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Flipping Your Classroom: The First Steps

Marc Seigel
Chemistry Teacher/Technology Integration Specialist
Middletown High School South
Middletown, NJ

November 2016


One of my physics colleagues took an online flipped classroom course over the summer, which required her to create a short video (3 to 5 minutes) on a topic of her choice. She hated the assignment. She despises the sound of her own voice, and she’s not tech-savvy, so the assignment really scared her. She wondered whether she could pull off a full-year flipped classroom.


Common concerns before a flip

When my colleague and I sat down together during the first days of the school year, she expressed her concerns:

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

Many teachers have similar concerns when they first flip. As with any method of instruction, you need to focus on what you’re trying to accomplish. Sometimes you have to try something non-traditional. I wanted to increase time with my students by assisting them with problem sets in class and tackling any problems they encountered, as well as 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.


Use instructional videos to capture students’ attention

To get my students ready for instructional videos later in the year, I have them start watching certain TED-Ed videos. 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” 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?” for homework and complete the 5 multiple choice questions from 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 that they are concise and animated, so they keep the students’ attention very well. During these early videos, I ask students to refrain from writing anything down for 2 reasons. First, I generate the notes about the topic based on their comments from the in-class discussion. Students don’t always know what’s important, so they need a little guidance filtering the information. Yet some students generate really insightful ideas 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 positive. I don’t want a situation where they listen to me drone on (e.g., read a PowerPoint slide to them) about a topic that is difficult to visualize.


Integrate your own instructional videos into the class

After the introductory units, I begin to use short videos that I’ve made. If you’re 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. This may require some hunting and watching videos with various styles and qualities. Here are some suggestions my students have given me when they’ve watched other teachers’ videos for my class:

  1. Find someone who matches your energy level when you speak. If you’re high energy, don’t pick someone who speaks calmly and with a monotone voice.
  1. Videos need visuals. This may mean someone standing in front of the camera, text bubbles, or simply text or a picture. Don’t choose someone who is just reading text.
  1. 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 the time. There’s no better way to create disconnected students than to give them irrelevant videos to watch.


Keep your video content organized

Keep all the videos you find that you like in a YouTube playlist, including 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 to creating your own videos. 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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