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TOOLS FOR LEARNING - Flipping Forward: An Early Pioneer Shares Successful Actions for Classroom Magic

By Victor Rivero - Posted Sep 1, 2016
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Ten years ago, fellow teachers Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams had a conversation that would change everything. They decided to live-record their lectures for the students who missed class. When their assistant superintendent caught wind of it and told them he loved the idea, and that his college-age daughter loved it even more because if her professor did that, she wouldn’t have to go to class anymore, “It was an ‘aha!’ moment for us,” recalls Bergmann.

“We were sitting at lunch one day and said, ‘Well, what if we pre-recorded ?’ And we looked at each other and said, ‘That’s a brilliant idea!’” Simple enough, but those early talks were part of the genesis of a movement now recognized by more than 96% of teachers as “flipped learning.”

And for Sams and Bergmann, their lives would never be the same.

Together, they co-founded The Flipped Learning Network (FLN;, a nonprofit providing teachers with resources needed to implement this pedagogical approach in which class-consuming lectures are literally viewed as homework, freeing up deeper, more active learning experiences in class, and thereby flipping the traditional model on its head. Nine out of 10 teachers have noticed a positive change in student engagement since flipping their class, according to an FLN survey of 2,358 teachers.

In 2009, Sams was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. Bergmann is considered a pioneer in the flipped learning movement. He is leading the worldwide adoption of flipped learning, working with governments, schools, corporations, and education nonprofits. He has coordinated or guided initiatives around the world and is the author of seven books about flipped learning, including the bestselling Flip Your Classroom. He is currently expanding the global FlipCon conferences to include multiple events in Spain, Australia, and the U.S., as well as other locations around the globe.

And as an increasing number of technological platforms continue to emerge that are designed to ease and enhance the approach, the movement continues to grow.

Recognizing a Need

“The flipped classroom model, where students view video lectures and complete hands-on exercises and quizzes as homework, allows educators to guide interactive projects during class time,” says Tony Glockler, co-founder of SolidProfessor (, an online learning company specializing in software apps used in engineering and design. “The benefit of this model is the ability to demonstrate
real-world applications and engage students with interactive projects.”

“My company recognized that teachers wanted to create rich, dynamic content but lacked straightforward, affordable tools to help them do so,” says Tony Dunckel, VP of market solutions for TechSmith Corp. (, a company that works with educators, coaches, and business trainers and has been instrumental in launching the flipped learning movement. “Teachers, concerned about how their video creations would be perceived by their students and peers, set a very high bar for themselves,” according to Dunckel. To address this unmet need, in 2012, his company began designing Teach, an iPad App, to join together the ease-of-use and ubiquity of the iPad with sophisticated animation tools and recording and playback capabilities that teachers needed.

Continues Dunckel, “Our goal was to give teachers advanced video development tools that were accessible and intuitive and a means of publishing their creations and tracking their students’ engagement.”

A Better Way for Teachers

Tom Driscoll, a tech integration specialist and high school social studies teacher in Connecticut, implemented flipped learning in his courses during the last several years. He now regularly conducts professional development workshops to help others do the same.

“I realized over the course of the semester that my students were failing to fully comprehend important concepts or develop essential academic skills,” he explains. “Regardless of the new strategies I implemented, most students were not able to make the progress I expected of them. During that time, I discovered the flipped learning method, an approach that instantly piqued my interest.” He implemented a basic version of flipped learning during the spring, one in which he created instructional videos and uploaded them to his Flipped History Videos YouTube Channel (

“I’ve been a teacher for 16 years, and for the last 9 years I’ve taught middle school math. Before the start of every year I would think to myself, ‘There has got to be a better way,’” said John Choins, an algebra teacher at Midway Middle School in Texas. “But then I would find myself in the same struggle of trying to fit in all the material in a limited amount of time without giving students time to absorb, or even play with, the math to a level where they actually internalized it.”

Two years ago, Choins’ district launched a 1-to-1 iPad initiative. Teachers got their iPads at the beginning of the school year “so we could have time to play with the new tool and experiment with ways to use it in our classrooms, while receiving training on best practices,” he recalls. It was during this semester of implementation that Choins started hearing about the new concept in teaching called flipped learning.

Choins admits, “It sounded intriguing, but I was a bit skeptical. What works in one teacher’s classroom hasn’t always worked in mine. I’m not afraid to experiment with new ideas or new technology, but to completely change the way I teach seemed like a bit of a stretch, even for me,” he says. “After spending the summer reading about all of the positive results from teachers who implemented flipped learning, I decided to give it a try.” With great results and engaged students, now he’s an advocate, too.

The Key to Flipped Learning

So it’s exciting and popular, and surveys and studies are beginning to pour in about its efficacy. But to really understand the essence of flipped learning, we return to one of its early pioneers and current global evangelist of the movement, Jon Bergmann. He believes the key to the flipped classroom lies in a simple question directed at teachers: What’s the best use of your face-to-face class time?

“I would argue that it’s not a teacher standing up and yacking at their kids,” Bergmann maintains. “It’s something else.” And that something else can be a lot of different things. “It works different in a math class than it does in a science class, than it does in whatever,” he says. “In fact, that’s why we wrote the next five books this year on how to flip math, how to flip science, social studies, English, and elementary classrooms. We did all that, but the point of that was, ‘Now that you’ve flipped your class, and you made these short videos, what do you actually do in the class?’ That’s the key to it.”

First Steps Forward

As educators consider how to move forward, Bergmann outlines five ways to begin flipping your classroom.

• Video creation. “You need a way to create a video. There’s a million ways to make a video. It could be your iPhone. There’s screencasting software. Whiteboarding apps on devices and computers. You’ve got to have a creation mechanism.”

• Video interaction. “Best practice in flipped learning is that you’ve got a way for kids to interact with the videos. There are a number of tools that analyze video watching, so as a kid watches a video, it tracks how many minutes that they’re watching—but you also can insert into the videos questions that the students can respond to. You’ll get some informative feedback through the technology.”

• Hosting. “You should have some place to host it, you don’t actually need it, but it’s best practice; some sort of a learning management system–and there are a lot of them. There are full-blown learning management systems, and what I like to call ‘learning management lite’, maybe not all the features of a huge LMS, but they do work very well with flipped classrooms.”

• Hardware. “Microphones, tablet input devices. It’s very important for a teacher to be able to draw on the screen; sometimes that can be done on an iPad or an Android tablet, or whatever, but then there are also external tablets that can plug into computers; a smart board or an interactive white board does that as well. That’s the hardware piece.”

• Learning spaces. “There are interactive simulations, games that kids can now do digitally that they couldn’t do before because their teacher was spending so much time in front of the room. If you think about it, most rooms are designed for teachers to teach stuff, to present. [With flipped classrooms,] you change that aspect, and the whole purpose of that goes away, so you need flexible spaces where kids can get into different groups and make learning the center.”


Is there anything else that can really make a difference in moving flipped learning forward? “Leadership really matters,” Bergmann affirms. “If you don’t have good leadership, then things don’t happen. I’ve been really frustrated. In fact, one of the reasons I’ve launched the Global Initiative is I’ve run into a lot of teachers who want to flip their class and they’re so stopped by their leadership. They have not thought through things and things are not put into place, so there are tech hurdles, a million hurdles.”

Is it all worth it? “I’ve visited classrooms all over the world now,” says Bergmann. “I’m just amazed at what teachers are doing with their class time. All of a sudden, it frees up that class time. That’s really where the magic happens.” 


Contact Victor Rivero at

Flipped Learning Defined

It is called “flipped” because the traditional definition was, “what used to be classwork (the lecture) is done outside of class (usually with videos), and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class.” However, flipped learning has evolved to describe any situation in which technology is used to time-shift the delivery of content. It is where active learning meets technology .

– The Flipped Learning Community, the original online community of practice for and by flipped educators, serving nearly 30,000 members (

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