Active classroom teaching

This semester, I am TAing a course on the history of agriculture.  I am excited to develop my skills in teaching high-level concepts and historical facts in an active, inter-active, multimedia way.  I ran across this list of active teaching ideas from Cal State today.  Here are a few that I plan to try in the next few weeks:

The “One Minute Paper” – This is a highly effective technique for checking student progress, both in understanding the material and in reacting to course material. Ask students to take out a blank sheet of paper, pose a question (either specific or open-ended), and give them one (or perhaps two – but not many more) minute(s) to respond. Some sample questions include: “How does John Hospers define “free will”?”, “What is “scientific realism”?”, “What is the activation energy for a chemical reaction?”, “What is the difference between replication and transcription?”, and so on. Another good use of the minute paper is to ask questions like “What was the main point of today’s class material?” This tells you whether or not the students are viewing the material in the way you envisioned.

Muddiest (or Clearest) Point – This is a variation on the one-minute paper, though you may wish to give students a slightly longer time period to answer the question. Here you ask (at the end of a class period, or at a natural break in the presentation), “What was the “muddiest point” in today’s lecture?” or, perhaps, you might be more specific, asking, for example: “What (if anything) do you find unclear about the concept of ‘personal identity’ (‘inertia’, ‘natural selection’, etc.)?”.

The Fish Bowl – Students are given index cards, and asked to write down one question concerning the course material. They should be directed to ask a question of clarification regarding some aspect of the material which they do not fully understand; or, perhaps you may allow questions concerning the application of course material to practical contexts. At the end of the class period (or, at the beginning of the next class meeting if the question is assigned for homework), students deposit their questions in a fish bowl. The instructor then draws several questions out of the bowl and answers them for the class or asks the class to answer them.

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