School starts in two weeks!
For Peer Instruction Network member Rafael Escudero, a professor of mathematics at Universidad del Norte in Baranquilla, Colombia, this reality hit four weeks early. Escudero is one in a small group of innovative faculty transforming their courses at Uninorte under the leadership of Peer Instruction Network member and founding director of Uninorte’s new Center for Teaching Excellence, Anabella Martinez. Uninorte’s Fall semester began on July 23.
Turn to Your Neighbor recently talked with Escudero about the first day of flipping his class of 240 math students using Peer Instruction along with Just-in-Time Teaching and clickers. Escudero began the first class period explaining his rationale for using interactive teaching methods. “First, I did a general lecture about Peer Instruction, I explained the objectives of the method and why we were going to apply this method in our class. I think it is important for students to understand that they can learn in this way and that learning is not only about memorizing, but also about about the reasoning that underlies their thinking,” said Escudero. By explaining his own logic and rationale for using Peer Instruction, Escudero modeled the kind of thinking he expects to see in his students, right off the bat.
What do flipped class experts do on the first day?
On the first class meeting in his Spring 2011 Physics course, Eric Mazur started off with the “Program for today” slide in Figure 1 below. He then facilitated a discussion about how to learn in general and in the course. He engaged students in conversation about the power of questioning.The summarizing slide read: “Questioning provides: 1) Reconsolidation opportunity; 2) Recognition of gaps in knowledge; and 3) A learning opportunity.”
Mazur also presented the findings of a then recent study on effective learning that was covered in the New York Times just days before the semester started. Finally, in the syllabus, Mazur explained the importance of active learning to learning physics and introduced Learning Catalytics, the classroom response system he used instead of clickers that semester.
Escudero’s and Mazur’s approach align with the general guidelines set forth in the Clicker Resource Guide put out by the Colorado University Science Education Initiative and the UBC Carl Wieman SEI: “On the first day, you should talk to your class about why and how you are using clickers and what the value is for their learning” (p.14).
What should your first question be? The guide recommends stimulating conversation about the role of active learning with a question about the method you are using – see Figure 2. You can easily adapt this question to fit your approach, for example by asking, Why do you think I am using Peer Instruction? or Why do you think I am asking you to do readings or watch videos and answer questions before you come to class?
Most students will experience, right away, how different (and fun) learning by questioning is. They will also notice how they are engaged in thinking in ways that simply sitting back and listening does not accomplish. Instructors can also use student responses to this first question to privilege student voices, rather than simply announcing to students, “We are using Peer Instruction!”
Escudero was prepared to meet with some student resistance to this new way of teaching. “Students are not accustomed to reading before coming class. And they are accustomed to a model where the teacher does everything for them in class.” While some of Escudero’s students may have balked initially at the change, after their first assessment, Escudero says students were hooked. “After they saw their performance on their first exam, they said, ‘the method works.'” Students also reflected: “podemos aprender jugando — we can learn while playing.”