Joe Cannon’s classroom is a lemonade stand. Well, it is today.

There’s a cobalt blue ice cooler on the floor. Cannon’s long-sleeved button down shirt matches it. Maybe he planned that. It’s nearly 8 a.m. and he’s busy pouring lemonade over ice into clear plastic cups. He garnishes a few with orange slices as the students trickle in.

Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” is playing in Room 105 of the Behavioral Sciences building. But that’s not the Song of the Day. Once everyone is settled – in rolling teal and black chairs at tables that are high and low, round and square – Cannon begins class with the real song du jour.

“I searched my daughter’s hard drive to find something more current than you are used to,” he says. “Listen. Anybody know this one?” A student whispers that Cannon starts every class with a song. Nobody recognizes the song. Cannon reveals that it’s a song from the Lemonade album by rapper G. Love. Then he poses another question.

“Who had a lemonade stand as a kid?” About half the hands go up. There are smiles. People are drinking the lemonade on their tables. Someone laments, “Ew, I just brushed my teeth,” but she drinks the lemonade anyway.

This Thursday morning lesson is about cost and pricing, so Cannon uses a lemonade stand analogy – and real lemonade, of course – to engage his 300-level marketing students. The sweet learning experience is part of Cannon’s flipped classroom curriculum.

What is a flipped classroom?

Colorado State University is experimenting with some new classroom teaching models. Over winter break, Behavioral Sciences 105 was transitioned from a traditional tiered classroom, with rows of seats all facing the front of the class, to a room with modular tables and mobile seating. Cannon sets up his marketing class so students sit in groups of four. But the furniture and arrangement don’t a flipped classroom make.

Stan Kruse, an instructional designer at The Institute for Learning and Teaching at Colorado State, says that while there is a tendency to label classrooms set up similarly to BS105 as “flipped” classrooms, he prefers calling them “active learning” classrooms because the spaces welcome many teaching and learning styles.

“The flipped classroom model is just one of several that incorporate active learning strategies,” says Kruse. “So to answer the question more broadly, the real purpose of these types of active learning strategies is to promote student engagement and foster critical thinking skills. What the flipped model does is create an atmosphere where there is more student-to-student and instructor-to-student interaction encouraging students to be creative in the application of the course content.”

That brings us back to Cannon’s lemonade and the way he uses classroom space to teach.

Cannon’s students have to come to class prepared. His flipped classroom teaching model takes the traditional lecture – knowledge acquisition – out of the physical classroom. “In a traditional class, students watch the lecture and then go home to apply the concepts on some homework assignments,” Cannon explains. “In today’s business world, problem-solving is collaborative. So we have students work together to solve problems in the classroom. Then I walk around and mentor students and teams – I find out where they need some extra help. My role has changed from the ‘sage on the stage’ to the ‘guide on the side.’” Some instructors record video lectures that students preview before coming to class. Cannon uses SmartBook an online textbook with adaptive learning questions that assure students know the material before they get to class. The classroom is where they apply what they have learned.

“There’s no better way to grasp a concept than to feel it,” says Cannon, a marketing professor with the College of Business for 18 years. “The lemonade stand example brings a sense of nostalgia to most in the room. Suddenly, we’re transported to curbside cardboard businesses and digging in our pockets for five cents. We’re smelling lemons and sugar, tasting the product, and exploring marketing principles. And we’re doing it together and talking about it. That’s how students remember concepts – they apply them.”

The #joecannoneffect

There’s flexibility in every flipped classroom, and Cannon has his own way of creating a rich learning experience for his students. His lessons have an easy flow about them. He outlines the resources and practice work students will need to review for the next class meeting. This ain’t homework from 1998. It’s gamified. It looks fun, even. “If you do practice with the simulation, you’ll come in Tuesday ready to roll,” Cannon encourages.

Next class, students will work through a marketing simulation that features a 3D game. The students will have to choose a target market and design a backpack for that target market – and then decide on pricing, distribution, and an advertising campaign. After receiving market feedback through sales and profits, the students adapt their strategy. Once again, they will work together in small groups making these decisions – with their ‘guide on the side’ offering advice when asked.

But today, he presents students with a case study: The Case of Mallory’s Lemonade Stand. He walks around sharing a two-sided handout. The title at the top of the page is colorful and reminiscent of a child’s scrawl – it’s a reduced version of the poster board lemonade stand signs at the front of the room. The case introduces Mallory, an 11-year-old budding entrepreneur. She wants to run a lemonade stand to earn money to buy a bike, but needs some guidance about pricing and marketing. Cannon flashes a slide on the wall-sized screen that says: Everything I Know About Pricing I Learned from a Fifth Grader. He charges the class with helping Mallory get that bike. After making decisions for fifth grade Mallory, he changes up the case to show how this can apply to a bigger business. Suddenly Mallory’s lemonade goes big time and she’s selling bottles with her secret formula to grocery stores – and the students apply new pricing concepts.

Let’s pause to talk about the case study muse(s)

The real Mallory is a high school-aged ballerina. She is the youngest of Cannon’s three daughters. But once, she was little and wanted her daddy’s help building a lemonade stand. It’s also a great time to talk about how Cannon met Mallory’s mother, Chris. He punctuates a point during class with the story he titles: “How Mark-ups and Pricing Got Me My Wife.” He was working in sales for Kodak and had to make a sales call with a sales rep from another division (that future wife). When the customer tried to confuse her with margin percents, Joe helped explain things. She was impressed with this nerdy guy and they meet for milkshakes. A couple years later they’re married and she’s putting Joe through grad school. It’s all very sweet. So now, Mallory and Chris are inspiration for Cannon’s life, which is inspiration for class material. Remember the nostalgia piece of all this modern learning?

Putting the squeeze on

More than one student flips a cap backwards. It’s time for the groups to get to work. The room becomes electric. There’s chatter and scribbling on white boards. They must figure out Mallory’s fixed costs. They must figure out how many cups of lemonade she needs to break even. They must weigh options and spin scenarios: plain or fancy cups, signs or no signs, higher price or no? There’s a lot of brain work going on. Overheard: Man, she’s going to have to sell a lot of lemonade to get that bike.

This is where Cannon shines. He floats around the room pulling up a seat when he needs to. He leans in and over tables. He observes. He listens. He smiles almost the entire time – only breaking to strike his thinking pose: arms crossed over chest, one hand on chin, one finger curled under his lip. He’s enjoying this. His verbal guidance to the entire group sounds like jubilation. He grabs the jug of lemonade to refresh drinks. He motivates. This is experiential learning. It’s exciting, and it’s an active learning model many professors at Colorado State University use today.

How CSU is flipping out

The flipped classroom model isn’t a new concept – it’s been used by some disciplines, especially STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) for more than a decade. Kruse notes that BS105 isn’t the only active learning classroom on CSU’s campus, but its assets help faculty create a collaborative atmosphere for students from the first minute of class. Kruse also says that CSU faculty aren’t new to active learning and many have been using various active learning approaches for years despite what limitations there may be in the physical space.

Cannon always has relied on some active learning in his introductory marketing class, but now it’s 90 percent instead of a quarter or less. It hasn’t been easy, he says, but the new classrooms really help. “It is much more fun to teach this way. Many of my colleagues in the College of Business also use active learning in their classes, but I believe I am the only one currently teaching in one of the new classrooms.”

The flipped model is one way to redesign a course, and Kruse’s job is to help faculty maximize their resources to create an engaging learning atmosphere for students. He says there are plans in the near future to create another, larger, active learning classroom similar to BS105. He’s also creating the Active Learning Interest Group set to begin meeting in fall. The group will bring together faculty from across campus to share best practices and experiences.

Cannon thinks the ultimate benefit is felt by the students who are part of these exciting leaps in teaching and learning. “Studies show that active learning – where students engage with and apply the material they learn – sticks. They need to remember what they learn when they get out in the real world,” he says. He’ll be teaching in BS105 again next year.

Paul Douglas, a senior studying accounting and computer information systems, sees pros and cons of the flipped classroom model after taking his first class in this style. “This class is all about application,” he says. “And I learn better through interaction.” Then he offers what might be a pro tip for planning a semester course load: 8 a.m. flipped is hard, he says.

The expectation in an active learning environment is for movement, interaction, and engagement – so just be ready. Grab coffee. Or drink the lemonade.