A couple of weeks ago, Stephanie Chasteen posted a series of blog entries on her ScienceGeekGirl blog from an American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) conference. One entry describes a session she attended that focused on interactive lecture demonstrations in physics courses. If you’ll think back to a physics or chemistry course you’ve taken, you can probably remember a class session or two in which your instructor performed some kind of demonstration at the front of the classroom. Research data shared at the AAPT session indicate that students learn a lot more from these demos when they do more than just watch them. Having students interact with the demo somehow increases learning.
One way to have students interact with a lecture demo is to have them respond to a clicker question that asks them to predict the outcome of the demo. This helps create a “time for telling” about the demo, particularly if most students predict incorrectly. Since the students have thought about the demo and have committed to their prediction, when that prediction turns out to be incorrect, the students are ready (cognitively and affectively) to hear an explanation of the demo.
One of the presenters shared an interesting result. Stephanie writes:
However, the learning gains don’t seem quite as high when they use clickers. They conjecture that the clickers don’t require students do actually do ray tracing, etc., as much as when they don’t have clickers. (My thought on that is that you shouldn’t present the clicker answer choices until they’ve done the ray tracing and other cognitive work required to arrive at an answer).
Stephanie’s suggestion would, I think, be echoed by Jennifer Imazeki, the economics instructor I blogged about recently, who takes that very approach with some of her clicker questions.
Stephanie also writes that one of the presenters at the AAPT session, David Sokoloff, is “looking for people who would like to use some of their clicker interactive lecture demonstration.” Email him at sokoloff at uoregon dot edu if you’re interested.