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Active Learning in the Sciences (and in the humanities, too!). Time out for Lunch December 5, 2008 Gintaras K. Duda. Critical Questions . What are your beliefs about teaching and learning that guide your instruction?

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active learning in the sciences and in the humanities too

Active Learning in the Sciences(and in the humanities, too!)

Time out for Lunch

December 5, 2008

Gintaras K. Duda

critical questions
Critical Questions
  • What are your beliefs about teaching and learning that guide your instruction?
  • How do YOU want your students to be different as a result of the experiences you design?
  • What do we know about how STUDENTS learn?
  • What are some strategies and resources to actively engage students in learning?
  • What evidence would you accept that students are learning?

Tim Slater and Ed Prather, ASU

p hysics e ducation r esearch

revise and

adapt curricular


develop curricula



in the classroom

Physics Education Research
  • Involves studying the learning of science in a scientific way
  • Collect data in the classroom
    • pre/post tests
    • conceptual surveys
    • attitudinal surveys
  • Develop theoretical frameworks
what do we know about students
What do we know about students?

Many (if not most) students:

  • develop weak qualitativeunderstanding of concepts
    • don’t use qualitative analysis in problem solving
    • can’t reason “physically”
  • lack a “functional” understanding of concepts

David Meltzer

but some students learn efficiently
But some students learn efficiently …
  • Highly successful students are “active learners”
    • they continuously probe their own understanding
    • Identify areas of confusion and confront them
  • Majority of students can’t do this
    • Don’t know which questions to ask
    • Need help from instructors

David Meltzer

novice vs expert s j pollock
Novice vs. Expert(S.J. Pollock)
  • Students and instructors see the same material in very different terms
concrete vs abstract
Concrete vs. Abstract

Students see these as two separate problems

student reactions
Student Reactions
  • Instructor: “So, what did you think about the test?”
  • Student: “It was impossible!”
  • Instructor: “What do you mean?”
  • Student: “All those normal force problems …”
  • Instructor: “Didn’t we do a lot of normal force examples in class?”
  • Student: “Yeah, but on the test the normal force was coming from the wall!”
what students already know influences how students learn
What students already know influences how students learn!

Ed Prather and Tim Slater, AAS Workshop

key results from research in education and cognition per
Key Results from Research in Education and Cognition → PER
  • Knowledge is associative/linked to prior models and cognitive structures
  • Learning is productive/constructive – learning requires mental effort
  • The cognitive response is context dependent
  • Most people require some social interaction to learn deeply and effectively.

Ed Prather and Tim Slater, AAS Workshop

active learning
Active Learning
  • I want to focus on one key result:

“Learning is productive/constructive and requires mental effort”

  • But how we we get students active, engaged, and thinking in class?
    • Does it work?
the evidence
The Evidence
  • Richard Hake1 conducted a study of 62 courses with 6,542 students nation-wide
    • Looked at Force Concept Inventory Scores
  • Split the sample into:
    • 14 Traditional Courses: N=2084
    • 48 Interactive Engagement Courses: N=4458

1Am. J. Phys. 66 (1), (1998) 64-74.


Interactive engagement leads to measurably higher normalized gains on standard assessment exams

Am. J. Phys. 66 (1), (1998) 64-74.

how do i incorporate active learning
How do I incorporate “active learning”?
  • Lectures are effective at conveying facts, but …
    • Passive!
    • Facts ≠ understanding!
  • But given a classroom of > 35 students, how can a “lecture” be active?
  • We’ll explore some ideas …
even at harvard
Eric Mazur found his students could to problems like this

But not like this

Even at Harvard …

What happens to the brightness of the three bulbs, A, B, and C, when the switch S is closed.

Find the currents flowing in each branch of the circuit

1 peer instruction
1. Peer Instruction
  • The basic idea: Stop periodically in lecture and ask questions
  • Questions are asked of the whole class and the ENTIRE class is forced to respond
  • Students then interact with each other to try and figure the answer out
    • Help the students teach themselves!
the concepttest
The ConceptTest
  • Pose a question
  • Students given time to think
  • Students individual answers recorded
  • Students convince their neighbors
  • Students record individual revised answers
  • Instructor explains correct answer
  • Galileo was put under house arrest by the church due primarily to:
  • Defense of the heliocentric model
  • Personal attacks on the pope and his overall abrasive personality
  • Politics of the 30 years war
  • He was a secret Protestant
one last test
One last test …

peer instruction resources
Peer Instruction Resources
  • Peer Instruction by Eric Mazur is a great resource
    • Describes the motivation and method
    • Physics targeted, but applicable to any field

2 i nteractive l ecture d emos ilds
2. Interactive Lecture Demos (ILDs)
  • Studies have shown classroom demos have zero effect on student learning without mandatory student participation
  • Thornton and Sokoloff1 developed the ILD procedure to incorporate active participation

1The Physics Teacher 35, (1997) 340-348.

ild procedure
ILD Procedure
  • Instructor describes demo
  • Students record a formal prediction
  • Instructor performs demo
  • Students discuss results in groups and record the outcome
  • Instructor generalizes to related phenomenon
racing balls
Racing Balls
  • Two pool balls are released with the same velocity.
    • Ball 1 follows a straight track
    • Ball 2 follows a track with a dip in in.
  • Which ball arrives at the end first?

Physics IQ Test, University of Maryland

racing balls26
Racing Balls
  • Make your prediction:
  • Ball 1 (straight track) arrives first
  • Ball 2 (curved track) arrives first
  • Both balls arrive at the same time.

Physics IQ Test, University of Maryland

racing balls27
Racing Balls

Physics IQ Test, University of Maryland

3 j ust i n t ime t eaching jitt
3. Just in Time Teaching (JITT)
  • Philosophy: Don’t waste class time on what students can do themselves!
  • Warmups posted on the web which are due before the start of class
    • Cover assigned readings in the text
    • Solicit what the students know and don’t know
    • Allows the instructor to focus on student difficulties
mechanics of jitt
Mechanics of JITT
  • JITT uses web-resources to encourage active learning and participation
  • Warmups online
  • Puzzles
  • Good-fors
  • Weekly news
sample physics warmups
Sample Physics Warmups
  • A good, professional baseball pitcher throws a ball straight up in the air. Estimate how high the ball will go? ( A good throw can reach 90 mph.)
  • Suppose the shuttle were launched from a launch pad on the Moon. What changes would we observe?
sample biology warmup
Sample Biology Warmup

What characteristic determines whether

organisms belong to the same species? Why are, for instance, are Rottweilers, bulldogs, and

poodles – phenotypically very different - considered to be members of the same species - dogs? Why are all humans, despite our numerous phenotypic differences, considered to be one species?

jitt puzzles
JITT Puzzles
  • Challenging synthesis-type problems at the end of a section.
  • Provide closure and a way to integrate material.
  • Very effective in encouraging classroom discussion and participation
jitt puzzle example
JITT Puzzle Example

Where (what x) should one sit in the movie theater to maximize the angle theta?

What’s the best seat in the house?

jitt good fors
JITT Good-Fors
  • A “Good-for” provides an example of what physics or biology or mathematics is good for.
jitt resources
JITT Resources
  • Just-in-time Teaching by Novak, Patterson, Gavrin, and Christian is a great place to start
  • Website at IUPUI is also a great resource:

jitt resources continued
JITT Resources Continued
  • JITT Digital library
  • JITT in Economics
    • Links to other discipline-specific resources
  • JITT in psychology
4 problem based learning
4. Problem Based Learning
  • Typical end-of-chapter problems aren’t ideal for student learning
    • Students solve them by memorization, pattern-match, or plug-and-chug techniques
  • Good problems should require students to make assumptions and estimates, develop models, and work through the model.
typical physics problems
Typical Physics Problems

Cart A, which is moving with a constant velocity of 3 m/s, has an inelastic collision with cart B, which is initially at rest as shown in Figure 8.3. After the collision, the carts move together up an inclined plane. Neglecting friction, determine the vertical height h of the carts before they reverse direction.

problems with this approach
Problems with this approach
  • Unreal objects that do not tie physics to the real world.
  • Physics is clearly spelled out for the students hence robbing the group of an important decision.
  • Assumptions are clearly spelled out again robbing the groups of a decision.
  • A picture is included which denies the group a decision
  • Variables are pre-defined for the students.
4 problem based learning40
4. Problem Based Learning …
  • In an extreme form, PBL does away with lectures entirely
    • Students learn by working out complex, real-life problems
    • Students must collect outside information
    • Decide how and what physics/theory to use
advantages of pbl
Advantages of PBL
  • Flips the instructor/student roles and dynamic
  • Students take charge of their own learning
  • Students get excited and take ownership of their learning
  • Students learn how to learn
  • Students are actively engaged in learning
pbl example
PBL Example

Bouncing Balls:

  • If two balls, one on top of the other, are dropped to the ground, the smaller upper ball can bounce much higher than the lower larger ball in a quite dramatic way. A school teacher, wants to use this trick to wake up his high school class.
  • Is this effect possible? If so what types/sizes of balls should be used? How high can the small ball bounce?
pbl resources
PBL Resources
  • PBL Clearinghouse
  • Project LEAP (Physics and Astronomy)

The Power of Problem-Based Learning by Dutch et al. is a great place to start

context rich problems
Context Rich Problems

You are helping your friend prepare for her next skate board exhibition. For her program, she plans to take a running start and then jump onto her heavy duty 15-lb stationary skateboard. She and the skateboard will glide in a straight line along a short, level section of track, then up a sloped concrete wall. She wants to reach a height of at least 10 feet above where she started before she turns to come back down the slope. She has measured her maximum running speed to safely jump on the skateboard at 7 feet/second. She knows you have taken physics, so she wants you to determine if she can carry out her program as planned. She tells you that she weighs 100 lbs.

5 concept maps
5. Concept Maps
  • A 2D hierarchical node-link diagram that depicts the structure of knowledge within a scientific discipline as viewed by a student.
  • Why use them?
    • Gain insight into how students view a topic.
    • Determine valid understandings and misconceptions
    • Assess student’s big picture knowledge and integration of material
concept map theory
Concept Map Theory
  • Based on David P. Ausubel's Assimilation Theory of meaningful verbal learning (Ausubel, Novak, and Hanesian, 1978).
  • Basic idea is that new learning takes place when new knowledge is linked to prior structures in a purposeful way
concept maps pros
Concept Maps pros
  • Students focus on the big picture
  • Students make connections between concepts
  • Low-tech and cheap!
  • Helps students develop theoretical framework
  • Can help students learn to learn!
concept map cons
Concept Map Cons
  • Intensive training is required to create a concept map
  • Student maps will reflect their own individual ways of learning and seeing
  • Grading maps can be difficult

  • Contains a list of assessment instruments and active learning strategies
    • Addresses pros and cons
    • Basically a users manual

The CAT book by Angelo and Cross is a wonderful resource

More applicable to the arts side on the surface

6 other active learning techniques
6. Other active Learning Techniques
  • Physics Tutorials
  • Ranking Tasks and TIPERs
  • Workshop/Studio Physics
  • Blogs, Wikis, and Discussion Boards

Resource Letter in PER:

  • Most students require active engagement in the classroom to learn
    • Also need interaction with other students
  • Many active learning techniques have been developed and tested
    • PER results can be applied to other fields
  • Try something and see how it goes!