Wi14 Week 10 – First Day of Class

Great discussions and input this week, everyone!

It was interesting to see what names you want your students to call you. I think we concluded that if you don’t have the title Dr. or Professor, you don’t use it. Many of you were uncomfortable with Mr./Ms./Mrs., which leaves only formal first names (“Michael/Elizabeth”) or more familiar nicknames (“Mike/Beth”). Chris A. found a provocative essay, That’s “Doctor Instructor” to You, by Rebecca Schuman (@pankisseskafka on Twitter) in Slate.

The goal of the class this week was first to figure out what you should say and do in the first class to motivate learning, personalize the class for each student, and establish expectations. Working from this list of items (PDF) drawn from the two Wieman papers, here are the Venn diagrams we constructed:

Tuesday, 11 am Tuesday, 2 pm Thursday, 12:30 pm
(Images by Peter Newbury CC-BY-NC)

If you don’t have time to do everything (and you probably don’t), it seems like you should concentrate on these:

A – welcome the students
B – tell them what name you expect to be called
F – an icebreaker activity
H – introduce the teaching assistants
J – use authentic situations and problems
Q- explain why you’re teaching the way you’re teaching (especially if it’s non-traditional)

My biggest pieces of advice:

  • Check out the classroom ahead of time and try out all the audiovisual (especially if you’re using your own laptop in class), figure out how to turn the lights on and off, open and close the window blinds, and so on. From the moment you step into the classroom on the first day, you want to show the students you have 100% control of the classroom.
  • Constantly be aware of your mindset — your growth mindset — about the students’ abilities to learn your material. Watch for moments when you think to yourself, “why bother, they’re not going to get this.” If teaching the concept doesn’t support your learning outcomes, then sure, don’t teach it. But if you decide to drop something because you feel some students aren’t smart enough or good enough or dedicated enough to learn it, that’s when you need to stop and think objectively about why the material is (or isn’t) suitable for the class.


You can find the two Wieman papers on the Week 10 Homework page.

Here are the slides we used:

Behind the Scenes

I’m really happy with how the class ran, with us working collaboratively on the Venn Diagrams. Last year, we did everything together on the board but this year, I had you work in groups at your tables. I think it was better because more of you had a chance to talk (6 small, simultaneous discussions instead of 1 large discussion.) My job was

  • to set up the activity: I had a plan, I made sure everyone had whiteboards and pens, hand-outs, clickers, and so on
  • to give clear instructions about what I wanted you to do
  • carefully monitor the time, to send you out and call you back together, so we could get through the material I’d chosen. Having that clock (with a second hand) on the wall made this easier. Do all the classrooms have easy-to-see clocks? There’s another thing to check out when you visit your classroom before the first day.
  • “chair” the big discussion so that people with something to say had opportunities, within the time constraints. Sometimes you have to cut people off and move on but try to be aware of who you’ve cut off and give them the next opportunity.
Posted in Course Notes, Wi14 | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s in a name?

I came across this interesting opinion on Slate which ties nicely into our discussion about what students’ should call their instructor.

Posted in Wi14 | Leave a comment

Wi14 Week 9 – Alternatives to Lecture

I hope you saw and/or experienced an alternative to lecture in this week’s class that you’ll think about integrating into the classes you’ll teach. There were a lot of ideas so check the references at the end of the slide deck for more information.

We got some feedback that the worksheet wasn’t very helpful because it was too focused on what happens in a STEM classroom. Yes, the content was astronomy and intended for an astronomy class. The bigger picture, though, was that in class, you can have students work on a sequence of increasingly-challenging questions. It’s easy to write a worksheet that assesses current knowledge (that’s typically called a “quiz” or “exam”.) A good worksheet, though, teaches students new content, concepts and/or skills. Good worksheets are not easy to write and I’ve often used the terrific astronomy worksheets as templates to adapt to different disciplines. Soon, I hope to work with some colleagues in Linguistics to create such a worksheet. We’ll use it in future sessions of The College Classroom to make it easier for people to envision what worksheets look like in non-STEM courses.

This is the amazing video from Derek Muller (@Veritasium on Twitter). You should subscribe to his channel on YouTube. Derek follows the research he conducted for his Ph.D.: When you’re teaching a concept for which people hold misconceptions, first you have to get students to confront their misconception. Then they’ll have better success learning the correct concept. Derek explains it nicely in another video describing his Ph.D. research and how it relates to Khan Academy.

If you like Derek’s videos, you might also like these:

Here are the slides from this week’s class:

Posted in Course Notes, Wi14 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wi14 Week 10 Homework

The First Day of Class

Don't let this happen to you! (Image In a knot by Carbon Arc on flickr CC)

Don’t let this happen to you before your first class!
(Image In a knot by Carbon Arc on flickr CC)

How does the saying go, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” What you do in your first class of of the quarter sets the tone for the rest of the course. If you want your class to be a welcoming, student-centered, natural, critical learning environment, you need to start at minute 1 of class 1.

Some students have chosen to be there. Some are there to fulfill a requirement. Some are “shopping” to see if this course (and instructor) is any good. You need to convince all of them that they made the right choice. At the very least, you shouldn’t do anything that makes them want to not come back. On Tuesday, November 26, we’ll talk about some practical things you should (and shouldn’t) do to get your class off to a good start.

Tasks to complete before class

  1. Read this 2-page handout First Day of Class (PDF) written by folks at the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative.
  2. Read this  excellent 2-pager on motivating students to learn (PDF), also written by the CWSEI.
  3. Okay, don’t laugh, but take a moment to think about this now, before you’re standing at the front of the lecture hall with 300 pairs of eyes staring at you: What do you want your students to call you? Here’s what I used to say (and I chose to let them use my first name, you might not want that.):

    You can call me Peter, that’s fine with me, or Dr. Newbury. But not Professor Newbury – “professor” means something specific in University and I don’t have that rank – and not Dr. Peter, that’s been used by someone else. [Dr. Peter Jepson Young (1957 - 1992), a famous AIDS researcher in Vancouver.]

  4. Write down – yes, it sounds silly but give it a try – write down your opening line on the first day. You’d don’t want to start your course with

    Uh, hi, everyone, uh EVERYONE, let’s get going. Now. Hello! [tap mic] [tap mic] Yeah, hi, welcome to, uh, Astro-, A-S-T-, astronomy. I mean, Astronomy 101. I’m really, ya know, excited you’re..oh, hi, yeah sure, sit there, Oh, you’re leaving. okaaay. Right, where was I? Okay, let me get the first slide, uh, sli-, ack, stupid computer…oh $@#&% [click click click] okay, got it…

    Yeah, not that. And then rehearse saying out loud – we speak differently than we write – so listen how it sounds.

  5. If you haven’t read it yet, look at the description of the microteaching task and follow the links there to pick a time to schedule your presentation.
Posted in Homework, Wi14 | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Teaching “design” in engineering

Engineering Design Thinking, Teaching, and Learning by Clive Dym et al. 2005.

This article is fairly covers the topic of teaching design in engineering. Some difficulties in teaching design are stemmed from the fact that design is part creativity, part thorough understanding of the concepts utilized, and takes some special skills such as tolerance to ambiguity, big picture sight, ability to handle uncertainly and to make decisions, and the ability to work in teams. These are all things that typically are not only hard to teach, but also hard to assess.

I found the discussion to be way too drawn out, but nonetheless a very comprehensive coverage of the topic. They point out that many students believe engineering is solely about the mathematics, convergent thinking (i.e. one correct answer exists and we should find it) dominates, yet divergent thinking (i.e. brainstorming many possible solutions) is very beneficial when designing. Project based learning (PBL, which was covered by another student in our class) seems to be the primary means of getting students to “speak the several languages of design”, transfer their understanding of the math, etc., to applications. Something new to me was the concept of the corner-stone (not cap-stone of which I am familiar) design project. This is basically just a smaller project with a group which focuses on solving a “real” problem, with focus on a smaller subset of engineering concepts applied to the design of the solution. Cap-stone, on the other hand, is an over arching project which touches on all or most aspects of what a student has learned over several years of engineering education. Corner-stone projects are claimed to enhance student interest, retention, and motivate learning in upper division courses (since solving problems will undoubtedly point out things students need to know that they do not know yet).

There was much more… but…

Since I am seeking an engineering faculty position with structural engineering design as my specialty, my favorite conclusion is of course:

“There is a clear need to expand the number of faculty
members interested in and capable of teaching design, and to
create the facilities—such as design studios and associated shops—
needed for modern, project-based design courses. Thus, the most
important recommendation is that engineers in academe, both faculty
members and administrators, make enhanced design pedagogy their
highest priority in future resource allocation decisions.”



Posted in Wi14 | Leave a comment

Microteaching Experience Wi14

The College Classroom aims to give you a strong foundation in the constructivist theory of learning and how to integrate that pedagogy into an active, student-centered class. One of the themes that’s appeared again and again is that students need to practice their new skills and receive timely, formative feedback. The last, big task you need to complete is a “microteaching experience” that will give you some of that practice and feedback.

Traditionally,  a “microteaching experience” means developing a lesson for a class you might teach someday, delivering that lesson to your fellow students and then getting feedback from your peers and instructors. That’s a good way to assess your ability to lecture. Maybe even your ability to orchestrate some active learning into your lecture. But that’s still only one part of “teaching” which also includes all the things that happen before class and after class.

We’re still asking you to create a lesson but rather than teach it to your colleagues, you’re going to talk about it with your colleagues. Why?

  • teaching is only 1 part of a complete lesson: planning, writing, before class, teaching, after class,…
  • we don’t want you “spend hours perfecting the visuals [while] the content is very weak” (that’s a quote we saw in Week 5: Assessment from the instructor whose students created stunning PPT presentations without any content because creating PPT is what they know how to do.)
  • you’ll get feedback on entire lesson plan, not just the part that’s live in front of the students
  • you’ll get some practice talking about teaching with colleagues

The Details

We want you to design a lesson that would normally take 30-50 minutes to teach. Choose a topic from your field, perhaps one  you’ve already taught or one you might like to teach. Here are the components to the microteaching experience (and, except for the last one, the components of a good lesson.)

  1. Learning Outcomes As we talked about in Week 4, learning outcomes help both the students and the instructor. A full course might have 30-50 learning outcomes which means, roughly, 2 or 3 per class. Not zero (if a lesson does not contribute to the learning outcomes, why give it?) and not 8 (seriously, you think the students are going to learn 8 concepts in 50 minutes? Good luck with that.) Write 2 or 3 learning outcomes for the lesson you’re preparing. Remember, each learning outcome completes the sentence, “By the end of this lesson, you [the student] should be able to…” Avoid using the verb “understand”, as in “be able to understand mechanics” or “be able to understand how to use original sources”. What do you want your students to do to demonstrate they “understand”? That’s what learning outcomes should clarify.
  2. Pre-Reading Assignment  So that more of the precious class time can be spent working together on the concepts that require deeper thinking, students complete a short reading assignment before coming to class. The pre-reading can introduce definitions, terminology, an example of the data and/or graphs that will be analyzed in class, the background / context for events, and so on. Students come class prepared to participate. A pre-reading should be short (no more than 20-30 minutes to read) and targeted: if there are critical definitions, terminology, graphs, diagrams, context, and so on,  alert the students. For example, instructions to the students could be include phrases like

    For next class, please read pages 128-142 in Chapter 4 of our textbook. Pay particular attention to the choice of axes in Figure 4.7.

    Be sure to notice the period of time that passed between [event A] and [event B].

    Fill in the missing steps between Eq. 4.12 and Eq. 4.13.

    For your microteaching experience, select a pre-reading for your topic and write the accompanying guide to students.

  3. Reading Quiz  Getting your students to complete the pre-reading assignment by telling them, “because it’s good for you” rarely motivates them (See “Eat your brussel sprouts.”)  You’re asking students to invest time and effort into your class so it’s reasonable that you reward them. Each pre-reading assignment should have a matching reading quiz consisting of 3 – 5 questions that test the material presented in the reading.  The questions are typically drawn straight from the text and don’t require much higher-order analysis, synthesis or evaluation (that’s what you’ll be doing in class.) The quiz is typically multiple choice because that’s easier to run and assess. Any student who follows your pre-reading instructions with reasonable care should score 100% on the quiz. Some instructors use clickers to run the reading quiz at the beginning of class. Others use their Learning Management System (Blackboard, Moodle, TED, etc.) to run the quiz online. In either case, the instructor can see the results and, if necessary, clarify important facts or properties before launching into the lesson itself. For your microteaching experience, create a short reading quiz based on the pre-reading you selected.
  4. The Lesson including Peer Instruction A traditional 50-minute lecture is typically driven by a PowerPoint presentation of 20-40 slides. We don’t want you to create 20-40 slides about your topic – that’s too  much time spent formatting, selecting fonts and backgrounds, animating slides and so on. The College Classroom is not a course about editing PowerPoint. Instead, we want you to create an outline for the lesson with one other key element: peer instruction. Remember, peer instruction is one of the easiest ways to implement active, student-centered instruction so we want you to have some practice building a lesson with clickers. Your lesson plan could look something like this:

    The timing doesn’t have to be perfect. And don’t create the 3 slides or 6 slides or… (unless you want to). But do show us 3-5 clicker questions that tie together  the 5-15 minute “mini-lectures.” Whether you make up the questions yourself or find them somewhere (there’s a list of STEM collections on this Clickers Resources page at the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative) be ready to talk about why it’s a good question at that point in the lesson. Feel  free to add other kinds of activities besides mini-lectures and peer instruction, like an interactive lecture demo, showing a video, running a simulation, breaking into groups for discussion, and so on. If you include something like this, write a description in the lesson outline that describes the activity.

  5. Assessment Imagine you’re writing the Final Exam for the course. What question(s) would assess the student’s grasp of the concept(s) presented in the lesson. (Hint: what were your learning outcomes?) Make up a question or two that could appear on the Final Exam.
  6. The Presentation As you’ve read several times already, no, you’re not going to stand up at the front of the room and teach the lesson to us. Instead, imagine you’re sitting in the coffee room of your Department, chatting with a group of colleagues about this new lesson you’ve been developing. Talk to us for 8-10 minutes about your lesson: what it’s about, why you chose these materials, what clicker questions you’ll ask, how you’ll assess it and so on. Assume everyone in the room already knows the content (in other words, don’t get carried away teaching us the content…even though you really want to “use” this lesson you worked so hard to create.) You’ll want to bring some materials to show with the group. It could be some PPT slides of the clicker questions you write, print-outs, PDFs. We’ll have a projector, Windows laptop (ie, if you’re a Mac user, bring your own and don’t forget the projector dongle) and internet access.

Evaluation of Presentations

This is not meant to be the final “oral exam” for The College Classroom. Instead, it’s an opportunity for you to try, fail, receive feedback and, no unfortunately, not try again before it really matters (when you teach your class.) It’s also a chance for you to practice talking about how people teach and learn your discipline. Formative feedback is the goal and so, we’ll be using this rubric (PDF). I encourage you to look at it while you’re developing your lesson: the rubric sets the goals and targets. (The rubric isn’t optimal, yet. I keep making changes after watching your presentations and getting a better understanding of what the targets are and what kind of feedback directs you there.)

Microteaching Presentation Schedule:
Monday, March 17 — Wednesday, March 26

In keeping with the feeling that you’re talking to a group of colleagues in the coffee room, we’ll be meeting in small groups, just 2 or 3 at a time, in the Center for Teaching Development (a few doors down from our classroom) Head to the Private page and look for the link to a google spreadsheet schedule. Select a time that works for you.

Posted in Homework, Wi14 | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wi14 Week 9 Homework

Alternatives to Lecture

From how people learn to deliberate practice to the development of expertise, we see repeatedly that instruction must be student-centered (though not just any old in-class activity will do.)

Alt2LectgraphicResearch by Hake (1998) and Prather et al. (2009) show that in order for students to achieve even modest learning gains, students should be actively engaging with the content — building their own understanding — at least 25% of the class time. In other words, you can still lecture for 75% of the class. It’s what you do in that 25% that makes all the difference.

In Week 9, we’ll look at alternatives to lecture, including

  • in-class worksheets
  • interactive lecture demos
  • showing video
  • What do you notice? What do you wonder?
  • portable whiteboards
  • peer instruction with clickers (covered in Week 6)

Tasks to complete before class

  1. Please read Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class by Deslauriers, Schelew and Wieman (2011), my colleagues in the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the Univ. of British Columbia. Yes, this research took place in a physics class but don’t let that suggest it can’t occur elsewhere. Look for the structure of the lesson — pre-reading, worksheets, peer instruction — and imagine how (easily) it could be adapted to classes you’ll teach in your disciplines.
  2. Think about an activity you’ve experienced in a class (as a student or the instructor) other than formal lecturing. We’ll welcome your insight during our class if/when we touch on your activities.
Posted in Homework, Wi14 | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wi14 Week 8 – Teaching as Research

It’s great to see how many different kinds research in so many disciplines you found for this week’s blog post. The posts make it more obvious why we should remember to add tags to our posts: if you tag your post with, say, “history” and “PBL”, then other  College Classroom participants (and anyone else reading the blog) can find others who wrote about history and/or problem based learning.


  • If you’d like another copy of the TAR worksheets, you can download the PDF.
  • There are Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS) surveys in physics, chemistry and biology. As Beth mentioned, she’s working on a similar type survey for History. One question we’ve drafted looks like

    There is usually one correct interpretation of an historical event. Select strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree.

    You can imagine how novices and experts might differ on their answers.

  • Here are the slides from class.

Behind the Scenes

A couple of words about the TAR worksheets we used:

  • We wanted you to spend some class time writing. By providing you with a worksheet, we can be sure you’ve got something to write on (so no distractions getting paper from a friend and no disengagement because you have no paper).
  • By formatting the size of the boxes on the worksheet, we can control how much you write: students use the size of the box as an indicator of the length of the answer. With a blank piece of paper, students don’t know how much (or little) to write.
  • Why didn’t we double-side the worksheet and save some trees? We didn’t want anyone skipping ahead to the methods and anticipated results until after you’d had a chance to write the issues, talk about them, here our next min-lecture on methods (“quantitative vs. qualitative”, etc.) Sure, maybe we could have double-sided and said, “ONLY do Page 1! For now!” but we made the choice that more easily fit with our lesson plan.
Posted in Course Notes, Wi14 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment