Flipping the Social Studies Class: What do You do IN CLASS?

1RonKWhile doing research for an upcoming book about homework and the flipped class, I spent some time chatting with Ron Kotlik from Clarence High School in a suburb of Buffalo New York about how he is flipping his history classes.  My primary question for him was not about what video software he used or where he posted his videos, but rather, what he does with class time.  You see, I think the most important question to ask is:  “What is the best use of your face-to-face class time as you think about flipping your class?”

As we talked about history, he said: “History is a story, and I want my students to be able to tell the stories of history.  After all, historians are storytellers, and if I want my students to be in some small measure historians, they should be good storytellers.”

When he first started flipping his classes he spent a lot of time creating videos, but then he was left with the all-important question of what do you do now IN CLASS?  In keeping with the theme of story, he is having his students create digital stories.  One common assignment he has them doing is to create their own documentaries. This allows the students become the storytellers/documentarists of history.  In order for them to create these documentaries well, there are a number of skills they need to master.

  • Research:  Students must do extensive research on their topic.  Research is a key element of the Common Core State Standards and this sort of project is ideal for helping students master the research standards.

  • Write a script:  Writing is such a critical part of the learning process and gives students an authentic task to complete. Ron reports that the students’ writing skills have improved through the script writing process.

  • Selection of appropriate resources:  The documentary videos contain images, video clips, and other media.  During the research phase of the process, students have to decide which media conveys best the message of the script and if the media is appropriate for their film.

  • Acting/Voice Over:  Public speaking and reading through the script allows students to add their voice, make the final video authentic, and gives students a place to shine.

  • Collaboration:  Because students work in groups, they learn interdependence, specialization, and how to get along with others.

  • Real audiences:  The best videos are used for Ron’s students next year to introduce some historical concepts.  So his students are creating the videos which he will use to flip his class for next year.

  • Technical Skills:  Students spend hours editing the videos.  During the editing stage they are making countless decisions about when to zoom, when to pan, which image is best, when to add voiceover, etc.  These technical skills help students learn how to create an interesting and engaging video.  I believe video production is a new literacy in the 21st Century which needs to be taught to our students.

Though this is not the only way to flip a social studies classroom, this certainly is a great way to teach the content while at the same time engage the students in an authentic task and ultimately turn learning on its head.   What do you think?  How are you flipping your social studies classes?

You can learn more about Ron by following him on twitter @DrKotlik or going to his website:  Ron is also the director of the Education Technologies Program at Canisius College (Buffalo, NY).  Students can earn a Master’s degree online in Education Technologies.  Please visit: for more information.