Taking Stock of the Flip

Taking Stock of the Flip

We’re at a point now where we feel confident that the pilot flip of a bio class at AF Amistad High School has demonstrated that it is working and deserves to be sustained – and expanded.

The results come in a number of highly suggestive (though admittedly not ironclad) forms: data on student homework completion, student testimonials praising the new class format, and glowing observations by a number of key administrators. 

Here’s one:

In a recent observation of a teacher using a flipped classroom design, I saw some of the most rigorous inquiry and discussions I have seen in any class and in any school. Free from the challenges of finding ways for scholars to successfully internalize basic content, the blended approach helped this teacher make room for a rigorous course that is truly preparing scholars for the rigors of college. This model has tremendous potential for our network and for our country.

As we move into the phase of looking to sustain the work that the teacher and her students have accomplished in this one class, we took a few minutes to reflect on the successes of this past year. (We’ll blog again about the process of expanding the flip to other disciplines like math and history within the same school, handing off the model to an incoming bio teacher while current teacher Anne Johnson brings it with her to AP Bio next year, and transferring the model to another AP Bio teacher at our high school in Brooklyn.) One of the important takeaways for us in this year’s pilot has been the vital importance of instructional excellence. The model has increased the time available to the teacher for high quality inquiry science instruction, essentially intensifying and accelerating the impact of methods already in place in her teaching. (Had the teacher been mediocre, the flip would only have produced more mediocrity.) In this way, the flip has aligned well with the core values of our organization while also pushing us to personalize instruction more and grant students greater independence and autonomy – with which they have thrived. The flip has eased the pedagogical work of finding the best fit match between the learner, the content, and the instructional mode (lecture, inquiry, etc.) and helped to release us from a default approach that was not leading to success for all kids.

Kickboard data on homework completion rates in the bio flip. The data reflect a decrease over time in incomplete and missing work, which corresponds with positive classroom observations and student testimonials.

In the spirit of reflection, we asked Anne about the impact of the flip pilot in her classroom and her vision for sustaining and expanding the flip model.

Q: Can you explain the flip concept in implementation in your classroom?

A: Through the flip model, my goal is to create a more student-centric learning environment that allows students to have more authentic science experiences—to do science rather than receive science instruction. Two to three times per week, I create a video in which I either narrate a PowerPoint presentation or demonstrate a lab procedure that covers, in a more concrete manner, material similar to what students would read in a textbook. The video is posted online, and for homework, students watch the video and take notes, followed by a short online poll to check for understanding. Students bring their notes to class the next day, and we use this to dive deeper into the content through case studies, labs, research investigations and presentations.

Q: How does the flip help you to increase the effectiveness of the 5-E model of science inquiry?

A: Prior to using the flip model, time constraints often forced me to cover content in an inauthentic way that lacked both rigor and meaning. The flip model expands time for the 5-E model of science inquiry by effectively introducing baseline content—Engage, Explore and Explain—through homework and preserving class time for more rigorous, authentic, higher-order work—Extend and Evaluate. As a result, I often find myself teaching at same rigor as an AP Biology class.

Q: How do you think this model helps to personalize learning for students?

A: Most importantly, the flip model enables me to play a facilitator role, while student ownership, engagement and investment dominate the trajectory of learning. The flip model begins empowering students in their learning by enabling them to Engage, Explore and Explain the baseline content at their own pace through pausing and/or replaying the video lectures and searching the Internet for additional resources. Then, the online poll to check for understanding directs me in indentifying and addressing challenging concepts (as a whole class or on an individual student level) before immersing in high-order work. The flip model allows for significant independent work time in class, during which students are exploring rigorous scientific questions—sometimes through differentiated assignments based on student mastery—and I am able to rotate and work with individual students. The flip model also creates more opportunities for non-traditional assessment, such as creating PowerPoint presentations and evidence-based writing.

Q: How have students responded to the flip model?

A: The flip model has promoted high levels of student investment in the class, including increasingly high levels of homework completion compared to non-flipped classrooms and high levels of thoughtful class participation. Students seem to be more intrinsically invested in completing their homework because it has a more direct and meaningful connection to and impact on their in-class work. Meanwhile, the rigor of in-class dialogue has increased, with students appropriately using and applying content-specific vocabulary and concepts in their thinking, speaking and writing.

Q: What is your vision for sustaining and expanding this work as part of your own teaching?

A: Next year, I am looking forward to utilizing the flip model with the same group of students in AP Biology, which the College Board been revised as a lab-oriented, inquiry-based course assisted. I expect that the positive effects of the flip model will be evident earlier in the school year because the students will already have experience with and investment in the model, including how to access the online videos, how long it takes to watch each video lecture and how to take notes while viewing a video. I would love to see the flip model expanded to additional classrooms and content areas, but the barrier of equal Internet access within our student population remains a challenge. Additionally, the flip model requires a significant commitment from the teacher, especially in the initial year of creation and implementation, including dual preps for both the video lecture and the in-class lesson. Ideally, we will find ways to transfer content developed for the flip model across teachers within the same content area, although it remains untested whether students’ direct connection to the teacher delivering the video lecture impacts their engagement and the effectiveness of the flip model.

Click here to view Anne’s 5-E flipped model.

Click here to view the flipped model we are developing for AP Calculus.

Click here to see additional comparative data homework completion rates in Anne’s flipped class vs. other non-flipped classes.

Click here to visit Anne’s biology class web site, Biology: A Battle For Survival

Written by Dan Cogan-Drew

Dan Cogan-Drew

Founding Director of Digital Learning at Achievement First Public Charter Schools


  1. Awesome post. Thanks for Sharing Dan and Anne.

  2. This strategy seems to be working really well for you. I love that you are emphasizing AP curriculum as I am sure it prepares students for college level rigor. Are these video lessons something that are made public? Are these resources that we can share and contribute to?

  3. That’s a great question. And the answer unfortunately gets caught up in technical issues. We’ve wanted to post our videos to an open YouTube channel – for a variety of reasons, including accessibility and addition of other features (like the TedEd annotations/quiz tool and the Grockit.com/Answers discussion tool), but for some unknown reason we have difficulty consistently accessing YouTube at the high school. I’ve spoken with our IT folks and with Google and we can’t seem to figure out why sometimes it works for some, sometimes it works for others, but rarely for everyone at once. So for now we’ve been posting the videos in Google docs but not deliberately make them public, as the students all have Google accounts; we need to change the permissions to make them accessible to anyone with the url – which we’ll do. Most of the other resources are free and do not require a login. We haven’t really tackled the external collaboration angle; this is an interesting thought that we’ll consider.

    Just a note that at this point that the lessons are for the regular bio course. Anne’s transitioning to AP Bio next year and will leave behind a copy of these resources for her incoming replacement, as well as take a copy with her, tweaking and adding more content and rigor as necessary.

  4. This is great, Dan and Anne! Thanks so much for sharing these smart practices to leverage technology to both maximize in-class time for students to do rigorous work and develop their college-going technology skills.

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