What Is a Flipped or Inverted Classroom?

There continues to be a great deal of discussion about the inverted or flipped classroom—what it really is, what it should look like, and whether or not it works. It really depends from which side and angle you look at it. For instance, textbook authors might worry that students would only want video or archived online presentations rather than a book. Math educators might worry that an archived lesson or video watched by a student would not offer sufficient knowledge, work, or practice. Those are simple responses to a more complex answer—and it’s not only about video or web-based content.

The inverted or flipped classroom is a way to expand the teaching and learning environment to include everywhere a learner can be, and for a teacher to develop a wider range tools and teaching expertise—beyond the stand and deliver, between-the-four-walls of a traditional industrial-age classroom approach. It’s more about changing the learning environment and how teachers and students use it, react in it, as well as create and grow in it. While there may be a generic model, not every class, subject, or grade level can be treated the same, and the individuals in the model will respond differently, as well. Isn’t that what we’d like to see, and have our students do?

The inverted or flipped learning model has to be as flexible as its users—teachers and students. It should also invite in parents. A math classroom is certainly different than a humanities classroom or a science classroom. A learning lab environment can be created where, rather the majority of class time being spent on  homework correction, teacher talk, and little else, the classroom becomes an active learning space, where students are doing—participating and collaborating. At home, there could be a continuation of that learning lab environment, and less of students churning out homework for homework’s sake. We shouldn’t like hearing that a student is good at homework. How many parent conferences are wasted with that good or bad at homework line replacing the real discussion purpose—student achievement? Wouldn’t a parent really rather know how a student works and uses the learning environment, and all its tools, as well as how he/she works as an individual and participates in groups?

So, while video, audio, apps of all kinds, Internet searching, and all the gadgets you can think of are important to inverting or flipping education, none of them alone should be considered the only piece. It is also not solely the job of the teacher. Students play an equal role, although for the most part they haven’t been invited—yet. Possibly, that’s a sign that flipping or inverting is actually occurring.

This inverted teaching puzzle is a lot larger, with more parts to make the whole, and it requires an educator to activate, motivate, stimulate, show patience, and encourage. Otherwise, you haven’t flipped or changed anything. A student can be just as passive looking at a video as listening to a teacher-directed lesson. To put it simply, to truly invert or flip, educators need enough energy to keep learning momentum going at school and home—whether a physical space, an app space, or an online space—and in future—who knows what kind of place. Inverted and flipped should be learning for students everywhere, and while there might be a pause button, there should never be an off button to that learning, and the tools and knowledge for that cannot come from one place anymore.

Ken Royal

Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is an Education storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.
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