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Author - Nate Ridgway

8+ tips for Ensuring Success for Your Flipped Classroom

Starting to teach in a flipped classroom environment can be daunting. Here are tips to help it succeed from start to finish.

Every teacher that chooses to flip his/her classroom has different reasons. Mine? I wanted more time with students face-to-face.

On its face (pun intended), this doesn’t seem to make much sense. However, I had over twenty-eight students in one of my first semester dual credit classes. At that size, I couldn’t effectively meet the needs of my most struggling students.

Flipping would give my highest-achieving students a new, developmentally appropriate challenge while freeing up my attention in the classroom for those most in need of help.

Of course, there were some other reasons too:

  1. Increase my ability to provide more interactive, engaging material.
  2. Give students the flexibility to choose the learning style (in person, online) which best suits them.
  3. Provide students the opportunity to flex their independent learning and organizational skills crucial to success in any post-secondary environment.

At the beginning of this spring semester, I started teaching my dual credit U.S. History class (“DCUSH”) using the flipped classroom (blended learning) method — partially taken online and in-person.

Beech Grove High School, where I teach, is a 1:1 district with Chromebooks. I’ve had a supportive administration and a pretty great IT and tech support team. I definitely want to acknowledge that not all educators are so fortunate and I was pretty lucky take this journey.

And oh my, has it been a journey.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned and ideas you can use to do it, too:

Informing Parents

Communicating a change like this to parents is really important and should be well thought out. Here’s the letter I sent to mine. (Feel free to copy and modify it for your own use!) Besides this letter, I sent out many other reminders and notifications weeks in advance. You’ll want to let parents, just as much as students, know what to expect.

Setting Up the Structure

When I set up my structure for the flipped DCUSH course, I wanted to make sure that I was providing students with a high level of support while giving them the flexibility to try out something new. With that thought in mind, here are the options that I gave to students:

  • You don’t have to flip if you don’t want to. If you enjoy being in class each day and learn better that way, you can attend class like normal. I’ll teach the same material in class that you would have online.
  • You can start out the semester attending in class at first, then transition to flipping as time goes by.
  • Or, you can start flipping right away.

You’ll notice that students have the option of attending class in person or online, and if they choose to be physically present, I’ll be there in the room teaching the same lesson. If your scheduling situation doesn’t allow for this to happen, don’t worry– I would just provide extra opportunities for students to ask for help or provide more support for their online learning.

If they’re not physically present in the class, where are they? Depending on when the class is offered, some sleep in. Some take a long lunch. Some do work for other classes in the library.

The school administration is aware, and ahead of time, I worked with school staff to find a space in school for them to work. As long as students are learning and making progress in the class, they can continue to learn wherever they’d like during my class on “flipped days.” (More on that below!)

Day-to-Day Stuff

I decided early on that students and I would share a calendar that has each day’s objectives, homework, and other relevant assignments. Here’s the link to the schedule we’re currently using. (We’re on a block schedule.)

You’ll notice a few things with this schedule:

  • Mandatory Days and Flipped Days: Some days, usually when there’s more challenging material or something that can’t be done digitally, I require my students–all of them–to be physically present in class.
  • Homework Listed: To help students keep track of all of the things going on, I’ve created a few kinds of labels.
  • Slide Homework: This is homework that was given in class on that day’s Google Slide. I use “HyperSlides” in class, which are basically artsy “HyperDocs”. Here’s a couple of samples of those: Example 1 / Example 2.
  • Extra Homework: I don’t use a textbook (hey, “Ditch That Textbook”, am I right?), so students have some supplementary readings and other things like that they need to do.
  • Continuing Homework: What’s been assigned already, but due sometime in the future.
  • Flipgrid Reflections: If students choose to flip, they must also complete a weekly Flipgrid reflection on material from class. Here’s a sample!
  • Tests and Quizzes: I’ve allowed my students to take quizzes and tests online using our LMS (learning management system), Canvas. If you do so, beware the plethora of issues that can happen (cheating, access issues etc.). In my case, I feel comfortable doing so because Canvas monitors what students’ screen is on and what they’re doing while answering questions.

Flipping Eligibility

I made four qualifications that my students have to meet in order to flip. Pretty much, this is to ensure that students are mastering the content, developing the skills, and keeping up the work ethic necessary for success. If you decide to make your own, be sure to consult your school administration for guidance and recommendations.

For me, students:

  1. Cannot miss any “Mandatory Days” in the current academic unit.
  2. Maintain a 70% (C-) in the course, as measured by updated grades each Friday.
  3. Have at most 1 missing assignment in the current academic unit.
  4. Complete a weekly or bi-weekly FlipGrid reflection.

Just to be clear, students must meet ALL four of these qualifications in order to flip. Miss one, and they’ll be attending class until the next time I check eligibility (usually every other week).

Also, I let students know at the beginning of the semester that simply earning a C- or C and passing doesn’t guarantee that a college will decide to take any earned Dual Credit. In other words, they are told that “able to flip” does not equal “a university accepts your DCUSH credit”.

Data Tracking

If you’re going to have students flipping — and especially if you have eligibility qualifiers like me — be prepared to track lots of data.

Attendance: I keep a tracker (using Google Forms) that lists my students’ last names, and when they’re not in class, I mark them absent in using this attendance sheet. If the students was supposed to be in class (meaning, they were not allowed to flip), they are marked absent in our school’s attendance system. If they are allowed to flip and not in the room, they are marked present in the school system.

Eligibility: A sample of the other tracker that I use is here. You’ll notice that the log (taken every week or bi-weekly) keeps track of all four qualifiers. If a student is not allowed to flip, they get an email that looks like this.

Keeping in Communication

Keeping in touch with students and parents is crucial. I highly recommend copious amounts of emailing, use of apps like Remind, phone calls, or a combination of them. Carrier pigeons are another effective, but more messy, option as well.

Preparing Your Students

Preparing your students will really help smooth your transition from a “brick & mortar” to a “flipped” classroom. I taught the following skills several times before my students began their first flipped semester. 

Academically: 

Keep an agenda/planner. 

Schedule time to work on course material & study. 

Accessibility: 

Be able to access all course materials fluidly. 

Know how to access the internet at home or use Google Apps offline.

Expectations: 

Stick to the expectations established in DCUSH at the beginning of the year.

Feedback: 

Spend time reflecting on your learning (note box number 4 under flipping eligibility). 

Advocate for yourself by sending/asking lots of questions about material, homework, or skills that you need help with. 

Doing the Actual Flipping:

From my experience, the following principles should show up throughout your flipped–and non-flipped–classroom:

  1. Increase access and reduce barriers.
  2. Make tech interactive.
  3. Provide students options to choose how to learn through different processes and products (in short, differentiate).

Want a taste of how one of my lessons looks? Check it out here! I also provide students an interactive tutorial of the lesson using an app called iorad. You can find the tutorial students use here and the link to Iorad here.

Until then, happy flipping!


Nate is a tech-loving history teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana and a co-author of Don’t Ditch That Tech: Differentiation in a Digital World. He specializes in lesson design and also is licensed in Special Education Mild Interventions. He’s taught in both middle school and high school settings, but currently is enjoying teaching World History & Dual Credit U.S. History. He is currently finishing a Masters degree in History at the University of Indianapolis.

How to Create Your First Escape Room

If you’re not familiar with the “Escape Room” phenomenon found across the U.S., you’ve definitely missed out!

The premise is relatively simple: players must complete a series of tasks in order to gain passwords, retrieve clues, or gather other information needed to “escape the room”–digitally, physically, or both. The idea is extremely innovative: it works with any content area, particular skill or objective you’re teaching, and students are needless to say, extremely into it. After all, their “lives” are on the line!

As you’re reading this, it’s a completely reasonable to be thinking: why would I go through the trouble of creating an escape room instead of “straight-up content”? One word: engagement. If a “typical” class means that your students are dozing off, working on other material, on their phones, etc., you need to ask yourself, are they actually learning?

Consider this super-scientific graph:

Ultimately, when it’s done right, an escape room doesn’t compromise the standards, skills, or content that you’re trying to teach–it makes them more attractive, and thus, more memorable.

Remember–if the whole process sounds intimidating, don’t worry. You don’t have to create a comprehensive, super-elaborate escape room on your first go. Start with a 2 or 3-step room, and build from there. Take it poco-a-poco.

Here’s a really basic example, one from when I first introduced the idea of an escape room to my high school students.

Because this was a new experience for nearly all of them, you’ll notice a lot of scaffolding involved, especially in the hyperlinked escape flowchart. Also, there’s actually only a couple of puzzles for students to complete, one through Google Forms (which was used as a differentiation checkpoint) and the other through Classtime (as an informal assessment and escape verifier). I didn’t want the number of puzzles or the skills needed to solve them to  overwhelm them, and ultimately, to get in the way of students’ mastering the day’s objectives.

All escape rooms look different, but ultimately, they tend to boil down to a few different types. One of my co-workers, Quinten Starks (also from Beech Grove) and I developed this chart to make it a bit more clear. I’ll break it down in stages.

The easiest form of an escape rooms is a station set-up because groups, clues, and students operate independently. It’s strength is its flexibility. The escape room can be as short as one puzzle or last an entire class or more–it’s really that simple!

A bit more of a complicated style a linear design:

The progressive nature of a linear design is the source of it’s difficulty. My own escape room that I shared with you earlier is a good example of this style.

The most complicated kind of rooms are ones that involve escapee’s interdependence. Yes, you can always adjust the difficulty of any escape room with more rigorous content or skills, but adding in cooperation across multiple puzzles creates new challenges–such as cooperation, critical thinking, and situational awareness–that students must master as well.

The bottom line is this: your escape room doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Pay careful attention to the demands (content, skills, etc.) that your escape room makes of your students, and design it with them in mind. And don’t forget–start small, and build from there.

If you’re looking for more info on making your own escape rooms, I recommend checking out Sarah Wilking’s resource collection that she shared with me a few years ago. It’s got everything here from the basics for beginners to additional tools for veterans.

If you’re looking to introduce escape rooms to your staff or fellow teachers, I’ve actually made an escape room that teaches you how to make escape rooms.  Just check out this blog post here to learn more and download all of the resources for free.

With all that said–happy escaping!


Nate is a tech-loving history teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana and a co-author of Don’t Ditch That Tech: Differentiation in a Digital World. He specializes in lesson design and also is licensed in Special Education Mild Interventions. He’s taught in both middle school and high school settings, but currently is enjoying teaching World History & Dual Credit U.S. History. He is currently finishing a Masters degree in History at the University of Indianapolis.

Apps That Serve Limited Device Classrooms

My Favorite Limited Device Apps:

In my last blog post, I described how limited device teachers have to be proactive problem-expecters focused on access, ease, & efficiency. With those principles in mind, this next post is on the two two apps I’d recommend for almost every  (or 1:1 for that matter) device classroom: Classtime and HyperDocs/HyperSlides. 

If you haven’t heard of Classtime, it’s an absolute lifesaver in terms of gearing up students for an engaging lesson or for gathering assessment data. As its creators describe it, “Classtime is a solution for classrooms that complements in-class teaching with immediate feedback on students’ level of understanding. 

Classtime features many prefabricated classroom challenges and spaces for teachers to import their own, unique questions. And what’s handy for the lab or cart-based arrangement(s) is that no logins are ever needed. Simply put your Classtime session code at students’ fingertips and have them start. Combined with the power of a Hyperdoc or Hyperslide, you can craft a really engaging lesson and let Classtime measure your students’ learning mastery for you. 

HyperDocs/HyperSlides:

What’s the difference between HyperDocs and HyperSlides? Not much. They both feature a student-paced workflow and are based on great learning theory and instructional design. HyperDocs are created in a document; HyperSlides are created in slide presentation apps like Google Slides or PowerPoint.

When deciding between Documents and Slides:

  • Choose whatever format best fits your activity or your style.
  • Documents are more linear in nature, i.e., you type text in a line, and the text flows straight down the page.
  • Slides allow for more design freedom.
  • With documents, you can organize content by breaking sections with page breaks and lines. In Slides, you can organize content by slide.

Quality HyperDocs or HyperSlides have many important parts, but getting started isn’t too difficult.  Check out these few examples that you could adapt for use in your own classroom:

Grouping Strategies: Since I’ve mentioned Hyperdocs/Hyperslides & Classtime as my go-to app for limited device scenarios, I’ve put together five different grouping strategies that I’ve utilized with both of them complimenting each other.  Think of this as a starting guide: the activities, apps, and strategies you can create are infinitely customizable with a bit of creativity and intentional planning. Again, don’t forget that grouping doesn’t drive your instruction; let the grouping make your lesson objectives possible.

STRATEGY 1: A Device Per Group

Purposes:

  • All students could participate in the same Hyperdoc/Hyperslide or Classtime session; or, you could differentiate the groups with different levels of difficulty.

Likely Activities:

  • Warmups, Exit Tickets, Whole-Group Lessons, Group Projects, Escape Rooms.

Recommendations:

  • Differentiated groups can be done by student selected content, learning process, interest area, or readiness.

STRATEGY 2: A Device Per Rotating Group

Purpose:

  • Students rotate between activities and complete a Hyperdoc/Hyperslide linked activity & Classtime assessment after each one. 

Likely Activities:

  • Activity Stations, Problem Trails, Gallery Walks, Escape Rooms.

Recommendations:

  • Balance groups heterogeneously.
  • Keep a timer running to keep groups moving along.
  • Make sure that your stations aren’t linear–students should be able to start & end anywhere.

STRATEGY 3: Clustered Devices

Purpose:

  • Collect one particular group’s assessment data. All students might take the same assessment, but one group will use Classtime.

Likely Activities:

  • Warmups, Exit Tickets, Small Groups.

Recommendations:

  • The particular students who will use Classtime could be self-selected by the students or chosen by the instructor.

STRATEGY 4: Classtime Station

Purposes:

  • Use Classtime as an assessment check after a particular Hyperdoc/Hyperslide-linked activity.

Likely Activities:

  • Stations; not advised for linear-based activities (warmups & exit tickets).

Recommendations:

  • Not an advised setup for linear activities (warmups & exit tickets).
  • This gives the instructor an incremental “slow drip” of data that can be used to adjust instruction on the fly.

STRATEGY 5: “Hot Potato” Competition

Purposes:

  • An assessment & gamification grouping strategy.

Likely Activities:

  • Warmups, Exit Tickets, Review Activities, Attention-Grabbers

Recommendations:

  • Having students “pass” the device (hence, “hot potato”) adds the ability for classrooms with limited devices to take advantage of the gamification elements of Classtime more cooperatively, as well as adds a dose of competition.

Just remember, utilizing limited devices takes time and patience to implement. Our motto in Don’t Ditch That Tech is poco a poco, “little by little.” Build students’ capacity and comfort around using limited tech as you build your own. The first time you try it, test it out as part of one class for fifteen minutes, then grow from there. You really CAN do it – just take it step-by-step.


Nate is a tech-loving history teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana and a co-author of Don’t Ditch That Tech: Differentiation in a Digital World. He specializes in lesson design and also is licensed in Special Education Mild Interventions. He’s taught in both middle school and high school settings, but currently is enjoying teaching World History & Dual Credit U.S. History. He is currently finishing a Masters degree in History at the University of Indianapolis.

Limited Devices, Unlimited Possibilities

Don't Ditch That Tech

Let’s face it– classroom tech over the last decade has gone B.A.D. — that is, Bring A Device. I think a lot of outside observers, casually peering into their child’s classroom, might assume that classrooms are now filled with technology from floor to ceiling with iPads, Chromebooks, cellphones, Macbooks, and everything in between.

Certainly, there’s an element of truth to this. Just like the world outside, educators and students have more apps, gadgets, and connectivity at their hands than ever before. 

However, access to these new tools is far from ubiquitous. The first school that I taught in as a special education inclusion teacher wasn’t 1:1–we had the good old computer lab that we couldn’t put too much faith in having regular access to or reliably working for us.

A couple of years later, I met Matt Miller of the Ditch That Textbook fame and we partnered up with my mom–Dr. Angelia Ridgway, a professor of education–to write a book about our experiences with classroom tech. A few months later, and Don’t Ditch That Tech: Differentiation in a Digital World was the result. 

A significant part of our book dealt with that limited tech situation that I and my co-authors had experienced in our educational careers. I thought I’d share some of our best tips, tricks, and apps from it; things that will make a difference if you find yourself in a classroom with limited devices, a tech cart, or computer lab. As you’ll soon find out, limited devices can still mean unlimited possibilities.

“We have the opportunity to harness the power of all technology in our classrooms—whether school-issued or not. If we find ways that can support learning, we can help students use smartphones, mobile devices, and other technology in useful, educational ways.”
— Don’t Ditch That Tech: Differentiation in a Digital World

Laying the Foundation:

I’ve always believed that the best tech-using teachers–limited devices or not–stick to a couple of common “threads”:

1. They tailor their use of technology to their lesson objectives, not vice-versa. 

The theme of “technology is a tool, not a lesson plan” is really important in all classrooms, but it’s especially good to remember on those awesome days where you do get your hands on some iPads or Chromebooks. Your entire lesson doesn’t need to be teched out, nor should it. Yes, there might be that one really cool app you want to try, but if it doesn’t fit your lesson, there’s no point. In fact, I’d push you to think about another word instead of “app”– applicability. It’s always a solid idea to ask, “Is this the appropriate time to use this piece of tech here? Why?”, or, “How will it affect my students’ learning?”

2. The best tech-using teachers attempt to tie up any loose ends by critically thinking about their use of tech in the classroom. They try to be proactive problem-expecters instead of reactive problem-solvers.

“Tying up loose ends” happens before students even get the devices in their hands. There’s “hardware” to consider: internet outages, apps updates, low devices batteries, etc; but there’s also “software” those “soft skills” that students need to successfully share those few devices. Critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication are just as important as the devices themselves, and they need to be “charged up” too.

Before your tech-enabled lesson begins, I recommend establishing and teaching tech-specific expectations and procedures. Every teachers’ is different, but mine looks like this:

Of course, expectations aren’t everything (a well-designed and engaging lesson is always the best behavior management strategy in my book), but it’s a crucial part of incorporating any amount of tech into your classroom. A full disclaimer: No behavior plan–no matter how engaging–is foolproof. Occasionally, students will break those expectations or struggle to master learning-related skills. However, instead of simply punishing the student, seize the opportunity to help them grow and learn.

Planning Your Lesson:

With your foundations set, it’s time to plan your lesson and use that tech you’ve got on hand to make your it even better. No matter what age or subject area you’re teaching, I recommend following a few “CUES”. 

Create a Home Base

The name of the game with limited tech is efficiency: you only have these devices for a limited amount of time, so the more you can reduce barriers and open up access to learning, the better. We’ll talk more in a follow up blog post about how HyperDocs & Hyperslides can make a limited-device classroom function much more fluidly.

Use Web-Based Apps

When using tech in the classroom, nothing feels worse than the moment when things go wrong. To help reduce problems, eliminate—as much as possible—the need for your students to use apps that are only accessible on lab devices. Although there’s definitely something to be said about the quality of software vs. online applications, the ultimate barrier to learning here is access. A classic example of this is Google Earth vs. Google Maps, both of which are amazing mapping tools. Google Earth demands high-end internet bandwidth & device graphic capabilities; Google Maps is easy to use and doesn’t require any kind of downloadable software. Which would students find easier to use and have access to?

Establish Expectations and Procedures for Online Work

Once your lesson has concluded in the lab or students have returned their devices, what do you need to do to make sure homework can be completed? You can either choose to:

  • Not assign homework on days when a Cart/Lab was used.
  • Adapt online work to be completed on paper as well as at a later time. 

Let’s say you do decide on option two. Unfortunately, you still face a slew of issues:

  • First, can the homework assignment replicate the same skills that students were utilizing digitally?
  • If yes, will the assignment ensure students are appropriately and equally supported outside of school?
  • What if students only partially completed their assignment? Can they possibly transfer that work to paper?
  • What if they need to turn in both digital and physical work?

Stick to Apps that Are Easy to Use

With your students possibly on a different device every time they visit the lab or when you get ahold of a cart, it’s especially important to minimize access issues in order to maximize learning time.

When possible, avoid apps with lots of barriers for students to overcome in order to use them, such as:

  • creating accounts
  • logging in with usernames or passwords
  • updating computer software, such as Adobe Flash Player
  • downloading large or multiple files

Keep the theme “less is best” in mind. Try sticking to a few apps until both you and your students get the swing of the technology. 

Take a look at the sample classrooms below and the difference between using two different apps, Classtime and Verso, for the same warm-up. Assuming this is the first time the apps are used, notice the list of steps that students in Ms. Cheyenne’s room must execute compared to her colleague, Mr. Keegan.

Ms. Cheyenne’s Room

Steps for App Used: Classtime

  1. Student clicks on the posted and distributed HyperDoc link.
  2. Student enters name.
  3. Student begins work on his or her warm-up and submits it.

Mr. Keegan’s Room

Steps for App Used: Verso

  1. Student clicks on the posted and distributed link.
  2. Student clicks “Sign Up.”
  3. Student clicks “Student” for this or her account.
  4. Student creates a username.
  5. Student creates a password.
  6. Student enters class code provided by teacher.
  7. Student enters first and last name.
  8. Student clicks the warm-up.
  9. Student begins work on his or her warm-up and submits it.

This is not to say that Classtime is an inherently better app than Verso. When operating in the context of a limited-device teacher, however, Classtime makes more sense to use due to its relatively simple logistics.

So, in conclusion, limited device teachers have to be proactive problem-expecters focused on access, ease, & efficiency. Set a strong foundation, and the rest of your lesson will follow. In the next blog post, we’ll be exploring my two favorite apps, Classtime and HyperDocs/HyperSlides, that I’ve used in limited-device classrooms.

Stay tuned for the next entry in Nate’s OnCUE blog series – coming soon!


Nate is a tech-loving history teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana and a co-author of Don’t Ditch That Tech: Differentiation in a Digital World. He specializes in lesson design and also is licensed in Special Education Mild Interventions. He’s taught in both middle school and high school settings, but currently is enjoying teaching World History & Dual Credit U.S. History. He is currently finishing a Masters degree in History at the University of Indianapolis.

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