Making the flipped classroom work

The principle of the flipped classroom — that kids learn the content at home and discuss and work with it in school — is something that many teachers would probably agree with. But there are problems with the “pure” model of flipping the classroom, and so we need to be able to compromise.

The problems of the “pure” model of the flipped classroom

The problems can be summed up by referring to the term “ecological validity”. According to Yolander Williams in Ecological Validity in Psychology: Definition & Explanation

"Ecological validity refers to the extent to which the findings of a research study are able to be generalized to real-life settings."

In a sense, the flipped classroom isn't constrained by the timetable

When I read about schools that have embraced the flipped classroom model, they don’t sound much like any school I’ve worked in, or even visited. Consider the “pure” model entails:

  1. Teachers record their “lectures”, or source videos that cover the same subject matter.
  2. Pupils then watch these videos at home.
  3. Classroom time is thus freed up for discussion and group work around the subject.
This is all well and good, but in most schools (in the UK at any rate) teachers don’t lecture, and even if they did they don’t get 20 hours of free time each week in which to record a lecture.

As for using 3rd party sources, you still need time to check that they are any good for your scheme of work and your pupils. This is not as simple as doing a quick search. I was once commissioned to find great video content for a variety of subjects, and it took ages.

There is also the uncomfortable fact that even in this day and age, many families do not have internet access at home, or even a quiet place in which they can watch a video in peace, and these issues are exacerbated by the closing of public libraries and even of school libraries.

I can think of ways in which a school could overcome many if not all of these issues, but that takes a lot of commitment and a great deal of time. Is there a way in which the “ordinary” teacher of Computing can implement a flipped classroom model and make it work? Here are my thoughts on the matter.

What’s the purpose?

A good starting point is to consider what the main purpose of the flipped classroom is. It’s to free up classroom time for rich learning experiences rather than the delivery of content. Well, you can do that through good time management. My favoured approach, working with children of 8 years of age or older, was project-based learning. With younger pupils, you can’t make it as open-ended and teacher-free as you can with older pupils, but you can still create a vibrant learning environment that isn’t dominated by the teacher.

There is an implicit assumption in the articles that advocate the flipped classroom that having the teacher “lecture" the kids is a bad thing. In fact, when I was teaching, using a project-based learning approach, I would devote a lesson every 6 weeks to introduce the topic and the concepts the pupils would need. Sometimes during the course of a six week project I’d call the class to attention to explain something that had cropped up, a process which took perhaps 5 minutes. 

In my opinion, a project-based learning approach combined with good time management enabled me to meet the aims of the flipped classroom movement without doing much flipping.

Interviews, not lectures

Rather than record or find a video containing your entire lesson content, consider filming an interview with an expert. In 1989 I took a video of myself interviewing a businesswoman, in which I asked questions that were related to the scheme of work. It was easy to set up because she happened to be my girlfriend! Even if you don’t have a partner you can interview, there are experts all over the place.

The good news too is that I don’t think the video has to be “artistic”. Mine broke a fundamental rule of film-making by having the camera in one position throughout the whole interview. The kids ribbed me about it, but the content itself was good, and provided a different way of learning the subject matter.

Pupil research

One of the good things about projects like the Flat Classrooms project (now Flat Connections) is that the pupils have to do research outside the classroom — and then make a video explaining or illustrating what they’ve found out. You can buy quite inexpensive cameras these days, which means that you could buy two or three and lend them to pupils who don’t have a phone they can use.


Most households have a TV. Why not keep an eye out for relevant-looking programs? Had I still been teaching, I’d have asked my pupils to watch the recent series called “Humans” for their weekly homework, so we could discuss the issues in class.


I’m fairly certain that these “compromises” won’t appeal to the purists among us, but I’m not that interested in appealing to them. If you have all the resources you need to make the “pure” model work, and if you believe that lectures in any form are a good thing educationally speaking, then fine: go for it. But if you don’t enjoy perfect conditions, and if you doubt the efficacy of lectures in any case, then I hope you will find some of these suggestions useful.

I have written this article as part of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge created by Sarah Arrow. This is the post for Day 3.