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Thursday, May 5, 2011

The History of the Flipped Class

How the Flipped Class Was Born

Tomorrow I am skyping into the Insight and Innovation for Technology Leaders Conference in Chicago. Scott Meech and Dan Rezac are leading a session entitled Flipping the Classroom. Dan has been asking me via email today about where the whole idea of the flipped classroom came from. I enjoyed sharing with him where all of this came from and realized many of my readers have not heard the story and the chronology before. So if you are interested on where the Flipped Classroom came from, here is my attempt at the history of it. Note that this is how we see this happening. There may be others who also came up with the same or a similar idea about the flipped class. This is only how I have see this develop.

In the spring of 2007 Aaron was thumbing through a technology magazine and showed me an article about some software that would record a PowerPoint slideshow including voice and any annotations, and then it converted the recording into a video file that could be easily distributed online. As we discussed the potential of such software we realized this might be a way for our students who missed class to not miss out on learning. Thus, we began to record our live lessons using screen capture software. We posted our lectures online so our students could access them. When we did this, YouTube was just getting started and the world of online video was just in its infancy.

In all honesty, we recorded our lessons out of selfishness. We were spending inordinate amounts of time re-teaching lessons to students who missed class, and the recorded lectures became our first line of defense.

Our absent students loved the recorded lectures. Students who missed class were able to learn what they missed. Some students who were in class and heard the live lecture began to re-watch the videos. Some would watch them when reviewing for exams. And we loved it because we didn’t have to spend hours after school, at lunch, or during our planning time getting kids caught up.

However, we never could have expected the side-effects of posting our lessons online: the emails began. Since our videos were posted online, students and teachers from all over the world began thanking us for our videos. Students, just like ours, who had struggled with Chemistry found our videos and started using them to help them learn. We participate in several online science teacher forums and we began to share the links to the recorded lectures, and teachers from all over the country began to take notice. Chemistry teachers began to use our video lectures as sub plans and some new teachers used them to learn chemistry content so they could teach it to their students. All in all, it was amazing to see what we were doing in our small town being noticed across the country.

As we began this journey we had no idea that what we were doing was going to spread beyond our four walls. Then, out of the blue, we got an email from a neighboring school district wanting us to come and share with them about the Flipped model. They even offered to pay us! So we packed our bags and spent a day in Canon City, CO. Most of you have sat in staff development training where your principal or superintendent has brought in some “expert:” someone from out of town with a slide-show. Well, we were those “experts.” When we started most of the teachers were sitting there with a glazed expression, as if they were daring these two yahoos to capture their attention.

As we shared our story, their slumped bodies began to become straighter. Soon the teachers in the audience were asking questions and seemed genuinely interested in the Flipped model. And then as we broke them into groups to begin practicing how to make their own videos, we realized we had stumbled upon something which was much bigger than ourselves. One seasoned teacher told us that in twenty-six years of teaching, our presentation and workshop was the most valuable professional development day he had ever attended. I do not know if his comment had as much to do with our presentation skills as it did with the simplicity and reproducibility of the model we presented.

A few weeks later our assistant principal came into our rooms and asked us if we were expecting anybody from Channel 11? Much to our surprise, the education reporter from one of the news stations had heard about us and just showed up on our doorstep. They made a short news-clip about what we were doing, and as they say...the rest is history. We got invited to speak at conferences, invited to train schools, districts, and even colleges. We have spoken in Canada, Georgia, Texas, Washington DC, South Dakota, North Carolina, Chicago, and right here in Colorado.

Channel 11 Video Clip (From 2007)

So What Did We Call This?

When we started out we didn’t call it the Flipped Class Model. We were trying to figure out what to call our model. We first called it the Pre-Vodcasting model. Since our videos were first being distributed as podcasts, but video podcasts, we called them vodcasts. However as we have shared our story we realized many teachers who are afraid of technology see the word podcast or vodcast and think they could never do what we are doing.

During this time frame we scoured the internet to see if anybody else had thought the flip. We didn’t find anybody and even went as far as considering copyrighting the idea. We contacted my cousin, a lawyer, and he told us how difficult the idea was and since we really wanted to see this change education, we never pursued it.

As we continued to struggle with what to call our new teaching methodology, we decided to begin calling it Reverse Instruction. This term stuck for quite some time, but in the Fall of 2010, Karl Fink wrote a blog about the Flipped Classroom and that term has stuck. Dan Pink wrote a blog and used the term the Flipped Class and that term has stuck like glue.

Dan Pink credited the flipped class to Karl Fisch from Arapahoe HS (He is the guy who made the viral video Shift Happens) ( but Karl had found out about the reverse classroom from one of his teachers who had attended one of our workshops and then he (Karl) started reversing his classroom. The good news about Karl is he is a very humble guy. When people started calling it the Fisch Flip he told people to not call it that and since he got the idea from a couple of guys in Woodland Park.

And of course this is just the beginning of the story. Our story has become the story of so many other educators across the world who have either experimented with the flip, have fully flipped, or who are still thinking of flipping.


  1. As a colleague of mine pointed out "We flipped our lesson when I was at boarding school 40 years ago, the called it 'Prep'."

    True they had no video or YouTube but then the 'flipped classroom' does not need to hinge on this form of multi-media.

    What I admire about your version of the 'flip' Johnathan are the steps you have taken towards a richer fuller pedagogy by pursuing the 'mastery' model.



  2. John: Good point about flipping. English teachers require students to read Hamlet before class so in that sense they have flipped forever.

    When we wrote our book (coming out this fall) we did some research about mastery learning and realized what we are doing has been around for many years. The problem for a true mastery program is that it was very difficult to run for logistical purposes. But now with the boom of technology mastery learning is not such a huge beast to manage.

  3. Great post! If you guys are interested. I am about to submit an article to JCE on this as it relate to cognitive load. Ran a complete study this year with two independent groups. One completely flipped and one not, lots of statistical significance across the same instruments and the same prior knolwedge. Anyway, let's chat soon. Hope all is well with you both.

  4. While the idea of flipping the classroom have been in practice and it was prepping long time ago, I am very excited to read the history of Flipped Classroom. It is amazing that how much impact you made to educators around the world. It works perfectly in my world language/ language art class. We should take advantage of technology.

  5. In 2000 I gave my 10 year old kids each a part on the Planets/Space-Topic to prepare for the weeks to come. They were given exact instructions as to what to search for, gathered their info [at home] and taught a mini 'lesson' to the class. They loved it, got an assessment mark and they did really well as little 'teachers'. That was in South Africa.

  6. Thank you for this very informative post. I am currently reviewing the flipped class in higher education as part of an academic paper. Yes we do use this model although I had never heard the term "flipped class" used. I wasn't aware of its pedagogical value until conducting literature reviews and questioning colleagues. I have to admit to completely reviewing my involvement in my educator practices to establish what lectures and class activity would benefit from flipping.