First day of learner-centred instruction

In my role in the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI) at UBC, I don’t do the actual teaching myself. I train the trainers and then monitor how they’re doing. And I ask myself, you can talk the talk but can you walk the walk?

Today, I found out.

This term, I’m teach-teaching ASTR 311 (Exploring the Stars and Galaxies). At the beginning, the other instructor handles the lecturing, I handle the learner-centered activities. Over the term, the other instructor will start doing more and more of the activities. At the end, she’ll be doing it all.

This being the first class of the Term, I ran my first think-pair-share sequence following the “choreography” prescribed by the Center for Astronomy Education (CAE), although we use i>clickers instead of coloured cards. Here’s the question:

How many stars are there in the Solar System
A) 0
B) 1
C) 8
D) 9
E) 100 billion

They voted individually: 47% said 1, 47% said 100 billion. GOLDEN!

Peter: “I see you don’t all agree. Turn to your neighbour and convince them you’re right. You have 1 minute. Go!”

BLAM! The room explodes in conversation! Sweet! They’re teaching themselves!

Peter: “Do you need more time?”

Class: [silence]

Peter: “Alright, please vote again…Now!”

Ten seconds later, 94% of them correctly said there is 1 star in our Solar System.

Peter: “Excellent! So, how many stars are there in the Solar System?”

Class: “ONE!”

I asked what there are 100 billion of. “Stars. In the Universe. No, I mean Galaxy.” I took a minute to reveal them (psst: this is an instructor-only secret) that it’s a common misconception to mix up “Solar System” and “Galaxy”, just like half of the students did. You should have seen the look of relief on their faces! I guess it’s about developing a culture in the classroom where it’s okay to be wrong. Gotta do more of that.

On Friday.


About Peter Newbury

Find me on Twitter @polarisdotca
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1 Response to First day of learner-centred instruction

  1. Rob Hollow says:

    I look forward to following this blog and getting some useful tips.. Off to an engaging start.

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