Exercise of the Week- One

By Erica Kosal, PHD

Office for Faculty Excellence Presents  
Exercise of the Week
Strategy Stretches
Number one in a series

Throughout the past years, especially with the pandemic sparking conversations about how to best help our students learn, many buzzwords and practices surrounding teaching have been passed around and, in some instances, revisited.

These are not new, but they are gaining some new traction. (Minute Paper, Muddiest Point, & Think-Pair-Share. Along with Jigsaw & Case Studies) 

 As with fashion, as my mom has always said, “If you just wait long enough, it will come back in vogue”.  Not that good teaching methods ever go out of fashion, but certainly some techniques ebb and flow with popularity and application.

Some of the strategies are not embraced as much as others for a variety of reasons. The practicality of application in the classroom is huge.  Some of the techniques, at least at first, seem too daunting, especially if you have a large class of hundreds of students. 
Sometimes the logistics of the procedure seem more complex than a person’s comfort level and/or too time consuming. 

And some of the techniques frankly have a strange name, like Jigsaw,and make a person resistant to learn more about the steps.  (Or is that just me??)  

And for the record, the jigsaw technique works with group members each serving as an expert in one portion of the assignment.  Just as in a jigsaw puzzle, each student has a piece that is essential for the full picture and understanding of the assignment.  After a set amount of time where students focus just on their part, the group reforms and each person teaches the others.

Certainly, people approach such interactive teaching strategies coming from various places: Discipline, experience, age, department culture, and professional rank.  But during this time of reflection that COVID has afforded us, what a worthy endeavor.  We have had to reconsider assessments. For example, are tests the best way for students to convey what they learned and know from a course? We have had to reconsider the physical considerations of our classroom.  For example, does a zoom classroom work as well as a traditional classroom for our objectives?  Can breakout rooms work well for group interaction? 

Let’s also give specific teaching strategies a fair evaluation as wellFor example, what new strategy can I use to help explain “X” concept to students? What technique can I use to actively engage students so that they learn “X” and that will complement a lecture (so that students are not just sitting listening to me but are working through concepts on their own)?

My call out to you today is to consider one area of your course in which students struggle to learn a topic or concept. Then, I challenge you to pick one of the strategies you think might be a good fit for your class (think-pair-share, jigsaw, case study, minute paper, muddiest point) and design that activity for implementation in the classroom. 

Just one activity. 

Just one concept/topic.

For my part, this semester in my Introductory Biology course, I am using a Case Study: That a former student and I wrote over the summer to reinforce natural selection with the application of evolutionary medicine.  Students find case studies interesting. They see a connection to their own lives and therefore, the relevance and significance of working through a story and problems is a good fit for the students. I have also found that students have an easier time remembering concepts when they are couched in a story. 

I am excited to see if this case study works to help students understand natural selection more fully and helps them to see the “why should I care” that I often hear from them in various ways.

And what about you?

What are you going to do this semester or next? 

 And why are you going to do this? 

 I would love to hear your thoughts. 

Stay tuned for the next blog in this series where more details will be shared about teaching strategies.