Flipped Learning – Part 6: Social Studies Class

By CUE Member and Guest Blogger Tom Driscoll

This Post Will Focus on Flipping the Social Studies Classroom- Post 6 in Our 6-Part Series

Flipped Learning in Social Studies

Flipped Social Studies

Although Flipped Learning is most prevalent in math and science courses, adoption by educators teaching the arts and humanities is on the rise. In the three years that I have been immersed in the incredible Flipped Learning community, I have gone from one of the few social studies teachers to one of thousands. Described below is a snapshot of my evolving approach, yet it is just one particular variation of Flipped Learning. I therefore urge you to connect with the incredible educators mentioned below to learn about innovative ways that social studies teachers are experimenting with this concept.


Why not just say, “What does my class look like?” First, I stress “our” to illustrate the concept of community and each student’s value within it. Second, we do not just learn in a “classroom.” This antiquated term does not accurately reflect our blended learning environment. Stages of the learning cycle happen in various learning spaces, such as the physical classroom space, virtually in the LMS, and virtually while in the same physical space.

The physical spaces are set up based upon the type of learning that occurs in each. For example, there are designated spaces for group direct instruction, collaboration, and individual work. Our online space is the Flipped Social Studies website, which is built upon the EDUonGO LMS platform. I chose this emerging LMS since it is based upon the concept of ongoing communication and collaboration. For example, the video notation features allow viewers to ask questions and engage in a threaded discussion at different points of each embedded instructional video.


I structure my course based upon a flipped-mastery system. In general, students must demonstrate mastery of a series of objectives for each unit. Several learning tasks are provided for each objective, of which students typically have a degree of choice. Many objectives also grant students the option to develop their own learning task, as long as it clearly demonstrates mastery of the objective.

Driscoll Tech Tutorial

Except for the circumstances that justify large group direct instruction, students work through each unit’s objectives at their own pace. Throughout the process, I provide instruction and guidance both face to face and via instructional videos. I have created videos to serve many purposes, such as content-based lectures, modeling social studies skills, and tech tutorials.

In a typical day, we begin in a large group setting. Students engage in a warm-up activity, followed by a brief lecture, tutorial, or guided discussion.  Students then shift to their collaboration or individual work areas to engage in their learning tasks. We conclude each day with a “reflection” period during which students briefly describe their accomplishments and gauge their effort and efficiency. Click here to view a brief video capturing a typical day (recorded w/ iPhones…)

Teachers often ask me what students do if they finish a unit far ahead of their peers. To address this, I reward them with extra time to develop their interest-based “20 Time Projects.”  (Click here to view the 20-Time Intro presentation featuring a student voice-over.) I recently collaborated with Kate Petty to co-author a contributing chapter for Practical Applications in Blended Learning Environments called “Student-Driven Education With Flipped Learning and 20 Time.” Expected publication by IGI Global is December 2013, contact either Kate or I for more details if interested.


When developing each unit, only a few of the objectives included are content-based. They instead focus upon skill development. The skills selected were those from the CCSS Literacy and Writing standards as well as the Connecticut Social Studies Curriculum Framework (my state’s adoption). Content that is necessary to provide historical context is then woven into students’ various learning tasks.

When transitioning towards a student-centered learning environment, I quickly realized how important it was to help students build their metacognitive skills and become self-regulated learners.  Since most students have never been granted this degree of autonomy in school, it was no surprise that they lacked many of the skills necessary to thrive in this environment. I therefore began actively teaching metacognition through an ongoing process of goal setting, progress monitoring, and reflection. I created a form called a “Daily Learning Journal” to help them practice these skills each day.  Click here for student perspectives of this process.


As I discuss in a chapter in Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams upcoming book, Flipped Learning has “democratized” my classroom in many ways. Through a study that I completed through an MA program at Columbia University, I realized that these results are replicated in social studies courses in other parts of the country as well. For a more complete discussion on this topic, keep an eye out for Aaron and Jon’s new book to be published by ISTE in Spring 2014.


Although our course is still rooted in flipped-mastery, I have decided to venture into the world of gamification.  I am not using games to teach, but am instead designing the entire course as a live, multiplayer game. The instructional design will include elements such as leveling, points through attrition, guilds, and an overarching story that weaves together the action. I credit Professor Lee Shlelon and Michael Matera for getting us started down this exciting new path.


Much of what I have learned has been through a reflective process with help from an incredible PLN. The awesome social studies teachers that I collaborate online with most are Karl Lindgren-Streicher, David FouchJason Bretzmann, and Frank Franz. Karl and Jason authored chapters on social studies flipping in the recently published Flipping 2.0, while I and PHS colleague Brian Germain authored a chapter on student use of technology. There is also a free, archived eSeminar and Course for social studies teacher who are, or at least considering, flipping their classes.

Finally, view and contribute your information to this Flipped Social Studies Community document.  It includes teachers from around the world with their contact info, websites, video libraries, and more. Use this resource to connect and grow your PLN.

Tom Driscoll

Tom Driscoll

Tom Driscoll is a high school social studies teacher and technology coach in Putnam, CT.  He has implemented Flipped Learning in his courses since 2011 and regularly leads professional development workshops focusing on instructional technology.  In 2012, Tom conducted a study through Teachers College of  Columbia University called “Flipped Learning and Democratic Education.”  He has also authored chapters for three books on instructional technology, including Flipping 2.0 and Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams’ upcoming book (expected publication Spring 2014). You can follow Tom on Twitter @Mr_Driscoll and visit his blog at flipped-history.com.

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