I’m Gonna Do It. I’m Flipping My Classroom

After three months of painstakingly pushing students to complete assigned readings and other homework assignments prior to coming to class on a given date, I’ve decided that it is not worth my time to begin an in-class activity to a mixed bag of students. After writing that sentence, I realize that the frustration of getting that out has two effects: 1) I feel better after sharing it and 2) it probably makes little sense to my reader. Let me back up…

For those of you who don’t know, I teach 2nd survey (1877-present) U.S. History to 9th grade students in a rural public school in southwest Michigan. It is my passion to provide history instruction that follows the “Thinking Like a Historian” model of historical inquiry to break the traditional view of what history education looks like in the classroom (see my Syllabus for more).

Our district is in its 4th year fully 1:1 with our students running around with MacBooks. Despite our growth, we still have great strides to make. As a district we have yet to make the paradigm shift that should be expected of a laptop program in its 4th year, and many of our teachers maintain old habits and expectations. Why does this matter in this post? Mostly because the issues I and other teachers try to deal with regarding the level of student-centered technology integration come very slowly to students who have not been taught to consider for themselves what the purpose of the tool is in their possession. Rather, they are told what to do, what not to do, and run from class to class learning the nuances of each teachers’ system…

Back to U.S. History… I strongly desire to maximize the class time available for “history labs” where students take the content from their reading and apply it to primary and secondary document sets selected around an essential question or dispute. It is their task as an individual (or pair or small group) to analyze the documents following a texting protocol (“Text, Subtext, Context” — from Bruce Lesh), and develop a conclusion based on what the evidence says to them. This is “doing” history.

However, if a majority (or at best a significant minority) of my class has failed to complete the assigned reading/homework, then my in-class activity — however cool and authentic it may have been — is an exercise in futility. It will never produce the intended results, and I’ll be bashing my head against the wall shortly following 1st hour bellwork…

Some of you may be thinking that it may work to read in class and take notes as a group so that all students have the same base-line. This way they can complete some primary source analysis at home. Seems good, but any teacher knows that there are some assignments that you want to be present for. Math and science teachers know students who need support, encouragement, prompts, etc… History is no different when facilitated this way. I want to be there with my kids as they struggle to understand a letter, memo, picture, article, cartoon, etc., from an event so that I can put out fires, clear misconceptions, and challenge where necessary. I can’t do that if they are at home.

But what if they weren’t expected to read? What if it wasn’t a worksheet? What if they just had to watch/listen to what they would normally have gotten the day before in class. What if they could watch/listen to me and pause to write notes down? What if I could have all of my class time devoted to the sourcing/texting analysis of my 15 year old historians are expected to do? Flip the classroom… School work at home, homework at school. 

So long story short, reverse instruction, or “flipping” my classroom may serve as a catalyst for the change I expect to see in my students’ outcomes. I look forward to sharing how it goes as I will attempt it next week. Wish me luck!



For more on the Flipped Model, see Vodcasting and the Flipped Classroom. For more about historical inquiry and “Thinking Like A Historian” see the Wisconsin Historical Society partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater website at wisconsinhistory.org. Also, see Why Won’t You Just Tell Us The Answer? by Bruce Lesh at Amazon.

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