Flip Tips

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the importance of reflecting on teaching each summer to make upgrades and repairs. I started with the topic of Standards-Based Grading. Some teachers seemed to love the idea; others took a pass. And that’s great! This summer, as I blog on upgrade ideas, my goal is to come up with just one little nugget you can use. Today, let’s talk about how we use our instructional time, and rethink our assumptions about what kids are supposed to do in our classrooms.

“Flipping” the classroom is the concept of swapping what students traditionally do in the classroom with what they do at home. The idea is for them to receive the basic content (lectures, presentations, videos) at HOME instead of during your class, and for them to complete homework at SCHOOL, with your guidance and feedback. It’s a revolution only made possible by technology, so it requires a bit of skills with the web. There’s a whole lot of Internet buzz and resources on this topic, though, so if it ends up a direction you’d like to go, you’ll be well supported.

The thing is, flipping your classroom isn’t supposed to be easy, and it’s probably a process you’ll want to take step by step.  I started months ago by talking to a few experts, and I’ve been working on it ever since. There’s a whole range of degrees you could decide you’re comfortable with, as you find what works best for you. Here are the baby steps I took along my journey, from the more basic to the more advanced.


1. All of my instructional resources (Powerpoints, videos, lectures, and games) will be available to my students online.


Schoology looks like Facebook, but it has more teacher control.

This wasn’t such a tough decision for me to make. My school district already had a space on each teacher’s official website to share Powerpoint presentations, handouts, and other important files. Some districts even require it. The benefit to learning here is your instructional presence can extend outside the classroom to homes, or any other places students might access your materials.  For this reason, choosing a Learning Management System website is a good first step on the flipping continuum. The website I decided to go with was Schoology. Do your research to see the pros and cons of each LMS before you choose one. MoodleEdmodo, and Blackboard are other LMS teachers like, and if your entire school decides to go this route, Google Apps for Education is also popular.

2. All of my handouts will be available to my students online. Each student will receive 1 free copy of each handout from me, period.

This shift has come after many failed years of making as many copies as needed for students. I’ve made too many copies of some assignments, not enough copies of others to make up for careless losses, and endured waaaay too much responsibility for students’ materials when I should have been teaching it to them. So here’s my new policy: I’ll give you 1 free copy of everything we do. If you lose it, you can hit up my website to print out your own replacement. The school library will do it for a dime. If that’s a problem for you, you might want to learn how to keep up with your papers. (Students will also be able to “buy” a free printing pass from my class Item Shop- more on that in a few weeks.)

3. Just making instructional materials available is not enough. I can and will require certain online content usage.


Just think “party” and students come running.

This is an important hurdle to overcome in flipping a classroom. Your school may not provide computers or other tools for students to access online instruction. In 2015, most don’t. This leaves a certain small percentage of inequity which amounts to holes in your Flip Boat.  In the past, I saw the holes in the bottom of the boat as reasons I couldn’t push off from shore yet. Now, I just focus on plugging the holes. Take my class lecture videos, for example. This year, each student will be required to watch my content lectures online, outside of class. But what about those who can’t do it at home?  Following the advice of Sarah Thomas, Jennifer Gwilt, and Dr. Will Deyamport, I am instituting a tradition of optional daily “lunch parties” in which those videos will be shown in my room during lunchtime.  As a result, my lecture videos cannot be longer than 15 minutes, but a little extra editing attention will buy me the ability to require every student to watch those videos, and thus use class time for more 1-on-1 opportunities. I’ve figured out how to plug those holes in my boat.

4. I will move my primary content delivery online, outside my classroom.

I made this leap for time concerns. I want to free up time during our daily 48 minutes so we can do more experimentation, more discussion, and more 1-on-1 feedback while working on problems. I want to have time to go a little bit deeper with what I teach. It just makes perfect sense to take the part of class where everyone is sitting quietly, watching me talk, and push that process to a more convenient time. Technology has made it very easy for them to sit quietly and watch me talk, anywhere else. Putting my stuff online helps me make classroom time about them and their needs. I’ve been using a program called Camtasia with a simple iPhone earbuds mic, but I think you can even record a voice-over onto a Powerpoint presentation in a fairly simple way. My goal is to get all of my 15 minute lecture sessions onto my Schoology account by the start of each 9 weeks period, so students can view and digest them.

5. I will hold students accountable for online work.

Screen-Shot-2014-10-28-at-4.20.50-PMThis is where the rubber meets the road. How can we hold students accountable for what they do online? Or rather, how can I give students credit for exploring the educational material I’ve supplied? Am I to create a series of worksheets to run off and have them fill out in response to what they’ve downloaded and used? Well, here’s the cool part: There are all kinds of cool sites designed to quiz students at the click of a mouse. It is possible to go paperless on this front, too. What’s more, one of the sites I found, Zaption, takes videos from YouTube and Vimeo and builds the note-taking and quizzing into the presentation itself. They’re called learning tours. So what happens is, students watch a video and answer questions on it all in one space. Zaption even has a way to keep track of each student’s progress, as well as a record of which ones have completed which tours and which haven’t.  I think this is part of their upgraded, non-free service, which is expensive, but still- pretty cool.

And those are the basics to flipping your classroom! It’s all about taking baby steps along the road. Work toward making your instructional material available online, then develop some sort of system for holding students accountable for it.  If you do those things, you should be able to use your precious bell to bell time for more meaningful interactions with your students, like assessment of their learning and feedback to help them grow- you know- real teaching.

Until next time,



  1. Evelyn H Clay

    This is one of the most concise, useful blogs posts I have read. Your information is well organized and easy to understand. I absolutely need to make my notes more available. I struggle to do so through a digital newsletter, but it is insufficient. Thanks.

    1. jacomans (Post author)

      Thank you! Just trying to share as I learn!

  2. Jerry Bleecker

    Great post. I’m a teacher in SD57 in Prince George, BC, Canada. I flipped two courses – Biology 11 &12 in 2013. Reading your journey, I was pleasantly surprised by the similar issues you describe. Moving content online isn’t sufficient. Students need engagement. I call my program ecampuslive because it is a flipped, blended learning, project-based learning environment. My advice is pursue proof of study with formative assessments and implement projects and inquiries to demonstrate learning. Moving labs to inquiries or discovery is also important. It helps students with motivation.

  3. Jennifer Gwilt

    James, I love how you broke down your goals into areas that you can work on independent of each other and still have theabith to weave the concepts together in one cohesive structure! I have thought through many ways of holding my students accountable for watching videos and chose not to keep track this year. I am rethinking that decision and may try caption, edpuzzle, or educanon next year or, like Jerry suggested, do more discovery and labs that require them to have done the notes and get students understanding learning and engagement better in their everyday routine. Great job! Let me know if I can help at all.


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