Effective Prompting

Finally! After a few failed attempts at a successful prompt in problem based learning, I got one to work!

We were asking the students to calculate the theoretical density of iron (which for the purposes of this post I don’t continue to show… isn’t it obvious? duh…). I had taken a different approach the first few times we prompted them to try something.  I was more or less “here’s something abstract and open ended.  Run with it, please!” and it always turned out miserably. Nobody knew quite what I was asking for and that’s entirely my fault. As you can see I asked EXACTLY what I wanted to know.  Please, insert name here, tell me the answer to this.

And what did I get? The answer! Surprise!

The first slide had some pretty basic data on it. If they had their books I wouldn’t have even needed to post said info. The second slide was about five minutes into the exercise. A few people were struggling and a few groups were done. So I asked those groups that were done to provide a few “hints” that they came up with.  I think that the fact that students were helping other students out really empowered both parties. And it made my life easier.

I want to caution myself (and my readers) against giving TOO specific of a prompt. There needs to be a line drawn between providing useful hints and successful nudges versus writing down, step by step, the solution to a given problem. I think that because this was the first attempt at using a PBL example (that worked) students needed some guidance.  A confidence boost, if you will.  I think that as I go and the students begin to realize that – no, I won’t always give you the answer – I can start to drop back on the amount of provided guidance. More open ended much like they’ll begin to see in their senior design teams and the workplace.  It SHOULD be up to them to come up with what they don’t know and then set the groundwork to find that useful data.

I’ve been asked to go teach on Friday in a standard classroom? I’m wondering how it will feel versus this new style I’m now used to.  Maybe I’ll freak some students out a bit and walk around the (ugh!) lecture hall…

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