Todd Nesloney
A flipped journey: How PBL rescued my classroom

When I first started flipping my classroom, I hated it.

I was baffled, because I remember hearing about flipped learning and immediately thinking, "This is brilliant! I want to do this!" Flipping was supposed to reinvigorate me. I didn't enjoy what I was doing anymore — preparing kids for a test, handing out worksheets and reviewing test-formatted questions. I didn't get into education to be that kind of teacher, but it's what I had become: part of a system that prepares kids to succeed at taking a test.

Flipping was supposed to make me love what I was doing again. But once I started, I realized nothing had really changed for me.

Here's where I went wrong: When I started flipping my fifth grade math class two years ago, I believed it meant instead of listening to a lecture in class and then doing homework at night, students watched instructional videos at night and did their homework in class with teacher and peer help.

And you know what? That's exactly how I started flipping. I made short videos for my students to watch at home (never longer than 10 minutes), and in class we did worksheets and practiced the skills from the videos.

All flipping did was give me the extra work of making instructional videos — and allow me extra time in class for even more of the worksheets I hated.

PBL is the answer

My solution was to modify the "traditional" definition of a flipped classroom to fit me and my students. To do this, I blended the flipped model with project-based learning. Now my students watch those brief instructional videos at home and in class we engage in project-based learning to deepen their understanding of the concepts.

Gone are the worksheets. Gone are the test-formatted questions. Instead we focus on learning the actual concepts in ways I had never experienced before. My classroom is fun again, my students enjoy the learning and I feel reignited in my career choice.

Flipped learning looks different for everyone. I've seen it done successfully in so many different iterations. But for me, mixing the traditional definition of a flipped classroom with projects oriented toward deeper learning is what works best. Never again will I go back to the "old-school" way of lecture and worksheets. Learning can be fun — and it should be!

How to get started

Now that you've heard my story, I'm sure your first question is, "How do I even get started?" Here are my tips for finding resources to help you incorporate project-based learning into your flipped classroom:

The first thing I always tell people to do when they're considering a flipped or PBL-style classroom is to set up a Twitter account. There are tons of great people you can connect with through social media who will help you along the way. Use the hashtags #flipclass and #pblchat to search for resources and tools.

The Buck Institute for Education offers a wealth of ideas for PBL, such as this article on the essential elements of project-based learning.

Search for PBL resources on Pinterest or EduClipper! They're a great way to keep your ideas organized, especially for those of us who are more visually oriented.

I also try and blog about the things we're doing in my classroom, from technology use to flipping to PBL. It's a great way to share your ideas with the world.

Todd Nesloney is a former fifth grade teacher, now a middle school principal, and was named one of the 2013 White House Champions of Change.

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