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Flipped Classroom Model: Can It Really Work In Elementary School?

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Photo of Cassie (Teach Starter)
Updated | 8 min read

Are you considering a flipped classroom in your elementary school? The concept of “flipping” (classrooms, not houses!) has been around since the aughts where it’s largely been used in high school and college settings, but flipped learning got a lot of play as the pandemic moved many schools to a hybrid model with students spending part of the time at home and part in the traditional classroom. But wait a minute … what is flipped classroom model, and more importantly, is a flipped classroom effective for young learners?

What Is a Flipped Classroom Model?

A flipped classroom puts digital learning first, with students watching videos or consuming content digitally as an introduction to a lesson, rather than listening to their teacher lecturing on the subject.

Download free video backgrounds for teachers for your flipped classroom videos! 

The concept of flipped learning is largely credited to Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, a set of Colorado high school teachers who decided to start adding audio to their PowerPoints back in 2007, posting them online to students who were absent from class would still get a chance to hear what their teacher had to say. The teachers saw that these videos weren’t just beneficial for students who needed to play catch-up — they were being watched by kids who were in school to hear the lessons too. The recordings were helping to reinforce learning. 

alternatives to direct instruction - flipped learning in primary schools

Bergmann and Sams began pre-recording all of their lectures, and today’s flipped classroom was born. Since then, teachers who have adopted flipped classrooms have turned to introducing lessons with digitized lectures— with viewing typically done outside of the classroom as homework — or at-home reading then using their class time to engage students in more active learning. That can mean everything from group activities to peer teaching. Essentially, learning has been flipped from using homework as a way to follow a lecture up with problem-solving or group projects. Instead, the homework is where students have a concept presented, and their flipped classroom is where they do their problem-solving or projects.

During the pandemic, this flipped learning became a necessity for many teachers, especially those in a hybrid model who were trying to maximize their in-class time with students. And the flipped classroom model has been seen by some teachers as a way to provide a homework alternative that makes better use of students’ time, as students are not expected to come up with answers to problems at home when they need their teacher’s assistance.

How Effective Is Flipped Learning?

OK, so this may have you feeling uneasy. Can flipped learning really be effective? After all, it’s a teacher’s job to introduce new topics, concepts, and ideas to their students.

This usually begins with direct instruction, maybe a story or a video, right? Though, as 21st-century teachers, we know that’s not where our students’ only learning occurs. So, after cramming the introduction of a new concept into the allocated time, we move our kids onto a more practical or independent activity in which they can cement their learning. We do our best to differentiate, trying to cater to different levels of understanding and ability in the short class time that we have, and then hope that our students will be able to catch up during homework if they need to.

There’s no doubt that teachers juggle the equivalent of 15 flaming batons at any given time. And yet, time might be the most precious teaching resource that you can get, and a flipped classroom model offers that.

Because flipped pedagogies have been around so long, there’s also research into the effectiveness of flipped learning that may help you determine if you should set up a flipped classroom — or not — for your elementary schoolers.

The folks at the Brookings Institution, a well-known think tank, analyzed more than 300 studies conducted on the flipped classroom model, comprising of more than 51,000 subjects. The studies looked at the effectiveness of a flipped classroom vs. lecture-based instruction from the same teacher.

The result? The analysis concluded flipped learning can be effective — note the word can! As we all know, every student learns differently, and like any pedagogy, flipped classrooms aren’t likely to be successful if applied across the board.

Flipped learning seems to be most effective when it comes to:

But the benefits of a flipped classroom were not realized across all subjects. The analysis revealed flipped learning is not as effective in math and engineering-type settings as it is in language, tech, and health-science. What’s more, flipped learning doesn’t seem to have as much of an impact in the US, Australia, and Europe as it does in Middle Eastern and Asian countries where lecture-style teaching is more the norm.

Download a Bloom’s Taxonomy poster to encourage higher-order thinking in your classroom!

Finally, it’s important to take note of the technology access required for students if you’re considering a flipped learning approach. Do your students have a way to watch videos at home, or will this model end up disenfranchising a portion of your class?

How to Structure a Flipped Lesson

If you’re still considering a flipped classroom, you might want to start small to see if this pedagogy is right for your classroom. Here is a brief overview of the most common way to flip a lesson.

1. Replace Traditional Homework with Videos Introducing New Work

Teachers create short videos introducing new concepts that students watch at home. Often the videos will explain the concept (e.g. a new strategy for division), give one or more examples of the concept in action (e.g. showing students a division strategy), and then require students to complete an exercise on their own (e.g. complete a given exercise using the new strategy) which they bring to class the next day.

The following TedEd clip shows how the concept of gravity can be briefly taught through a simple animation, which can be distributed to the class as a homework task. The students would watch the video and be ready for understanding more about the topic the following day.

Videos can be watched by parents too, who in turn increase their own understanding of their child’s homework topics and can support home learning in a more confident way.

2. Begin in-Class Lessons with Concept Review

Upon return to school, students review the concept explored in the flipped video they watched at home. This can occur in a variety of ways including teacher questioning or peer review.

3. Group Students for Active Learning Experiences

Use the activity completed for homework or the review/questioning time to assess student understanding before breaking the class into groups for differentiated activities.

4. Spend Less Time Instructing, More Time Facilitating Learning

With students arriving at the lesson with more prior knowledge, you will find the time needed for direct instruction to be significantly reduced. This allows you to spend the bulk of your class time working with student groups on activities that meet their needs.

This flipped learning video introduces universal human rights to the students. By forming a basic understanding at home, students were then able to spend their class time developing a research task based on the open-ended questions at the end of the video, while also benefiting from access to teacher support.

Tips for Beginning Flipped Learning

  • Communicate with parents.
    Take time to make sure that all students will have access to the internet in some way at home and that parents are happy to support their child accessing their homework in this way. Highlight the parental benefits of flipped learning for homework, such as being able to understand “new” ways of doing things so they can better support their child.
  • Start small.
    Choose one lesson to flip in a subject area you feel comfortable with. It could be introducing a science concept or providing students with a history research task so they can spend their lesson time creating a poster, writing a letter, or crafting a presentation with their peers.
  • Kick perfectionism to the curb!
    There is no need for you to worry about making amazing animations or carefully edited videos. Your students get more value from having YOU explain the work to them in your voice, in a way that you know they will understand — just as they would in class!
  • Make Videos Short and Succinct
    Videos in a flipped learning setting are ideally no more than 10 minutes long. If suitable, a series of short videos (such as 3 x 3-minute videos) will be easier for your students to work through. Longer videos mean that a student who needs to watch it three times might end up spending an hour watching the video in order to complete their work.
    Planning what you are going to say, and how you are going to show it before you make the video will help!
  • Set Up Clear Expectations
    Make sure students know what the expectation is regarding incomplete flipped homework. Whether or not you allow students to complete the video and associated activities during class time using technology, if they have to work through it using a handout instead, or if they need to complete two videos for homework next time.

How Do Flipped Lessons Make Differentiation Easier?

How do flipped lessons make differentiation easier? Experienced elementary school flipper Justin Birckbichler explains it to his parents and students this way:

“I play up the fact that they can learn at their own pace by rewinding certain parts, pausing, and even rewatching the whole video multiple times over. I share how I nor anyone else in the class will know if they understood it after one watch or sixteen views, which saves them some dignity if they are a student who has traditionally struggled in front of their peers for years on end. The flipside is also true – if they get it after one viewing, they don’t need to rewatch it and be bored to tears.”

Birckbichler also says that flipped learning improves communication between teachers and parents, as parents can tell you specifically where in a process their child is getting stuck or which part of a concept they are struggling with, rather than saying that their child “just doesn’t get it”.

Flipped Learning Resources

There is a huge number of websites, apps, and resources to help you develop your flipped lessons. Here are a few great places to start:

Tools for Video Creation:

Places You Can Share Videos:

Looking for teacher-created resources that can make the school year run smoothly? Check out what teachers are downloading right now!

Banner image via shutterstock/M2020


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