Teachers of social studies always struggle with “covering all the content.” I guess that is true of all contents and subjects, but there’s something about covering over 4,000 years of world history or even 250 years of United States history in 160 school days that feels daunting. There never is, and never will be, enough time to cover it all. Add to that a recent shift in social studies pedagogy that places a stronger emphasis on skills (rather than mostly memorizing names and dates, as was the case when I was in school).
As I began preparing last spring for Kentucky’s anticipated new standards for social studies, I considered how I could continue to teach all the events in my 8th grade US history class while adding a stronger focus on specific skills necessary for today’s learners. I spoke with colleagues in my school and others in my district. No one had a really good answer for how to do both.
I soon found myself reading article after article online. As I learned more about the idea of flipped learning, I began to see it as a potential answer to my problem. If I could find a way to teach the content outside the classroom, that would leave the time I needed inside the classroom to develop skills and dig deeper into key aspects of history.
Last March, with two units remaining in the school year, I took a leap into flipped learning. Using EdPuzzle, I assigned videos through Google Classroom. As I think back on it today, I’m not sure the kids truly knew what was happening. I didn’t really notice a change – for better or worse – in the end-of-unit test scores. (Our tests were, and still are, based more on content knowledge than skills.) However, thanks to EdPuzzle’s features, I could see who was watching the videos and who was not. This was eye-opening and heartbreaking at the same time, as some of my struggling students were not watching the videos. I felt like I was on the right trail, but far from figuring it all out.
Over the summer, I took the Flipped Learning Level 1 Certification course through FLGI. It helped highlight what I had done correct in my first attempts at flipping, and what I had done wrong. I felt like I had the general idea down, and using EdPuzzle was a bonus. However, I had began flipping with videos made by other teachers, which certainly was easier. I learned in the training that students respond better when they hear your voice and even see your face. Perhaps the most important thing I learned dealt with setting up my classroom to be flipped. I hadn’t ’trained’ my students on how to properly watch a video for learning (versus entertainment) nor had I let them practice before setting them off to do it on their own. I made several changes which helped get this year’s flipped learning off to a better start.
Like most who travel the flipped learning path, I faced a number of challenges. There remains a number of students who simply don’t watch the videos. In EdPuzzle, I can see who they are each time. I have come to realize it’s the same students who do not pay attention or take notes in class – the same students who don’t do other homework when assigned. This does not make it okay, but I’ve had to keep reminding myself not to get too over-anxious. I continue to push for completion, but I have to know it’s not the end of the world if they don’t.
Perhaps the biggest challenge I’ve faced this year involves planning with my colleagues. I have two collegial partners in my grade who are both amazing teachers, but we have different styles of teaching. On top of that, our administration is pushing all grade-level teachers to be on the same topic with the same “We will… / I will…” statements every day. Since I’m flipping my lectures, we are rarely doing the same thing as the other classes. That has become a challenge we continue to work through.
When we plan together, I notice that I have more time than my colleagues to cover specific things and focus more on skill development. Because I no longer lecture during class, I can replace those days with seminar discussions, writing tasks, or hands-on activities. Because students are receiving the historical background information outside the classroom, we spend class time going deeper. In our previous unit, for example, we had the time to spend nearly a full week researching and producing campaign materials in order to have a campaign rally and debate for the election of 1800. When discussing James Monroe’s presidency, students were able to gain knowledge of the Monroe Doctrine through videos. In class, we dug deeper analyzing political cartoons of the time, ending with students creating their own Monroe Doctrine political cartoon. My content-based end of unit test results have been on par with the other teachers, which indicates my kids are getting roughly the same amount of historical content as the non-flipped classes, but are getting more enrichment and skill development.
Before winter break, a quick poll found my students prefer video notes compared to any other form of receiving information (reading notes, lecture notes, etc.). I even had one parent email me after a single day of lecture notes asking if I could go back to videos because her daughter “learns better that way”. My principal noticed a significant advantage with the low-performing students she works with one-on-one, as those students can watch on their own pace.
I am still working on how best to make flipped learning work for my classroom. The transition to flipped learning has taken some time, but the payoff of having more time for skill development has been worth it. With Kentucky moving toward inquiry-based social studies standards, I see the flipped model as a key piece to provide background content while building critical thinking, problem-solving, and participatory skills to create engaged citizens.