Random Thoughts

Flipping History

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By Stefan

When most people think of the flipped classroom model or reverse instruction, which ever term you like best, they automatically think videos, screencasts, and when you get down to it lecture based instruction.But that doesn’t have to be the case.

In fact every time I have helped a teacher flip their classroom in the high school it has never involved videos. Instead it involves students actively finding information, making sense of it, and then coming to class ready to discuss with the teacher what they have learned, what questions they have and, what it is they still don’t know/understand.

Currently I am working with a history teacher who came to me with some “really dry historical content” that he needed to cover in his 11th grade Thailand and Southeast Asia history class.

We discussed some options and settling on following a similar set-up that I used in a English classroom last year.

First we came up with an essential question to focus the students. That essential question will be the summative assessment in some form or another when we finish this unit.

The essential question: How does the past influence the present?

Next the teacher came up with sub-questions to help the students focus their research and transfer of knowledge.

  • What is the relationship between the ‘modern’ and the ‘traditional’ in this time period?
  • How was the Thai nation conceptualized or interpreted during this time period?
  • That is, how was the notion of ‘Thai-ness’ or what it meant to be ‘Thai’ defined in this time period? Did it change over the course of this time period? If so, how and why?
  • Analyze the evolution of social forces during the time period.
  • For example, what is the relationship between the ‘old’ order and the ‘new’ order during this time period?
  • How did different social forces try to make use of the machinery of the Thai nation-state during this time period in order to control or influence state power?
  • What is the role of Western influence, both direct and indirect, within this time period? What is the Thai response to such influence?
by Sailing “Footprints: Real to Reel” (Ronn ashore)

For this specific unit the students are studying Thailand History (required class for all students in Thailand) from 1932 – Present.Next we listed the skills we wanted students to gain through this unit of study.

  • Become better searchers of primary source documents and quality web sources
  • Be able to post a blog post with media relevant to the content
  • Be able to leave a quality comment on a blog

Then came the knowledge and understandings we wanted students to gain.

  • Understand how the past influences present day politics in Thailand
  • Understand Thailand’s role globally through the years
  • Know the role that Thailand plays in the global economy

Once we had those in place we set out to create the structure over the next two weeks. Both the teacher and I felt we were crunched for time as the student’s Global Citizen Week (all students leave on a week trip to global destinations) made for a natural break in learning. With that in mind, here’s what the class periods looked like:

Thurs – 1/26 1932 – 1948
Group A Blog Post due Saturday 6pm
Group B Prepare for Discussion on Monday 1/30

Monday – 1/30 1948 – 1972
Group B Blog Post due Wednesday 6pm
Group A Prepare for Discussion on Friday 2/3

Friday – 2/3 1972 – 1996
Group A Blog Post due Sunday 2pm
Group B Prepare for Discussion on Tuesday – 2/7

Tuesday – 2/7 1996 – Present
Group B Blog Post due Tuesday 9pm
Group A Prepare for Discussion on Thursday – 2/9

As we start week two of this flipped project the students are getting more comfortable with what is expected of them. It has been amazing the pushback we have received both from students and from parents on this flipped idea.

Students telling us they would rather listen to a lecture and powerpoint from the teacher then have to struggle through the mass of content out there to find the answer themselves.

Parents calling into question the idea that the teacher isn’t “teaching my child” and the frustration their child is having to “find the right answer.”

Both of these comments scare me….a lot!

Students who have come to expect that the answers will just be given to them in a lecture now complain when they are asked to find information on their own rather than having it spoon fed to them in 90 minute chunks.

Parents who still believe that learning in the high school should be teacher directed and test based and call into question any deviation of what they know “school” to be.

As an employee of my school I am very concerned about the notion of what good learning (not teaching) looks like in a world that is filled with information that is chaotic, messy, and ever growing. If I was an administrator at my school I would be concern if I wasn’t receiving more calls from parents telling me “the teacher isn’t teaching”.

Reverse instruction can look different in different classrooms. To often we see one good example and we assume it must be done that way when really it’s the idea that is important. How you decide to “farm out” the content discovery and knowledge accusation is up to you. The main thing to ask yourself is simple:

How do I structure my time so that I get the most out of our face to face interactions?

Complete Lesson Plan Outline Here

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Jeff, I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to share the pushback you’ve witnessed during this unit. By making the lesson transparent, you’ve helped to teach unintended lessons to students, parents and teachers alike.

    Wondering what a parent meeting might look like in considering the skills learned in this process, versus those learned in the sit ‘n git…

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  3. Thanks for this great post and process model. The responses from students and parents are ones I have heard before in student centred learning. Thankfully they are less often though.Love your definition of the Flip , as it happens within the classroom ,with real inquiry .

  4. I’m not too surprised at some of the parents responses. I taught a graduate class this way (my students were actual teachers getting their master’s degree in special ed) and the students had to really work instead of me spitting out information. When the students filled out the course evaluations, one third of my students felt like they did all the work and I didn’t do anything. They felt the course was too hard and it made them ‘think” too much. The others felt like they learned a lot and enjoyed the way this was not a typical college class. I would definitely use this process again because I believe it is much more effective than the ol’ “spit and soak” method.

  5. Jeff, there are so many good elements to what you’ve done with your history-teaching colleague here. I love the way you’ve framed the essential questions for the students, and how you’ve given them some driving questions to pursue. I wonder, did the teacher cook up those on his own, or did the students help ‘drive’? I also really like the focus on creativity (choosing media, producing original content on the blog), and the essential 21st century experience of publishing to a public audience. Great stuff.

    My experience with PBL in independent schools is that there is frequently the kind of pushback you two have experienced. Though few parents would ask for more direct instruction in kindergarten – who wouldn’t want their 6yr old doing ‘discovery learning’? – parents and high school students seem to have been trained to expect it. By 11th grade, and usually much sooner, students like yours have been trained in ‘schooling’: sit, listen, note-take, return the info on a test. Little to no critical thinking required, little to no research skills required, little to no creative thinking required. Pushback is a natural reaction to something very different happening in class. And, I suspect, something more rigorous.

    My department has now developed a culture of learning around ‘inquiry-based learning’ models, and students and parents don’t really push back. See the movement to PBL (or, in this case, what you’ve called ‘flipped’) as a process, with you and your history teacher in the opening phase. Unfortunately, as you blaze the trail for future teachers at your school, you’re getting beaten up a bit. But I’m sure you know this already…

    Thanks for another great post on the Thinking Stick. Cheers.

    Mike Gwaltney

  6. Hi Jeff, As you know I’m new to “proconsuming” but I read your article and I am baffled as to why you call it flipped or reverse instruction. You’re style is an inquiry based style, which is a known and popular model and parents will be all over it if you call it inquiry. I think calling it reversed or flipped sounds as if the teacher was originally a terrible instructor who needed a “180 degree erase all that you do” mentor like you.

    I’ve taught for 11 years now and when I fall into lecture mode, I suffer the consequence as I lose their attention: even though I’m extremely animated. The TCRWP model for reading and writing, with continual partner share, reminds me to facilitate partner and small group discussion and to keep the whole class share and lecture based lessons as short as possible.

    Thanks for sharing the lessons for this class. It’s a great model…

  7. I agree with Britt that using the word ‘flipped’ may carry a questionable connotation for parents. Your style is indeed very inquiry based and ‘flipping’ the classroom, as you call it, leads to a shift of “ownership” the class and what the students are learning. Isn’t that what all teachers want?
    In many aspects I agree that education is about what good learning looks like and not only what good teaching looks like. But I also feel that we as teachers have the sole responsibility to guide and support students in what they need do, what choices they need to make, how to go about being a good learner.
    With this support, we could indeed ‘flip’ the classroom and only then expect students to be the best learners they can be.
    Coming from a PYP background, I too see that we as teachers (even in the lower grades) are changing our position in the classroom. Students are not passive recipients of content anymore but rather are expected to be active. I see a ‘flipped’ classroom as being student centered which learning is more meaningful.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It brings inspiration and makes me wonder about how I could engage a kindergartener in ‘discovery learning’.

  8. A great post, the flipped classroom is a relatively new educational push that is not really all that new.n However, as you pointed out, many teachers in haste assume that it just means endless videos for homework and miss the point that a student based, inquiry approach is what is needed.

    To many teachers love the sound of their own voice!

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