Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

Eight Tips for Flipping Your American History Classroom

by Jeff Wekar

My journey into the realm of the flipped classroom began about two years ago with my eighth-grade American history class. My goal was to reduce the amount of lecturing and increase student involvement in their learning. During that journey I have made countless mistakes, but I can honestly say that flipping my class was one of the best decisions I have made in my fourteen-year teaching career.

For me, the benefit of the flipped class model is that teachers take on an increased role as a coach, working with students on an individual basis frequently. My students typically watch two to three screencasts (videos that capture my onscreen lessons along with the audio of my lectures) every week. Each video is no longer than ten minutes and most are considerably shorter. In class I do a variety of activities that reinforce important concepts. Typically my students are given a choice of activities; some students complete more than others and there is never pressure on students to complete all of the activities. The goal is to make sure students understand the key concepts.

Below are eight tips for flipping your history classroom based on my experiences incorporating the flipped model into my classes:

1. Select your technology wisely: When I first started flipping my classroom, my students said they were unable to watch assigned videos on their iPads or smartphones. It is important to find a recording device that will work across all platforms.

2. Don't let the technology get in the way of your students. At the beginning of the school year I had each of my students fill out a technology survey. I wanted to know what capabilities they had outside of school. I quickly discovered that a handful of students did not have the necessary technology to view the lectures. I was able to get around this by simply burning DVDs of screencasts, which gave the students the ability to watch them on DVD players and their video game systems.

3. Get student feedback. I constantly ask my students for feedback on the screencasts as well as the activities. The students are very honest about what is working for them and what is not.

4. Be flexible. Think of flipping as a journey. Some days you may feel that you have planned superbly, only to discover that students do not understand the content. Instead of carrying out your plan you may have to adjust.

5. Let the students have some control. After my students watch screencasts I have them share their notes for about ten minutes. This gives the students the opportunity to make corrections and additions to their notes. I also require students to write three thought-provoking questions as well as a summary. Finally, each group of students writes a question on the board about a topic or theme they are struggling with. As my students are sharing their notes I listen to the group discussions, ask questions of the students, and assess their understanding. I reach almost every one of my students and I am able to develop activities based on what I hear in their groups.

6. Think small. Start flipping with one lesson or a unit. Flipping an entire course from scratch can be overwhelming. You may find that flipping does not meet your teaching style or your students' learning styles.

7. One-stop shopping. Your students should not have to access multiple sites to get to the assigned materials. I keep all materials—whether a video, assignment, or quiz—on my website.

8. Join a list service: List services have lots of great resources and advice from teachers. This way you can borrow ideas from teachers that have already done it. I recommend Flipped Learning Network (http://flippedclassroom.org/).

Flipping my classroom has been one of the most rewarding and exciting endeavors of my career. The benefits of reaching all of my students each day and giving students control over lessons have been well worth the hours of recording and re-recording. My students have greater enthusiasm about learning history, and overall, my classroom environment has improved. Happy Flipping!

Jeff Wekar is a social studies and history teacher and a techology integration specialist with fourteen years of experience teaching in New York State. He can be reached at jwekar1@gmail.com.