I agree. I think what you posted tonight carries a lot of weight. I don’t know how we’d pull off synchronous learning in any real way starting fresh in August. Whatever I decide on for the fall it’s going to have to be convertible & work FTF and online. Got a lot of decisions to make over the next 10 weeks or so.


      1. I haven’t done any official tabulation of data, but based on what I’ve read in the responses to our eLearning survey, students have a heightened appreciation for YouTube, FlipGrid, and edPuzzle. So having a video component makes a lot of sense it terms of student engagement and buy-in.

        The biggest concern will need to be how to make the online part and the f2f part as seamless as possible. If the two are connected well, students should learn. And by connected well, I of course mean differentiable.


    1. Honestly extended e-learning could have gone sideways in a hurry, I’m thankful for your suggestion to use Google Forms, and I’ll say so publicly til the day I die. 1:1 has been everything I hoped it would be and the middle schools had a one-year head start on us so by now everyone who comes into my classroom has lived in Canvas-world for like 4 years. So they come kind of pre-installed and that helps.


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