Flying Solo

or how not to use a SCALE-UP classroom

With the primary instructor out of town, I was left to teach my first full class period in our SCALE-UP classroom. I was confident in the material and had no qualms about presenting it but I wasn’t sure quite how to involve the students. I, despite my best efforts, lectured to them.

First off, the material was DRY. Seriously. We first talked about electron configurations in atoms [1s2 2s2 2p3, anybody?], then how these electrons interacted and created bonds between particles and finally wound up with how one might discern a physical property from these bonding types. There was a LITTLE bit of success when I asked them to talk among themselves about σ (electrical conductivity) as well as strength, but I wouldn’t consider it an incredibly useful discussion.  It took… two minutes. Not sure that counts as a problem-based learning exercise.

But then I tried for one. I had thought about it ahead of time, made this fancy little graphic [actual science content – warning!]. I asked the students to come up with some geometrical terms that might be used to describe the picture below. I prompted them with a few – how deep was the well? how symmetrical were the halves? how quickly did it change direction? – only after I saw they had no idea what I was asking about the first time.

Not surprisingly, the three answers I gave them were indeed THE answers. But what physical properties might the correspond to? Dead silence. Nobody had any idea.  The exercise had flopped.  So I guess I learned a few things.

  1. One instructor is NOT sufficient to facilitate conversation with 120 students.  Not that there was much conversation… but if there had been I certainly would not have been able to structure any degree of it.
  2. PBL (Problem Based Learning) in the future is going to require very specific prompts. I think what I asked them to do was more of a suggestion. Handouts (or even physical words on the chalkboard or overhead) would have provided better direction.
  3. The dryer the material the more effective an example like this is.  But dang, it’s got to be a better example than this one!

Live and learn, right? That’s what the education process is about.  Speaking of education… who wants a quiz? Of the above, which has the highest Tm? highest stiffness? highest strength? Lowest CTE? Answers: ˙ssǝuɟɟıʇs ʇsǝɥbıɥ :q ˙ǝʇɔ ʇsǝʍoן :ɔ ˙ʇuıod buıʇןǝɯ puɐ ɥʇbuǝɹʇs ʇsǝɥbıɥ :p

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