How to “F-L-I-P” Your Middle Grades Classroom

Four pillars of flipped classrooms to help teachers with distance learning during COVID-19

Recent mass school closings due to the COVID-19 pandemic have educators everywhere seeking ways to provide meaningful distance learning. In response, some educators are developing instruction around a hybrid model of the flipped classroom. Similar to the traditional model, students in a hybrid model prepare outside class assignments using online tools and technologies in preparation for their upcoming face-to-face class meeting.

The flipped classroom is built around the four “pillars” of a flipped classroom: F- flexible environment, L- learning culture, I- intentional content, and P- professional educator (Flipped Learning Network, 2014). We posit that these same “pillars” can be applied to develop a fully online flipped classroom in which students meet with the teacher either synchronously or asynchronously, instead of in person. We offer this alternative model of the flipped classroom to meet the growing demand for distance learning, especially given the current large-scale school closings. Developing a completely online flipped classroom is not difficult, but it can take time, so we have included numerous hyperlinks to resources to get you started.

(F) Start with a Flexible Environment
Begin by selecting a platform that will be the foundation of your online classroom and hub for all your instructional activities and resources. Developing a flexible environment is the first pillar of a flexible classroom, so don’t be afraid to mix technologies, such as a class wiki to upload presentations, photos, videos of yourself teaching, activities, etc. Using what is already familiar to students will streamline the process and make navigating the online flipped classroom easier for them. If starting from scratch, take advantage of online platforms available through your school or school district. Many middle schools, for example, use Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Schoology, or Edmodo. Free platforms such as WebEx and Udemy also work well.

(L) Create the Learning Culture
Once you’ve chosen your platform, determine a layout for the online space. Like your face-to-face classroom, you will want to create a positive learning culture. One way is by making the space aesthetically pleasing, organized, and easy to navigate. Sometimes less is more, so try not to go overboard with images and designs. These can distract learners. Next, decide how you will organize learning. For example, developing instruction around learning modules is a popular and easy way to manage your online flipped classroom. Within each module, it’s important to make learning standards and objectives visible so students can see at a glance what they’re learning. You will also need a space (tabs or folders) to store instructional materials, documents, activities, and presentations. Next, integrate collaboration, such as discussion boards (i.e., Quicktopic and NowComment) or online chats (i.e., Hangouts Meet, WhatsApp, Zoom), which provide user-friendly tools to get you and your students communicating and sharing ideas.

(I) Integrate Intentional Learning
The internet is a warehouse for educational resources, so select learning activities and tools that support intentional learning and engagement (Albert, Pettit, & Terry, 2016). Intentional learning occurs when we purposefully select the technologies, tools, and resources that align with our instructional standards, engage students in learning, and support them in achieving their learning targets. Interactive read alouds, games (Kahoot!; Quizlet), and simulations (Phet simulations) actively engage students. Also consider your textbook’s online resources and personalized learning resources, such as Khan Academy and CK-12 for an interactive curriculum. These provide a wealth of learning support through PowerPoints, audios and videos, practice activities, and assessments.

(P) Harnessing Your Professional Educator Self
As in face-to-face classrooms, the teacher’s role in an online flipped classroom is to facilitate learning. In online spaces this means being available to your students virtually, providing instructional support, and feedback. For example, you might include live instructional videos (Screencastify) or moderate synchronous sessions. An added bonus to streaming live is the teacher’s presence, which also contributes to a positive learning climate (see ClearSlide, Animoto, and Vimeo).

We acknowledge the barriers to developing an online flipped classroom approach, foremost access to technology and the internet by all students (Dugan, 2016). Fortunately, many providers are offering free Internet during this crisis for either those with K-12 students (Charter Communications) or for low-income families (Comcast/Xfinity and TDS Telecom). Other numerous challenges include the mental and emotional challenges students face due to anxiety over changes in routines, learning expectations, and family dynamics.

Despite these challenges, we live in a technologically-advanced world, one that allows us to connect, work, and learn across physical barriers. Albers, Pace, and Brown (2013) state, “Networked technologies have had a highly visible impact” so much that “we are not just connected, but networked, socially, technologically, and intellectually” (p. 100). Fully online flipped classrooms can stabilize learning during this fragile time, provide effective instructional experiences, and proffer social interaction that current social distancing does not allow. Additionally, an online flipped classroom, when implemented as suggested, meets the criteria for middle grades “curriculum [that] is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and relevant” (NMSA, 2010, p. 17).

We recognize this is a challenging time for numerous reasons, particularly the anxiety of the unknown surrounding the virus, as well as acknowledging the vital role schools play in our daily lives such as feeding children who might not otherwise have a meal. Many uncertainties still exist, such as schooling during the summer and the legality of meeting special education accommodations in a virtual format. We can, however, offer the online flipped classroom as one solution. Given the current state of education under the COVID-19 crisis, implementing a completely online version of the flipped classroom makes sense so students do not fall behind in their learning.

This is an uncertain time in our world, our nation, and in education. Yet, we must continue moving forward, for to remain stagnant suggests powerlessness. So, go ahead, flip your middle grades classroom in favor of one designed fully online instead.

Albers, P., Pace, C. L., & Brown, Jr., D. W. (2013). Critical participation in literacy research through new and emerging technologies: A study of web seminars and global engagement. Journal of Literacy and Technology, 14(2), 78-114.
Albert, C. D., Pettit, S. K., & Terry, C. (2016). Flipping out: Understanding the effects of a general education flipped classroom on student success. University of California Press.
Dugan, M. J. (2016). Flipping the social studies classroom: More reasons you should consider flipping your classroom. AMLE Magazine.
Lage, M. J., Platt, G. J., & Treglia, M. (2000). Inverting the classroom: A gateway to creating an inclusive learning environment. Journal of Economic Education, 31(1), 30-43.
National Middle School Association [NMSA]. (2010). This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents. Westerville, OH: Author.