March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Inverted or Flipped Classrooms: What are they and how do they work?

Posted: Sunday, July 1st, 2012

by Laura Henriques and Meredith Ashbran

What is a flipped or inverted classroom?

Classrooms at the K-12 and college level normally include the direct instruction portion of the instructional sequence. Students listen to a lecture, take notes, and may participate in discussions. There might be some demonstrations or lab activities, but the bulk of classroom time is often spent with the teacher doing lots of work and the students passively receiving the information. Students then go home to solve problems, answer homework questions, and try to apply the information they “learned” during class. It is often at this point where the lessons, which seemed to make so much sense during school hours, seem confusing and the students need help from us. Sadly for them, we aren’t there to help!In a flipped or inverted classroom the two activities described above are swapped. Students listen to mini-lectures, do readings, and see examples online at home. They can do that independently fairly well, without our direct input. Then, during class time they work to solve problems, answer questions, and apply knowledge to new situations. This is when they are most likely to need our help, and now we can be there!

Doing this in your own classroom means some pretty dramatic changes for you and your students. Meredith Ashbran, a physics teacher in Long Beach Unified School District, participated in a few institutes hosted by Google to help educators learn to “flip” their curriculum. Last year she embraced the philosophy and taught her physics classes using a flipped, or inverted approach. Since we are seeing more and more about the merits of this approach in the popular press I thought it would be helpful to hear from a teacher who has done this to get pointers on the process and suggestions on how to get started.

Meredith, tell us about the process and how it worked for you.

What I found from implementing an inverted curriculum is that a lot more of my work was done beforehand or outside of the classroom.  I was actually better planned because I had to have lectures and online activities for the students planned well in advanced of when I would be addressing the material in class.  There was also a lot more preparation that I could do beforehand (like in the summer) instead of the night before.  Choosing videos was fairly easy for me as I used the course lectures from Hippo Campus (see resources at the end of this article).  They are well put together and were well suited for the course I was teaching.  Much of the work I had to do with the lectures was making them accessible to students.  I ended up making my own lecture sheets for the students to use as they went through the lectures.  This gave students a more structured interaction with the video-animated lectures instead of just having them take whatever notes they wanted.  The focused lecture sheets included fill in the blank sentences, drawings and diagrams that they either had to create, label, or explain, practice problems, and mini online experiments (that were really just applications of concepts in a guided environment).  Outside of class the students were sometimes assigned other resources, like Khan Academy lectures, practice problems, or PHET simulations with guiding questions. 

In class I was able to do so much more with the students.  I was able to move away from being a “sage on a stage” and was allowed to be a guide in the kids’ learning.  We would often work on problem sets in class.  This took many forms such as small groups working together as I circulated the classroom, pairs working through a single problem and then going through it as a class, or even example problems that individual students and I helped the class get through.  There was also much more time for activities in class.  I had often, in the past, found that I had to pick and choose only certain activities because I simply did not have time to get through everything.  With an inverted curriculum I found myself looking for new activities for topics I had never been able to show my kids before.  I felt my time in class was so much more productive and useful for the students as I was able to help them through the more difficult application of concepts. I know that many people are concerned about access to the internet, but this was not an issue. Kids find a way to make it work.

What sort of response did your students have to this new approach?

Many of the students bought in immediately, but there were also those who resisted.  I did need to make clear the justification of the different approach to the students, but soon they became self-regulating.  I discussed with the students the benefits to them of the inverted curriculum, such as being able to have peer and teacher help during difficult problem sets, more chance for application and activities to help illustrate the material, and learning to be responsible for their own learning.  I would encourage the students to discuss certain concepts from the previous night’s notes. Often discussion would arise when they were working on problem sets and I would hear the kids say “did you do your hippo notes?” (hippo notes are what we called the notes they took on the Hippo Campus lectures). This question was usually followed by the statement “Well, if you had done your hippo notes you would know the answer to that question.” From day one I made the class’ activities so that it was essential to have done the notes to be able to participate.  I think that helped get students to do the notes. 

Every now and then I would have a student who would complain and say to me “why don’t you just lecture in class? I learn better that way.”  I would use this as an opportunity to question why the student thought they would learn better that way.  Usually the discussion led to the student’s realization that they really just wanted to sit back and take notes all class period instead of really thinking and engaging with the material. I did have some trouble finding a way to bring up meaningful questions for discussion in class and found that students were very reluctant to ask questions in class about a lecture they had viewed outside of class.  One way I hope to combat this problem next year is to include an online discussion requirement with the lectures.  This will probably be in the form of Google Moderator where students and I can post questions, post answers to questions, and vote on which questions most students have.  My students who really bought in seemed to like the approach.  There were some that didn’t and most of the complaints came back to wanting to be told what to do, and tune out instead of really thinking, pushing themselves, and being responsible for their own learning. 

There is a learning curve for implementing an inverted curriculum.  I thoroughly enjoyed flipping my classroom and truly believe it is a methodology that just makes sense for our students and our society.  There are things I would do differently the next time I teach the class but I know my curriculum would still be inverted.

Anything else we should know if we are thinking about flipping?

It’s not perfect, but it is a methodology that, when used well, really changes how we interact with kids and how kids interact with the curriculum. While it is still a work in progress (as traditional teaching also is), I would never go back. This approach mirrors  how kids already interact with the world, so bringing this method to education makes sense. It lets me help them where they need help — doing problems and labs, and lets them work on their own for note taking, a skill they have already mastered. You can make your own videos but you don’t need to. I knew I was going to flip my entire school year so I didn’t want to have to create my own videos, and I used pre-existing ones.

While not all of us are going to change our entire curriculum, like Meredith did, we can consider moving towards a flipped curriculum in baby steps. Instead of making the entire year inverted we can create a single unit that is inverted or a few days of each unit where the “lecture” portion is done at home and class time can be spent applying those concepts and clarifying confusion. This summer might be a perfect time to plan a unit or lessons which flip things around. It can be invigorating for you and your students. The resources below provide you with a good starting point. The Google site provides reflections from other teachers who have tried this process. Good luck and have fun!

Resources to help you get started:

Hippo Campus – an online collection of lessons associated with HS science and math courses

PHET Simulations – a collection of interactive science simulations (most are physics based)

Khan Academy – online lectures on a myriad of topics

MIT Open Courses – online lectures from MIT professors (more appropriate for AP courses)

ThePhysicsClassroom – site with tutorials, problem solving help and simulations

Read about other teachers’ experiences flipping units.

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and president-elect of CSTA. 

Meredith Ashbran is a physics teacher in Long Beach USD and a member of CSTA.

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and past-president of CSTA. She serves as chair of CSTA’s Nominating Committee and is a co-chair of the NGSS Committee.

4 Responses

  1. I’m curious how teachers of “flipped” middle-school classrooms resolve such issues as:

    1) Online collaboration sites: when students are too young to establish email accounts

    2) Intervention strategies when students have not “figured it out”: teaching effective note-taking and class discussion etiquette and online discussion “netiquette”

    3) Strategies for tracking individual progress that do not increase teacher’s workload

    4) Grading strategies: how do “flipped” classroom gradebook s differ from traditional ones?

    Thank you!

  2. Wow! This is a great, innovative teaching idea. I have had students commenting not understanding my lecture, so this inverted curriculum would be great to try for a unit for a starter. Thank you.

  3. Hi Hope,
    Meredith is out of town so I will take the first stab at answering your questions and then she can get back to you with more specifics next week.

    Much of what is proposed here does not require an email account. There are mini lectures, simulations, and video clips which students watch and study from individually (much like what the direct instruction portion of class time would look like). It is during class time that kids are collaborating, getting input and help from the teacher, etc. Kids would need access to the web, but not to email. The ‘help’ for taking good notes is a concern. That is why you should develop note taking guidelines, scaffolded note pages, etc.

    I will let Meredith respond to the additional grade book issues. For the way I have used it (college level) they either do it or don’t. I don’t grade for that, but they will be lost in class if they have not done the at home piece.

    Thanks for your questions. The rest will be answered early next week 🙂


  4. Hi Hope!
    Thanks so much for your questions. I have not worked with middle school students but I did a little bit of flipped curriculum with my 9th graders. I really didn’t use too many sites that kids needed an e-mail address. The one that I can think of is Khan Academy and the students may be able to use a parent e-mail. There is an education based social network that only students from your class are allowed to access called My Big Campus that might be a safer online social environment for middle school students.
    In my opinion the inverted curriculum gives more of an opportunity to work with students who haven’t figured it out. You have so much more time to interact with kids one-on-one and there are lots of ways to check for understanding in class. In terms of note taking, even with my high school AP students, I had to create notes sheets for them to fill in with the lectures. If you want to teach effective note-taking that is absolutely a skill you can work on with the inverted curriculum. Your goals for your students will determine how you approach the online portion of the class. Especially with middle schoolers I think a discussion on “netiquette” is essential. Making clear what is and is not appropriate for the online portion of your course will help save you some sticky discussions later.
    In terms of tracking progress, the kids became self regulating pretty early on. I made it a point to discuss and use the information from last nights lecture in class everyday. This way kids knew that I was holding them accountable. I gave my students points for taking notes in class before I flipped my curriculum so for me it was no more work to give them points for taking their notes at home. While it served as motivation I’m not sure it was necessary. The rest of the grading was really quite the same. I found my gradebook was exactly the same, what really changed was my role in the classroom and the types of activities and help I was able to give my students.
    Please Please let me know if you still have any questions or if anything I said is unclear!

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California Science Curriculum Framework Now Available

Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.

For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Call for CSTA Awards Nominations

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Call for Volunteers – CSTA Committees

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017


CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

A Friend in CA Science Education Now at CSTA Region 1 Science Center

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.

Learning to Teach in 3D

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Joseph Calmer

Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”

I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: