5 Perfect Learning Zones for Your Classroom

These 5 learning zones are something all teachers should consider implementing into their respective classrooms. Teachers often spend time reviewing standards, how the classroom is set-up, what “tweaks” could be made to improve lessons, bulletin boards, how to end world hunger, and pretty much everything else in the universe, but how about learning zones which encourage personalized learning?

Behind the Scenes of Building Great Lesson Plans of a Flipped Classroom

Personalized Learning plays a vital role in how much success today’s students will experience. Personalized Learning can be defined as enabling student voice and choice through activities the teacher aligns with learning objectives and the students enjoy. One way of achieving this is to “flip your class” by setting up various learning zones in your classroom.

Mindset to Mastering The Classroom Flip

Learning zones allow you to unite components that would seem to be incompatible such as the following: critical standards, instructional activities, assessments, games, and whatever else your creativity brings. The discovery, creation, show-off, practice, and teacher zones save you time and energy throughout the entire year. Planning and preparing for learning zones does not take much time and is super easy when using mind mapping software.

1. Discovery Zone

The discovery zone houses information that exposes students to new information and/or builds on previous topics covered in class. This is where music videos, teacher demonstrations, news articles, instructional videos, screencasts, and fun books and magazines are housed. Give students the freedom to choose what resource(s) they want to dig deeper in. This will lead to a greater sense of ownership of their work leading to higher quality of effort given from the students.

2. Creation Zone

The idea here is to spark the imagination of the students. Do this in a number of different ways. I have experienced the most success with having students create maps or graphs at times using data gained from another learning zone. Setting up science labs where students work in small groups to investigate a topic is great as well. I also enjoy giving students the option to create a model of some kind, for example, a plant or animal cell. This learning zones also doubles as a supply station where students go to get markers, crayons, paper, scissors, glue and whatever else they need. This saves me time and my sanity.

3. Practice Zone

Students use this zone to become more familiar with the class content. This zone is for everyone. Many times students perceive this zone as an area for the lower performing students, but you can confuse your students by making it beneficial for all of your students. I use this area as a grab and go stop. Students grab what they need to go to work and can work in small groups of 2-3 if they choose. I house extension activities for my high performers as well as intervention materials for students who need more assistance with grasping a new concept at this learning zone.

4. Show Off Zone

Let’s face the facts here. Many students like to show off new skills. Evidence of this has been provided in the form of the many fads that have come and gone #dabbing. Give students the chance to show off what they have learned. I typically place independent activities here like small assessments, instructional activities, and one player games. Decrease student test anxiety by switching their mindset to the idea that they are showing off instead of being tested.

5. Teacher Zone

You need an area of your room that is off limits to students. House your graded papers, grade book, and a secret stash of candy here. Students will be moving around your room and establishing an area for you is important. Using this area to work one-on-one with a student is also great as students typically know not to interrupt you.

Be Creative

Do not let a small class be your weakness. You set up a learning zone of a countertop, bookshelf, extra desk, whatever you have. I have 3 along one counter top alone and the students do just fine! Do not feel the need to launch all 5 learning zones at once as that could lead to you burning out. Instead, start small by choosing one or two that you feel most comfortable with and have fun with it! Remember the more fun you have will lead to the students having more fun and at the end of the day isn’t that what this is all about?!

How do you set-up your classroom? Leave a comment below and feel free to post any questions you may have!


Behind the Scenes of Building Great Lesson Plans of a Flipped Classroom

Building great lesson plans in a flipped classroom successfully plays a key role in differentiating instruction. My goal as a teacher is a pretty simple one – Do a good job. OK, so that might be a little too simplistic.  How can I as a teacher do a good job each and every day? By serving each student and designing lessons and activities to meet each student’s unique strengths and weaknesses. This is what we like to call “differentiated instruction.”

The idea of providing differentiated instruction is appealing; however, actually implementing it can be quite the undertaking. A simple internet search will bombard you with strong opinions on if Differentiation actually works.

Bottom Line – It takes hard work and preparation to differentiate instruction. Weird, who knew? #sarcasmfordays

Aha Moment – Lesson Plans

An important realization that occurred early on in my career was discovering a need to map out my units and reevaluate the way I formed lesson plans. As an extremely visual learner and thinker, I needed a way for me to visualize the various pathways my students could take during their journey to mastering the content. Mindmeister has provided me with an opportunity to view my lesson plans as a “road map.” Students might begin from the same “location” (pretest) and finish at the same “destination” (passing score on the summative assessment), but the way they get there is entirely up to them by either choosing an activity they WANT to complete and/or by providing students with activities that best match their unique strengths and weaknesses usually by placing them in various learning zones.

Has it been easy to come up with a wide variety of activities? No, but Mindmeister has kept it easy to keep track of and make adjustments along the way.

Example for you to use

Take a look at the mindmap template below. You may notice a few things missing that traditional lesson plans might have. For starters, I do not have any dates or even specific days outlined. This is intentional as students work at their own pace. I can have a classroom full of 30 students and each of them might be working on something different. I cannot imagine how difficult this would be to try to write on a traditional calendar planner.

Feel free to click on the “map actions” button within the above mind map to duplicate the mind map and use it as a template for your own lesson planning 🙂

Something you might find especially relevant in the template might be some tips and tricks I have included using some of the basic features of MindMeister.

Each activity is given a background color so that I can easily tell whether this is something for the whole group (green), lower level, orange, middle level yellow, etc. Again, this is something that works for my visual mind. You might develop another method that works better for you.

What makes it great

The best part about this is that these plans are so easy to access. Do you ever get an idea for a neat lesson when you are out and about? How often do you forget about it before you get a chance to write it down? As long as you have a connection to the internet you can quickly load up your unit specific lesson plans and jot it down. Plans are saved and can easily be accessed each year, so the teacher does not need to “reinvent the wheel” every year. 

Most importantly, having lesson plans saved and easy to edit gives teacher more time to spend with family, research new teaching practices, start a blog, and rest and relax.

Your Challenge

What can you do now to help set yourself up for success? How can you change the way you map out a unit so that you do not feel overwhelmed at any point as you begin/continue to differentiate your instruction?

Have more questions on anything discussed in this post? Reach out to me via email at

Screencasts Do’s and Don’ts

Teachers everywhere have begun creating screencasts and are seeing the positive effects of how replacing whole group lecturing opens the door for more student engagement. Screencasting lectures are often the first step teachers take in flipping their classrooms. Students begin to receive the lecture that was once done in school in the comfort of their own home, friends house, internet cafe, etc. and use class time to complete the type of work that was once given as homework. The type of work now given in class often has the students practicing new skills that were covered in the screencast. Both teachers and students benefit from the new set-up. The students benefit from having the teacher there to help address any questions or concerns. The teacher can now get a more accurate assessment of how the students are performing.

So the question becomes…

What Makes a Good Screencast?

A good screencast can have a tremendous impact on student learning; however, the opposite is also true. Below are my tips on what makes a great screencast. Feel free to comment below to share any you think I left out!

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  • Make your own – students enjoying seeing their teacher present new information vs. some random person on Youtube. You creating your own screencast personalizes the learning experience.
  • Outline what you will be talking about – Trust me. No one likes someone who rambles about nothing. I have caught myself rambling in the past and it is not good. If you want to expand on a topic, then do so! Just have a plan for what exactly you are going to share and do.
  • Keep it simple and short as possible – One of my favorite ways to present new information is to do a screencast of our digital textbook that has an audio recording of the text. I play the text and pause periodically to add notes, commentary, or whatever else I feel is relevant. In the past, this would be done in a lecture setting that could consume nearly all of a 40 minute period. In a lecture, you can only go as fast as the last student to write in your notes. Screencasting allows me to reduce that time to 1/4 of that while still giving students to work at their own pace by being able to pause and rewind the video when needed.
  • Have a definite purpose- What is the one thing you are trying to accomplish? Make sure your one thing is a present theme in your screencast. Please note that not all screencast need to be aligned with a curriculum standard. I often will make one giving an example of how to turn in an assignment or how to change the share settings on a Google doc.
  • Have everything ready to go on your computer- Most screencasting programs have a feature that will allow you to edit or trim your video, but save yourself as much hassle as possible by having everything prepared on your device. I can only imagine how LAME it would be for a student to watch his/her teacher search for a particular document or file.
  • Hide all personal information – Close all of the tabs and programs you are not using in your screencast.
  • Practice – Do a dry run on your presentation before you hit publish. Check to make sure everything is working properly and look for areas where you can trim down the length.
  • Se the appropriate screen size- True Story: The First screencast I made was perfect…if you were an ant. I somehow manage to record it in a small window and my students could not see any text when they tried to view it on their Chromebooks. I recorded a PowerPoint presentation using only the preview window instead of viewing the slideshow and adjusting my screencasting window to the full screen. So, do not be like me and remember to adjust the screen size appropriately.
  • Speak clearly – See below

  • Eliminate Distraction(s) – This would be one I have learned the hard way… multiple times. So, silence your cell phone, put the kids to bed, put the dog outside, and mute the TV.
  • Use Humor – I enjoy making seriously corny jokes throughout my screencasts. Think dad jokes of Science. Don’t worry, I will save them for my students and not expose them to you. Another fun way to mix things up is to randomly show a weird image or video. This will typically get a laugh and also “wake them up” a bit. I have been known to throw in a certain 7-second video of a screaming goat during longer screencasts.


  • Worry about your filmmaking ability. Whatever you are capable of will be great!

Quick Tip

The internet is full of screencasting programs. Many are super expensive. I personally use Screencast-o-matic. It is super easy to use and also has basic editing capabilities. The link below will lead you to their page. Many teachers can typically use the free version. I personally paid about $25 and have not been disappointed.

Click HERE to visit Screencast-o-matic.


What do you do to make a great screencast for your students?


The 411 on Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Learning management systems are the latest craze taking over the educational landscape. Keeping things as simple for the students as possible as you begin to use more and more technology and online activities is imperative. You have a hard enough time teaching your students the content of the class. Why would you want to add obstacles along the way?

The internet is full of wonderful activities to enhance student learning (#pinterestforthewin), but it can also be difficult for both teachers and students to remember how to access specific content.

For example, I might have students in my room working on different online activities. When I first started, I used to print out a piece of paper with the URL address written on it, but this did not go well as students were constantly misspelling words or skipping a number in the URL which meant valuable instructional time was being wasted as I made my way around the room typing in the correct URL. I then started to send out emails to the students with the links, but then I had students “lose” and/or delete the emails. That is when I realized something absolutely paramount to successfully flipping the classroom.

You need a place to house what you are doing. Keep it as simple as possible for the students. You do not want them to have to remember a bunch of passwords and add unnecessary steps to what you are trying to accomplish. You need a system to manage the learning taking place in your classroom. Enter the Learning Management System (LMS).

Behind the Scenes of Building Great Lesson Plans of a Flipped Classroom


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LMS 101

“A learning management system (LMS) is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of educational courses or training programs.” – Ellis, Ryann K. (2009), ASTD Learning Circuits

What Exactly Does an LMS Do?

There are hundreds of LMS systems available. A good LMS will allow you to do at least the following:

  • Give online assessments that can be graded automatically and easily format the data in a user-friendly way to analyze. This is a great feature as it eliminates human error in grading and is a substantial time saver.
  • Ability to complete and submit assignments.
  • House links to external sites like Youtube, BrainPOP, etc.
  • Create Modules – I will devote a blog post specifically on how to create an effective module in the future.

Where Do I Start?

First, find out if your district is paying for an LMS.

Second, start small by figuring out what the is the one thing you could do on the LMS to better serve your students?

Plan and brainstorm online with friends with the free mind mapping tool MindMeister. Click HERE to sign-up!

My Suggestions on How to Begin

A google doc to house links for questions of the day, youtube, links for screencasts, pdf copies of handouts and other materials you use can be a great start.

This can be done by sharing a single doc with the students and posting to your LMS. Even if your school does not have an LMS, you can still share the doc with your students at the beginning of the year and use it throughout the year. I recommend showing the kids how to create a folder in their email for your class and housing the doc there. Then each day the students would open up the doc to access your materials for the day. See the pictures below for help.

Check out this link if you want more information regarding lesson plans.

Want a copy of this or need to see it a bit bigger? Click HERE or the image above.
Want a copy of this or need to see it a bit bigger? Click HERE or the image above
Want a copy of this or need to see it a bit bigger? Click HERE or the image above

LMS Recommendation

My district uses the LMS Canvas. I strongly recommend them as they are constantly adding features and becoming more user-friendly as time goes on. The impact Canvas has had on my teaching is nearly impossible to put into words. Canvas is dependable, has given me the ability to enhance the learning experience of my students while also helping make my dream of flipping the classroom a reality. Click HERE or the image below to learn more about what Canvas has to offer.

Click here to learn more about Canvas!

Tricks and Tips

Whatever you do keep it simple and easy for both students and families to understand. You do not need to make it look fancy. Just provide a practical way for your students to access the information and materials of your class.

Your Challenge

Find the best way for you to house the magnificent activities your students are doing.

Get Your Students In Front of a Device.

Finding a device for your students can range from easy to nearly impossible depending on your situation. Odds are though, you can schedule a time to at least get a handful of devices into your classroom. The real challenge becomes what do you do once you have the devices in front of your students?


Photo credit

The above model shows the “natural progression” a teacher makes as he/she begins to use more technology. The basic idea here is that the higher you go up, the more impact technology has on the delivery of the lesson and/or activity.

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Keep It Simple

If you are new to using technology and/or flipping the classroom, you are going to want to keep things simple. Think of an activity that you can simply use a tech tool instead of pen and paper. Many teachers use Google Presentations instead of flashcards or play a review game of some kind using a template they found online. I used the jeopardy game from early in my career. Seriously, I am not saying you need to learn how to code and create a mobile app in your first lesson. Simply swap out a pen and paper activity with something you can do online. This would fall under the “substitution” area of the SAMR model above.

My Story

When I began to use technology, I knew I could not just flip my class overnight. I set out to learn as much as possible on how I could differentiate my instruction, so I decided to focus on how I assessed my students. I remember substituting a 3 question exit slip students would normally fill out on paper with an online quiz. I made a list of items that I wanted to evaluate during this. I was pretty excited because I set it up so that the computer would do the grading instantly. I remember that it was on a Friday and I was thrilled that I would not spend any time grading these over the weekend (I currently do ZERO school work on the weekends or at home unless I WANT to) and was almost giddy with excitement over this. I also had the following questions going through my mind:

  • What tech issues occurred and could I prevent them in the future?
  • What did the quiz look like on the students’ end?
  • Was the data easy to analyze?
  • Did I choose the best device?
  • What steps should I take next?
  • And of course analyzing the data from the actual exit slip 😉

My Results – Dumpster Fire



Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I chose to have the students take the assessment on Chromebooks which would have been great if the students could have remembered how to log into them. I had to look up individual passwords for over a dozen students which took way more time than I had planned. This led to many of my students not finishing the quiz or rushing through it, so there went my data. Many of the Chromebooks also kept trying to connect to the wifi of a church next door to the school which caused issues. I also got to hear about a misspelled word I had in an answer choice all day because I could not figure out how to fix it (#facepalm).

I remember going up to my principal and telling her how disastrous it was. I was so fortunate to have a supportive administration early in my career. I told her that it was definitely a learning experience and I would not give up. There is a saying that in order to have 2 successes, you need to fail 8 times. I have definitely had my “failures”, but as long as you learn something from the experience then it can not really be called a failure can it?

Fast forward to a few weeks later and I had a solution to each of those problems. I had a better handle of how much time it took my students to complete an exit slip. The students began to memorize their passwords. I called our great IT people who then blocked the church wifi so our Chromebooks would only acknowledge the school’s, and I also learned how to edit questions during a quiz (still use this feature quite a bit haha).

My Quick Advice

  • Have students save work on some kind of cloud-based platform. Google Drive is great for this!
  • Screencasting your lecture or notes is a great start. This allows students to take in the information at their own pace. Below is a link to the program screencast-o-matic that I use and recommend all the time. Super simple to use!
Super simple program to create screencasts to digitize your lectures.
  • It is also helpful if you ask the students to bring headphones. I recommend purchasing some extras if you. I recommend the pack below. They are easy to clean and pretty durable. Don’t get me wrong. Students will always find a way to break things (#thisiswhywecanthavenicethings), but I have found success with these. I only give these out as loaners and students have to give me something of theirs (usually a shoe) in order to get a pair.

  • I also recommend Chromebooks of some kind over tablets for most activities. The simple reason here is I believe getting used to using a device with a keyboard will better serve them down the road. I do not know of a single business owner that runs everything he/she does through a tablet, so I believe this will help set them up for success later in life. That being said, I do use tablets from time to time as they can add quite a bit of value to your instruction.

Your Challenge

Figure out what devices are available to you and what is the simplest way of implementing them into your class. Remember, setting up a small station of a handful devices that students can rotate to is a great start!

Happy Flipping!

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Mindset to Mastering The Classroom Flip

Let’s talk about the mindset of a teacher for a bit. Whether you are just beginning the process of flipping your class or are an experienced old pro at it, there is one thing that could make or break your efforts: Mindset.

The best resource I have found regarding mindset and goal setting would be the book The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. I have added the link to the book below. You will find I like to share products that have impacted me, and this book has had a profound one. I have taken many of the principles from this book and applied them to my life in and out of the classroom. This book is not written for just educators, but you will find it is quite applicable to what we do.

Mastering Mindset?

“Mastery lies on an infinite continuum. As a result, we will never reach the end.”Chris Matakas-

Mastery is an ongoing process that constantly builds on the basics while gaining new skills along the way. Do you want to know what separates good from great and great from best? The best people in their respective fields never stop improving.  The defining factor is how a person views mastery.

Riding a Bike Downhill vs. Climbing a Plateau 

So often people have a goal in mind and they stop learning and improving once they achieve it. Don’t get me wrong. You need to celebrate victories! Take a few moments and pat yourself on the back, but then form a new goal. Do not allow yourself to be the person who has worked so hard and then plateau. Keller says that instead of setting goals, you should live by themes. Living by a “theme” will then lead you down a path of constant improvement and learning.  Think of it as riding a bike down a hill. The hardest part is getting on the bike and starting the movement. Once you get over this obstacle, then you need little effort to keep your balance and continue moving.

When you view mastery as riding a bike downhill seeking constant improvement, then you will begin to pick up other skills along the way that will help you live your theme more easily.

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Keep It Stupid Simple!

“Order and simplification are the first steps toward the mastery of a subject.”Thomas Mann-

Focus on one thing (hints the title of the book) at a time. This is how Keller outlines the process. I made a few changes to direct more towards teaching.

  • What’s the one thing you want to accomplish in your classroom some day?
  • What does this look like 5 years from now?
  • A year?
  • What can you do this month to achieve this? Week? Today?

Behind the Scenes of Building Great Lesson Plans of a Flipped Classroom

My Mindset Story

My one-day goal/theme is pretty simple: I just want to lead a successful classroom. That is it. Problem is that is not the easiest thing to accomplish. For starters, this goal is a little vague and needs more detail to accomplish, so I placed my focus in one area of my teaching: Differentiation.

My one focus is to differentiate instruction every day. This has led me to some big milestones, but I know there are still more areas I can improve and am excited to continue the journey. I started learning more about how teachers differentiate by talking to colleagues in my building. I also wanted to see what they did to get their students motivated. This brought me to learning our district learning management system (LMS), Class Dojo (go to to learn more about how you can put a fun spin on behavior management for free) and implementing Learning Zones. I learned the SAMR model and began the slow process of using more technology in my classroom.

Once I thought I had pretty well flipped the classroom, I saw many positives, but still was not satisfied with results. I began surveying students to see what they enjoyed doing in and out of the classroom. I analyzed what activities brought the most success and searched what other teachers enjoyed doing in their classroom.

What I found

When student interests line up with the way they take in new information, then incredible things happen. So simple, but also so challenging.

Things to Keep In Mind

The following list is again based off of The One Thing. Seriously peeps, you need to read this book!

  • Start saying “no” – remember when you say no to something, you are really saying yes to your “ONE thing”
  • Accept Chaos – When you make changes, there will be loose ends that can throw you off your focus. This kind of chaos in unavoidable. Make peace with it and learn to deal with it.
  • Manage your energy – your health can not be sacrificed in an attempt to be more successful. “You can not pour from an empty cup.”
  • Take control of your surroundings – find the right people and environment that will support you.
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Adjust Your Mindset

Stop what you are doing and write down your “One Thing.” A powerful thing happens when you take something from inside your head to pen and paper – It becomes real! Now think how you are going to get there and what you can do today to help you get there.

Next, get a copy of the book. It is available for free on Kindle Unlimited. It would also be super cool if you use the link near the top of this page as I get a small percentage of each sale.

What do you do to keep the right mindset? Leave a comment below and feel free to post any questions you may have!

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What Does It Mean to “Flip a Class” Anyway?

The simplified definition of a flipped classroom would be when a teacher gives more “control” to the students on how they learn new skills and concepts. Instead of giving a daily lecture, students can view this as a video in an environment they choose. This allows more class time to be given to various learning activities such as projects, labs, discussions, and small group or one-on-one instruction.

Does it Work?

HECK TO THE YEAH IT WORKS! I began flipping my class in 2014 taking small baby steps. I began to see the potential almost immediately . Fast forward to the present day, and I have students digging deeper into content than I have ever had before. I do not give homework (more on that in your free gift you receive for subscribing) and yet I have students completing assignments and projects on Friday nights as soon as they get home, because they actually WANT to. Students are in more control for how they take in new learning. This allows me to spend more time working with small groups or one-on-one with students in class.  I am constantly building and forming strong relationships with my students. This has led to fewer discipline problems, students are more involved in day-to-activities, and a greater sense of ownership by the students for their personalized learning experience.

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How Can You Get Started?

Simple -Research like crazy and ask teachers who have experience in flipping their classrooms. The good news is you are on this page and I am here to help. Please subscribe to the site by providing your best email address.  I am also in the middle of developing a FREE 7 step course on how to flip your class. Once completed, all of the subscribers will receive a free copy of the course. Don’t worry, I will not share your email out as I know how annoying it is to get a bunch of spam email.  Here is the best part! If you ever have a question, comment or concern, simply reply to the email which will be sent to my personal email where we can begin an on-going dialogue. So, check back as I plan on launching the course sometime this summer. 

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How I Started

I remember when our administration shared to us about plans to have more students in front of technology. I have always viewed technology as a magnify glass in that it will enhance what you are doing. Notice that I did not say having technology makes you a good teacher. If you are the kind of teacher that works hard to meet the needs of your students, then having more tech in your room will enhance your ability to do so.

I began to research the idea and came across this article from US News. The part that stood at to me the most was the following:

“New data from the program given to U.S. News shows the bottom third of students’ grades were more than 10 percent higher than in a traditional classroom (the difference between a D+ and a C) and more than 3 percent higher for the class as a whole (moving from a C+ to a B-).”

That is when I began to reflect on my own experience with using technology in the classroom both as a teacher and as a student growing up. The sad truth was that I had a limited experience at best. As a student, I remember a computer was pretty much used only for writing papers. As a teacher, I only gave my students computers to play review games or at best create a presentation on a topic.

I felt a bit stumped until I remembered the first time I heard of flipping a class. I was in college and was researching “inquiry based” learning. I wanted to be a science teacher (currently am one) and knew that I needed to do something during my student teaching that would make me stand out. The research on inquiry based teaching was pretty new at the time (circa 2007ish when Fergie told the world big girls don’t cry), but I was fortunate as one of the leading researchers was a professor at  Ohio State University-Marion and I was already signed up to take his physics class during the upcoming quarter.  I had an “OK” experience in that class. There were components that I felt were flawed, and others that I thought were full of potential.

Later on in Grad School, I had a professor that assigned our cohort to read various educational peer reviewed articles (sounds like a fun time doesn’t it?). The assignment had potential to really be a dud, but the professor put a spin on it. Instead of taking a quiz or giving a book report style presentation on it, we could show her what we learned in any way we chose. This spoke to my creative personality. A couple of buddies and I set out on a mission to dominate this assignment that was only worth 10 points. We ended up making music videos from old songs from the 90s (a.k.a. the best era for music), cartoons and even pranked our cohort. That is a long story for maybe a different post in the future, but the bottom line is that having the freedom to choose how we were going to be assessed led to a much more impactful learning experience.

Your Challenge

Think about what prior knowledge and experiences you have to build from. Are there teachers who have flipped classrooms in your building or network that you can reach out to? Feel free to reach out to me as I respond to all comments and emails ( if there is something I can help you with. Don’t forget to subscribe!

Have fun and enjoy the process of flipping your class!

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