The Flipping Game

To game or not to game? To flip or not to flip?

These are the questions of the week, and well, at the risk of being a COETAIL naysayer…meh.



Of course play is fun and engaging. I start most days with the New York Times Crossword Puzzle and a game of hearts is such a great way to hang with the family. For a quick fact-checking warm-up, a Kahoot! is fine. It resets students’ brains as they walk into the room and gets them excited to do some math. Kahoot!’s new feature of being able to download their results adds to accountability and is a way to measure progress. And yet…

Math is scary for a lot of kids and adding a speed component to math makes many kids anxious. I used to spend hours creating Jeopardy games only to find many kids quitting over the pressure and begging for paper study guides. I also find that an emphasis on speed reduces the kids’ interest in actual problem-solving and focuses them on wishful thinking.

 Flipped Lessons?

If you haven’t heard of the flipped classroom, lemme give it to you here: Essentially, kids watch videos of the lesson at home and do the practice and application of what they learned in the classroom. Benefits? Sure there are lots of them. Principle among them that kids can watch the videos at their own pace and get support from their teacher when it really matters–the practice time.

I tried it on a few years ago with my MYP classes. I was absolutely convinced and designed the whole year on the flipped model. I mostly used Khan Academy, but supplemented with my own videos, when necessary. The kids, though apprehensive at first, loved it too. They felt supported and independent at the same time, and arguments with their parents over math stopped. They were able to progress at their own pace and were inspired to seek extensions. If a kid was absent, s/he could just work on the next topic from home. The flipped classroom model is flexible, allows for differentiation, and teaches kids that they can take charge of their own learning.

What’s not to love about it?

100/31: Flip


Good question, because I’ve decided I don’t love it. Ironically, my progression through COETAIL has moved me away from the flipped lesson structure. In my opinion, flipping is the same old model of teacher talking and kids practicing math; it’s just the place for these events has changed.

Magic-Tree II//


Less homework and less lecture means more inquiry, more creativity, more application, more collaboration.

I am no longer married to a particular method or a particular set of tools. If a video or a game is called for, then sure, I’ll use it or make it. But if another method might be better, well then I’d rather try that.

Here are the elements I am now trying to include in my lessons.

  • Determine the best way to introduce it. If I can I use inquiry, my first choice is to let them determine the formula or method or reasoning on their own. Could an interesting challenge engage their curiosity? Or is the best method a brief lecture? Brief. By which I mean an example or two on the board to get them started.
  • Let them get to work. This might be a handout, but it could also be a Desmos activity or an application of the topic. Working in groups of 3-4 they can practice what they’ve learned and tackle ever more difficult problems together and at their own pace. I travel about the room and help them as needed. Some need hints or encouragement, while others need very specific explanations, but they hear them when they are ready to hear them, rather than in an all-group setting, where I know they don’t listen anyway.
  •  A quick wrap-up of what they learned at the end of class. Perhaps a game or a return to the challenge at the beginning–are they able to solve it now?
  • suggestion that they may finish the problems at home if they need or want more practice, but not a requirement.
  • For those who were absent, I post a video of the lesson if I did any direct teaching or a video of the topic if the lesson was more inquiry based.


Brighton Clock Tower//

There’s a time and a place for everything.

Notice I do include videos and games, where they enhance learning. I don’t deny that flipping and games are valuable. But so are a wide array of tools that we have up our sleeves.


Thank you to flickr and creative commons for the images:

play by Judy van der Velden

100/31: Flip by Loren Kerns

Magic-Tree II by Hartwig HKD

Brighton Clock Tower by Dominic Alves



5 thoughts on “The Flipping Game

  1. Hi Valerie,

    I think what you write her resonates with me because it underscores something I’ve been feeling for a long time: we need to stop looking for one singular silver bullet. Much in the way someone like you would not use just ONE type of exercise for crossfit, we can’t apply just one technique to our classrooms. It is about the choice, the blend, the flexibility of approaches.
    Thanks for sharing this!


    1. You hit the nail on the head. I took about 750 more words to say what you said in about 50. Thanks for stating it so succinctly and clearly.


  2. Hi Valerie,
    I follow your blog and I always love reading what you have to say! No nonsense and all common sense. I am one of those teachers who started teaching 30 years ago, took a break and am back in the classroom again. Consequently, I missed many of the trends including the flipping and gaming which apparently peaked more like 2-3 years ago. I totally agree with Tricia in her comment above that it’s all about using the tool that is needed to achieve the desired result, starting with the big picture and always keeping the “why?” of what we are doing in mind.

    For me, it’s been interesting to experiment with new technologies and methods and compare the effectiveness with the methods we used 30 years ago. Most important change for me has been the shift to the student-centered learning. It is helpful for me to read experiences like yours and remind myself that I need to be purposeful in my choices.

    My plan for next year is to have math videos (either Khan Academy videos or teacher/student made videos) on my websites for students (3rd grade) and parents to refer to. Many parents have questions about how to reinforce the math concepts at home so I know this would be helpful for them.

    Thanks for sharing.


    PS I love the new layout of your blog!


    1. Dear Michelle,
      Thank you so much for your kind feedback. I like your idea of finding math videos for your kiddos. Have you looked into Khan Academy? I wonder if he isn’t too high-level for Grade 3–maybe even a bit boring. I found this site for elementary school, maybe this will be helpful:


  3. Hello Valerie,

    I think the elements list you provide at the end of your post is extremely apt. Point two of let them get to work I think is key as this allows the teacher to actually see where each student is at rather than making assumptions. When this is combined with the hints and encouragement or explanations the learning has a higher chance of being personalized or individualised for the student.

    As Tricia mentioned above “you would not use just ONE type of exercise for crossfit”. Is it possible to add to this that you would not use one form of exercise throughout your life span. Could this not be the same for teaching? As we experience different classes, students, generations, colleagues, approaches and different global needs that we need to be aware of using different approaches. As you have said in your post realising what to use and when becomes the important competency that we are continually developing.



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