Flipped Finally Flopped and Up Floated a Better Model

Red pool safety floatie in the water

The Flip

Have you ever taught a flipped that flopped? Same, professor. Same.

I desperately wanted my face-to-face classes to follow the flipped learning model where students begin the learning process at home before class – typically through video content over core concepts – so that valuable, limited class time could be spent working through the most difficult problems in the course together. And this flipped model worked brilliantly for a couple of terms.

The Flop

But then resistance began to form. A few face-to-face students could not be convinced to watch video content to begin their learning process before class. As I systematically experimented with every method under the sun, an antagonistic relationship developed in the classroom. The absolute last thing we want to happen within our precious learning environment!

Are my flips the only floppers? Dr. Barbi Honeycutt, director of Flip It Consulting, shared in her Magna Online Seminar strategies to overcome exactly such student resistance:

This is probably the most frequently asked question that I hear from faculty as I travel across the country and speak with faculty from all different types of campuses, universities, colleges.  It doesn’t even matter what kind of background, even K–12.

The question is always:

  1. How can I deal with student resistance?
  2. What can I do to get students to come to class prepared?

Will every flipped flop? No. My first flip was an epic success, and my friend Amber Sullivan and her hybrid students joyfully and brilliantly engaged with the flipped learning approach. If your students are thriving under flipped, keep doing what works well.

But if your flipped keeps flopping, as mine most definitely did, allow me to float a better model.

The Float

The float provides a minimalist learning model: first present students with minimal content on core concepts and far fewer examples than you think absolutely necessary. Then engage students in complex yet fun activities, covering the biggest challenges in the topic as you provide immediate timely feedback, tips, and advice.

1)      Present minimal content

If you already flipped your class, you are hereby certified as float-ready. Present the same minimal content you created to make your videos.  

If you only have taught under the traditional model, cut out half of your lecture or more by eliminating all but a handful of examples and whittling down explanations to the bare minimum. Yes, it is painful. I know. Sometimes we hold onto the lie that every truth on the topic must come from our mouths, but students learn far more truth by doing than by hearing.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.”
 –Ben Franklin

Less than half of class time should be spent under this more traditional lecture model to reserve the majority of class time for where real learning happens: class activities and feedback!

2)      Engage in meaningful activities

Pair this minimal content with all of the brilliant activities you’ve already created for your flipped classroom while giving students less time to complete each one for a faster-paced, more engaging atmosphere that still allows students to successfully complete all flipped activities. Use the countdown clock on Poll Everywhere to keep the class moving. Once the majority of class has submitted their answers, before the time is up proceed to encourage students to submit their best answers within the next 30 seconds or so if they are still thinking.  When many or most students have not finished in the allotted time, add more time as needed and then count down around 30-45 seconds so that students can still submit their best answers.

You can also use Google as a countdown timer. Just Google “timer.” Five minutes will automatically appear and start counting down, but click STOP and RESET and then edit the time to be enough for 50-75% of students to complete the activity. To set the timer for two minutes, type in 2 and 0 and 0, for example.

To motivate students to excel while minimizing anxiety as we complete challenging activities under limited time after introducing a topic, class activity grades can be setup so that one-third of their grade comes from being fully present and engaged for the entire class, one-third comes from responding to each question before the time runs out, which Poll Everywhere tracks, and one-third comes from the accuracy of each student’s answers, again from your classroom response system.

With larger classrooms where tracking individual engagement is unreasonable, you might instead base one-third of the grade on correctly entering a random number given at the very start of class with 30-45 seconds to submit, just as a check-in for being present and ready to engage, for instance. Or you could easily omit this one-third and just do half and half on accuracy and the percentage of questions answered.

Under this model, if most graded questions are multiple choice with five or fewer answer options, even by randomly guessing on every question but being fully engaged, students will earn a C on average. With good notes and sincere work, students can easily obtain a B average for class activities. For students striving for an A, students can watch optional videos and even begin their interactive homework before class begins to optimize class performance. Just. Like. Flipped. (Don’t tell anyone!)

3)      Swoop in with just-in-time feedback

As students start to struggle, drop hints as needed based on what you observe happening in the classroom through live answers coming in, conversations happening, and with the time students take in responding. Remind students of their most effective resources — for my class this consists of their formula cards, their calculators, their printed lecture notes, and the textbook. Encourage students to pair or group together for help. Even drop a few well-timed hints as to exactly which resource and which part of the resource might be most helpful in a particular activity, all as needed.

As each activity closes, give immediate feedback prepared in advance by pulling in screenshots from your lecture and other resources to demonstrate how they all had the information to help them succeed and to model how students can best use their resources at home while going through the work on their own. Connect activities to prior materials and learning to demonstrate the cohesive nature of the course and to give students motivation to review any material they may need from previous classes as they move into more difficult content.

The Flap

This new model rises above the flap as students stop flipping over pre-class videos and technology and instead start floating up toward better class engagement, enjoyment, collaboration, and learning. Leverage your class time by presenting minimal content alongside carefully timed activities and timely feedback to optimize student interest and excitement, all while barely tweaking your flipped content and activities.

Ellen Smyth teaches mathematics and statistics for Austin Peay State University. She has been named Innovative Professor, presented an online seminar with Magna, and published articles with Faculty Focus and a book on Enhancing Instruction with Visual Media: Utilizing Video and Lecture Capture. Ellen has also presented at national conferences.


Honeycut, B. (2017). “The Flipped Classroom: Strategies to Overcome Student Resistance and Increase Student Engagement.” Magna Publications.