Informal Session


Next week: Shane Frewen will present.

February 23rd: Shannah Shaked will present.

March 9th: Anna Boehle will present.

In general, we will read a paper every other week. For non-paper weeks, we will use the time to discuss tools, strategies, and issues with teaching.

Every quarter, we will have an over-arching focus. For instance, this quarter has a "Teaching Problem Solving" focus.

Josh has created a Piazza account for PER Journal Club - feel free to post to this online discussion forum.

Clickers in the Classroom

Some students have said that the use of clickers makes them miss the "entertainment" aspect of the classroom. Can the entertainment value of class be incorporated in to a clicker-based classroom? Can you be consciously, actively thinking about the problem while being passively entertained?

Can the clicker questions be designed in a way that is fun and engaging? What about structuring the questions as a game?

Shannah has tried giving the students a reward for answering the clicker questions quickly - if they get through all the questions, they get to work on their homework problems. It hasn't necessarily worked perfectly, since students are willing to spend time outside of class doing homework.

Preparing for Clicker Questions at Home

What materials need to be provided to students to prepare for clicker questions in the classroom? Students generally don't do the necessary prep work, and end up guessing on the clicker questions. You can use think-pair-share style questions to get the students through difficult concepts even if they haven't prepared appropriately.

Why aren't students doing the prep work? Is it not engaging? Instead of assigning reading, Shannah tried using interactive videos from Khan Academy that might be more "fun" for students. It still hasn't worked. How do you do something active in class when students come in without the necessary prerequisite knowledge?

A teacher could try phrasing questions so that the students wouldn't need to rely on previous technical knowledge to answer. Use the questions to challenge misconceptions instead of to teach new topics. Some classes make this difficult; how do you ask a basic conceptual question about Fourier Analysis?

What about trying to connecting to real life scenarios? For Fourier Analysis, play slow-motion videos of instrument strings vibrating and ask for explanations. Use cognitive conflict/dissonance to your advantage.

Competition - good or bad?

If clicker scores were assigned to each student, they would become score-driven and competitive. Is that what we want to foster? Is there a way of giving the class as a whole a "score", and rewarding the entire class for achieving a certain score? We could give out badges/stars to students who achieve a certain score. Is fostering competition worth it if it really does end in more people doing more preparatory work outside of class?

If a score isn't associated with a grade on a test, will students feel that achieving a good score is worth their time? "Optional" tasks, even if it's a fun game, are usually only done by the students who are in least need of extra preparation.

Some students (i.e. pre-professional students) will be competitive no matter what. It might help to show these students scientific evidence that group collaboration will improve their score.

There are different forms of motivation - internal and external. Internal motivation lasts longer and is more productive for the process of learning. So what we really need to think about is how to get students internally motivated. Getting a good grade on a test/quiz provides external motivation only. On the other hand, getting the students to know each other and become friends/collaborators provides internal motivation because during group for for instance, the students don't want to let each other down.

One way of promoting healthy competition is to have one or two people at the board with the entire class helping them. This sort of problem-solving method is very useful, but takes up a lot of time during class. It might be something more suited to a discussion section.

Group Work

How does competition come into play during group assignments? The groups are still competing against each other, so there is an urgency to the situation. But they are forced to collaborate with each other for a common goal. Small groups of 3-4 work best so that everyone has some sort of accountability to the group as a whole.

Should groups be assigned randomly, or is there a way of structuring groups based on skill level without being condescending toward students?

What are we trying to teach?

Which is a more important lesson for the students - the method of collaborative problem solving, or the physical concepts behind the problems themselves? Think about what you are trying to teach before deciding on a teaching strategy. Make sure to align your strategies to the goals you have in mind. This is what educational researchers call intentional teaching.


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