National Conference for Advanced POGIL Practitioners (NCAPP) 2017

I reunnamedturned to my office, exhausted, after class.  A frustrated sigh escaped my lips and I wondered, “What am I going to do?” For the second time this week, Molly had succeeded in leading her group off track during class. I tried multiple times to redirect the group. I knew that Molly was a student who caught on quickly, so this behavior was unlikely to hurt her overall grade. However, her group members needed her participation to help them understand. She had hindered their learning, and could have deepened her own. What should I do? Should I talk with her individually? What would I say? How could I get her group to focus and engage? If only I had someone I could ask.

Do you ever feel that you are all alone in implementing inquiry learning? Are you looking for support? Perhaps you have some suggestions for the above scenario. Either way, you are the perfect participant for a new conference – National Conference for Advanced POGIL Practitioners (NCAPP) from June 26-28, 2017 at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. This conference will be an engaged, interactive experience where you can share your successes and frustrations and get feedback from experienced POGIL authors. There will be roundtable discussions, professional development workshops, poster sessions and nationally known plenary speakers.

The scenario that I described above is similar to what I experienced. I attended my first POGIL workshop in 2009 and was hooked. Over the next few years, I began to use more activities in the introductory and upper level chemistry courses that I taught. I tried to get my colleagues interested but to no avail. I continued along using my version of the POGIL approach, refining my handouts and developing new material, all the time feeling that I was working on my own POGIL island. Are you like me? Are you looking for other POGIL practitioners with whom you could compare notes? Do you want to see how your version of the classroom fits with others who share the same desire for inquiry-based education? Do you want to learn from others who understand what you are trying to do? Do you have experiences that you would like to share? If so, NCAPP is for you.

Perhaps you are on the other end of the spectrum. You have been using POGIL for years. You are well supported within your department and university by others who use POGIL. You are an active member of the POGIL Project. You have been a facilitator at POGIL workshops, authored POGIL activities and served on working groups. You are very much in the main stream of POGIL practitioners. Guess what? NCAPP is also for you. One of the awesome things about active learning approaches is that they are always changing and adapting. There is always something new to learn. NCAPP is a place for you to present and share your experiences and help others who are struggling. The conference will also be a place for you to learn new ideas and become reenergized in your classroom.

NCAPP is different from all of the currently offered POGIL events.  The Regional Workshops are for participants to gather knowledge about the pedagogy.  The POGIL National Meeting (PNM) is to work with and for the POGIL Project.  NCAPP will be for advanced users of POGIL to network, share and present their accomplishments.  In fact, the best part of the conference will be the opportunity to connect with the other people in POGIL community who share your vision of education.Those connections can last a long time after the conference is over. If you are ready to get off of your own personal POGIL island, consider applying for NCAPP at www.pogil.org/new/NCAPP.

Author – Wayne Pearson, US Naval Academy

Do you teach as you were taught?

This week’s blog is another post from a POGIL practitioner who was recognized for outstanding teaching.

Suzanne Ruder teaches organic chemistry to large classes – 200 or more students! – at Virginia Commonwealth University. In 2013 she was the recipient of the University’s highest teaching award. The following is an excerpt from her University Convocation speech that year. ruder blog1 small

          I have always found it curious that most of us who teach at the university level are generally thrust into the classroom with little to no formal education or training about how to teach. With a passion for our subjects, but little information about how to actually teach it, we mostly resort to teaching how we were taught. And that is exactly how I began my teaching career, by teaching how I was taught.  I entered my first classroom filled with 150  apprehensive organic chemistry students, who were more than likely just as terrified as I was that first day. Just as I had been taught, I proceeded to lecture with warp speed, keen to impart my knowledge onto the students.  Students frantically rewrote my copious notes on the chalkboard, and attempted to write down everything I said.  I covered all the material on the syllabus, and figured that the students understood it all, since I had told them all they needed to know, and few students asked questions during class time.

I happily improved on my lecture style for about 15 years, when I was struck and ultimately inspired by a comment from a scientist at a local pharmaceutical company.  This scientist told a group of our visiting summer research students, that the most important skills for a prospective employee are 1) the ability to work in teams and 2) the ability to solve problems…two things, he said, that their academic experience did not prepare them for!  As I reflected on my own classes, it dawned on me that he was absolutely right.  My lecture classes taught the students nothing about teamwork, communication or the ability to think outside the box to solve problems which may not have one correct answer.

So I began anew, challenging myself to learn about teaching and learning, to discover how to engage the students and guide them to discover concepts together.  My goal now is to help students learn so called ‘soft skills’ that are so important in the workforce, in addition to helping students gain a conceptual understanding of organic chemistry, rather than memorize lots of facts.  My new guiding principle can be found in a quote by A.H. Johnstone, “Learning is not the transfer of material from the head of the teacher to the head of the learner intact. Learning is the reconstruction of the material, provided by the teacher, in the mind of the learner. ”

These days my classroom, now grown to 250 students, is anything but a room filled with quiet students passively listening to my lectures. Instead students are thinking, working, discovering and engaging in animated conversations about organic chemistry concepts as they work together to solve problems.  Some days you can even hear students cheering as they discover they have solved a problem.  Every day is different and exciting, as I constantly assess what students are learning and what they are having trouble understanding in order to redirect and focus their work.  It is rare anymore for students to pack up and race out of the classroom.  Instead they linger on, discussing concepts and clarifying their answers with their classmates.  My hope is that maybe, just maybe, organic chemistry has silently crept onto at least a few lists of students’ most favorite college courses.

Wait, you mean carrots are plants?

This blog post is the first in a series of posts from teachers in the POGIL community who have won teaching awards. The words below are excerpted from Steven Prilliman’s commencement address for the Oklahoma City University’s 2016 graduation. Steven was the recipient of OCU’s 2016 Outstanding Faculty Award (http://www.okcu.edu/faculty-staff/awards/).

Prillaman

When I was asked to give the graduate commencement address, I started thinking about my own graduate commencement. I spent five years in the alternate universe that is grad school, but that was coming to an end and I had to decide what to do next. My choices were to either stay in science and move to a new lab somewhere else, or I could do something different.

In the back of my head I’d always had this crazy idea about teaching high school science. For advice I turned to a very influential person in my life, my high school chemistry teacher, Cynthia Macarevich. When I took chemistry from “Mrs. Mac”, it was an epiphany.  The angels sang, the light shone down and I knew that chemistry was the thing I both loved and was good at.  And I wanted to be the kind of teacher that made students feel the same way… I was going to be the best science teacher ever. The reality, of course, was somewhat different.

One day in my second year of teaching intro chemistry, I was giving a lecture about color. As an example I was using beta-carotene, the compound that gives carrots their orange color. I had this whole back story about not all carrots being orange. Some are, in fact, white or yellow or even purple. The orange color we have today was carefully selected by growers in part to please the royal House of Orange, which my students were also studying in European History. In the middle of what I thought was this great lecture a student raised his hand and said “OK, I’m confused, where do carrots come from?” This caught me off guard, but I started to say “You know, you put the seed in the soil and you water it,” when the student interrupted me, “Wait, you mean carrots are plants?”

I paused a moment and said “Of course they’re plants.” After another pause I said “Who was your biology teacher last year?” I already knew the answer, of course, but the student had to think about, then he said “You were!”

This was a turning point in my teaching career. It bothered me for months. This moment, which I now think of as “The Carrot Incident”, crystallized a year and a half of frustration, of realizing I was not seeing the results in my students I wanted. In spite of the hours I spent working on my lectures and preparing clever lab experiments for them, they weren’t learning. This was obvious to me every time I graded an exam. When my students did “learn” I had trouble pushing them past the level of memorization. They weren’t learning science in my class. Most of the time they were copying down notes and failing to make any sense of them.

The Carrot Incident forced me to begin to rethink the way I was teaching. You see, I couldn’t blame anyone else for this. I was this students’ teacher, and I had every opportunity when I taught biology to have my students grow plants from seeds, to water and care for them, to measure and observe their growth, to study their flowers, to pollinate them. It would have been a simple, inexpensive and really effective project, but one that never occurred to me. I could have had them handling real fossils and not just talking about them, I could have had them doing reactions and making measurements instead of focusing so much on symbols and equations. In other words, I could have had them doing science instead of telling them about it.

I was also beginning to realize I had been making a lot of assumptions. I was assuming these kids would be able to learn the same way I did. I was also forgetting that I grew up in a house with garden in the back and helped out with planting, harvesting and at least sometimes eating what came out of the garden. I was beginning to realize that I had layers of assumptions and biases about what teaching looked like and that I would have overcome these to become a better teacher.

As a new teacher you wonder “Maybe it’s just my students”, but one year I had the opportunity to be a grader for the AP Chemistry exam. That year they locked 250 of us in a barn at the Nebraska State Fairgrounds for 7 hours a day in absolute silence. Over 8 days we graded 100,000 exams.

I was assigned what I thought was a simple essay question, but most students (mind you, these are the best and brightest high school students in the nation) received either 0 or 1 out of 8 possible points. These were not blank pages, these were page after page explanations that were completely wrong. Not just a little wrong. The exact opposite of correct. We had a lot of what we called “hard earned zeros”.

Other people grading that question were outraged at what they were reading. They kept saying, “Well, what I tell my students is….”.  And I wanted to scream “Apparently, it doesn’t matter what you tell your students.” Because out of the 1500 or so answers I scored that week, 2 papers were completely correct.

But that’s just it. What you say in a classroom setting doesn’t matter. The research is quite clear on this. What matters is creating an environment and situations in which students can talk and discuss their own ideas and confront their own misconceptions. It turns out that a bunch of people had already reached the same conclusion and figured out what to do about it.  And I was lucky enough to wander into a workshop they were giving at an American Chemical Society conference in 2005.

I learned from that workshop and many others how to teach in a completely different way. I almost never give a lecture anymore. My students walk into the classroom, sit in groups of 3 or 4 and work through activities that I’ve written. Those activities ask them questions that force them to look at data, then analyze, question, and argue with each other about the data. Somewhere in the middle the activity will introduce a new concept or an equation, then the students will apply that new knowledge, and walk out the door with the same chemistry they would learn if I were lecturing. I walk around and answer questions, usually with more questions. But most of the time I hide in the corner and listen as they figure it out on their own.

Along the way the students learn chemistry and they also learn how to work with other people, how to manage their time and, most important, how to begin to be independent thinkers.

Words from Tammy Pirmann

Today’s post is from Tammy Pirmann, one of the first two educators given the POGIL Early Achievement Award. The press release describing the award is linked here. Ms. Pirmann is a high school computer science teacher in Springfield Township PA, where she is also the district coordinator for Computer Science and Business. She is an active member of the POGIL community – in fact, she set up this blog.

Below Ms. Pirmann describes how she gets students started learning computer science and using POGIL in her classes.

When I meet a new group of high school freshmen in September, I like to engage them in a conversation to surface what they think the world of work is like. Almost every year I hear the same things. Students think that their education has been preparing them for work, therefore, they think that work must be a lot like school. The majority of them do not describe a workplace with teams, but one worker among many reporting to a boss and being given discrete tasks with instructions from that boss. Since I teach computer science, students come to class with impressions formed from the media specific to the field. One person on a computer for 8 hours, work in – work out, with no creativity. I show students videos of computer scientists talking about what their job is like, and some videos of people actually doing the work. This lays the groundwork for why I care so much about the process skills they will learn and demonstrate.

By the beginning of October, students have been learning computer science with POGIL activities, have held each role at least once, have had the opportunity to practice and demonstrate several process skills, and get comfortable with the way my classes operate. Typically in October one or two students will voluntarily bring up the discussion from the first week and laugh at themselves. Most students in the class get it. They understand why they have roles, and why we practice specific process skills. They have the role cards with the dialog prompts on them and are still using them regularly to check on themselves.

By the end of the course, the role cards tend to stay in the folder. Students have internalized the roles, have learned how to talk to each other in a professional way, without having to check the cards. One of the long lasting benefits my students get from a POGIL classroom is the ability to join a group, communicate respectfully, establish norms quickly, and to reach consensus. It takes time, and it takes intention, but the roles and the process skills have become an integral part of my classroom.

Q&A with Gail Webster

Gail Webster is a professor of Chemistry at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. Dr. Webster is teaching her course, Chemistry of Food and Cooking, in the Alto Adige province of Northern Italy. The POGIL Inquirer checked in with her to see how the course was going. The interview is transcribed below (edited). For the full interview and to read the spring 2016 POGIL Inquirer, go to this link.

Q:  Explain Chemistry of Food and Cooking. If I were one of your potential students, why would I want to take this course?

Gail:  Chemistry of Food and Cooking explores basic chemical concepts (atomic structure, periodic properties, bonding, ionic nomenclature, interpreting line structures for molecular compounds, acid-base reactions, stoichiometry and much more) through the study of “food molecules” –water, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Chemical reactions are studied using these types of molecules and also through cooking processes. For potential students, I would talk to them about how learning chemistry through a common context, food, makes learning the material more interesting since it is relevant to their everyday activities, like cooking and eating. I would also mention that the course is not a cooking class, but the study of many of the same chemistry topics that one would learn about in a regular general chemistry.

frittatta blog

Making a frittatta for Chemistry of Food and Cooking – in Italy

Q:  How have you incorporated POGIL into this course? 

Gail: POGIL is used for students to learn about each of the major food molecules and other chemical concepts. I use activities for students to learn about atomic structure, the periodic table, ionic compounds, molecular compounds, fats, amino acids, carbohydrates, acid-base chemistry, amino acids, proteins (structure and folding), and stoichiometry. The models are focused on chemical compounds found in foods and chemical reactions used in cooking.

Q:  How has POGIL affected the course?   

Gail: The depth of chemistry that is presented to students through these activities has made the course more rigorous. Students are also very involved in class. They ask more questions and they seem to have more fun in class….and I do too!

classroom blog

The Chemistry of Food & Cooking Classroom

Q: Using the concepts of your course, what meal is the most fun to cook?

Gail: I can tell you a dinner menu that our class developed and cooked here during our study of proteins. We made a frittata, so we denatured proteins using both physical force (beating eggs) and then with heat. The frittata called for ricotta cheese, which we made from local milk. The milk solids were precipitated using an acid (lemon). The students prepared a salad, and made a dressing from olive oil (fat), lemon juice (aqueous) and mustard (emulsifying agent). At dinner, each of the students involved in the process explained the science involved in the particular dish that they helped prepare.

meal blog

A meal made while learning about proteins

 

meal blog

Gail Webster: Chemistry of Food and Cooking

gail

 

Gail Webster is a professor of Chemistry at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. Dr. Webster is teaching her course, Chemistry of Food and Cooking, in the Alto Adige province of Northern Italy. The POGIL Inquirer checked in with her to see how the course was going.

 

Explain Chemistry of Food and Cooking. If I were one of your potential students, why would I want to take this course?

A: Chemistry of Food and Cooking explores basic chemical concepts (atomic structure, periodic properties, bonding, ionic nomenclature, interpreting line structures for molecular compounds, acid-base reactions, stoichiometry and much more) through the study of “food molecules” –water, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Chemical reactions are studied using these types of molecules and also through cooking processes. For potential students, I would talk to them about how learning chemistry through a common context, food, makes learning the material more interesting since it is relevant to their everyday activities, like cooking and eating. I would also mention that the course is not a cooking class, but the study of many of the same chemistry topics that one would learn about in a regular general chemistry.

 Q: What do you want your students gain from taking this course?

A: It is important for students to understand that no food is chemical free and that we use chemicals and chemistry in all aspects of our lives. I also want students to be able to develop a question involving food or food preparation that may be explored by designing and executing an “experiment” in their own kitchen.

Q: What do you enjoy about teaching this course?

A: Many of the students in the class are juniors and seniors who have delayed taking their lab science requirement. Because I teach mostly first-year students in general chemistry, I’ve enjoyed working with students who are getting ready to graduate and who seem to me to be more outgoing and talkative with each other and me during class. Students in Chemistry of Food and Cooking often tell me they’re “not a science person” and that they dreaded having to take (and pass) a science class to graduate. By the end of the course, some of the most reluctant science students become genuinely interested in chemistry and are truly surprised about how much they’ve learned.

Q: How many years have you been teaching this course? What has changed since you first started teaching it?

A: I think the first time I taught the course was in 2005, so I’ve been teaching it for more than ten years. When I first taught the course, I worked on developing the lab portion of the course. The course was first taught in the evening, and the adult students in the class did many of the labs at home. I was able to incorporate some experiments that are done in the chemistry lab like extraction of fats, TLC of plant pigments, and synthesis of esters. I think it’s important for students taking a chemistry course at the college level to gain experience working in a chemistry lab although we do some labs in a food-safe environment as well so we can taste the products of the reactions. The first few times I taught the course, it was all lecture, with some in-class activities. Each year I would incorporate more student-centered activities, but now the majority of class time is focused on POGIL activities.

Q: Has teaching this course abroad added anything to your understanding of the course as an instructor? If so what?

A: Living and learning in Northern Italy (South Tyrol) has been a great venue for this course. We’ve been able to visit local cheese making facilities, wineries, a distillery, and a salt mine and incorporate some of the rich history of this region into the course. What I’m always struggling with is what NOT to include. There is so much that can be addressed, from growing food to food preservation to nutrition and more.

Q: At the 2014 Biennial Conference on Chemical Education you led a session titled “Using POGIL activities to teach non-science majors in a Chemistry of Food and Cooking course” how have you incorporated POGIL into this course?

A: POGIL is used for students to learn about each of the major food molecules and other chemical concepts. I use activities for students to learn about atomic structure, the periodic table, ionic compounds, molecular compounds, fats, amino acids, carbohydrates, acid-base chemistry, amino acids, proteins (structure and folding), and stoichiometry. The models are focused on chemical compounds found in foods and chemical reactions used in cooking.

Q: How has the incorporation of POGIL impacted the course?

A: The depth of chemistry that is presented to students through these activities has made the course more rigorous. Students are also very involved in class. They ask more questions and they seem to have more fun in class….and I do too! Since there is no real textbook on the market for a course like this, the POGIL activities fill an important gap in the materials available for the course.

Q: It appears schools across the country have a chemistry and food course similar to yours. What about the topic appeals to educators?

A: I think anything that makes chemistry interesting, relevant and fun appeals to educators and students alike. Having students leave a class with a positive attitude toward chemistry is very rewarding.

Q: Using the concepts of your course, what meal is the most fun to cook?

A: I can tell you a dinner menu that our class developed and cooked here during our study of proteins. We made a frittata, so we denatured proteins using both physical force (beating eggs) and then with heat. The frittata called for ricotta cheese, which we made from local milk. The milk solids were precipitated using an acid (lemon).

The students prepared a salad, and made a dressing from olive oil (fat), lemon juice (aqueous) and mustard (emulsifying agent). At dinner, each of the students involved in the process explained the science involved in the particular dish that they helped prepare.

Q: What is your favorite unit or activity to teach?

A: I like teaching acid-base chemistry! We make a cabbage juice indicator in class and in their groups, students work through a POGIL activity using the data they’ve collected by observing what happens when the indicator is added to various foods. It’s fun to use so
mething from the grocery store (or farm) to learn about acids, bases and acid-base reactions.

 

How should I form the groups in my class?

What are the best ways to form the groups in your class? The answer is, of course, it depends! Deciding how to form the groups in your classroom depends on your specific goals for that class and on the characteristics of the students, the course, and the physical space. What follows are suggestions that come from my personal experience. If readers have other suggestions, please share them!

  • If the class is on the small side (say, 8-24 students), randomly assigning groups for each class meeting works. By randomly, I mean (1) figuring out how many groups you need (2-7 or so), (2) assigning students numbers 1-7, and (3) telling group 1, 2, …7 to sit together. Or get creative and use element names, colors, units, … instead of numerals 1-7. The key here is to assign new groups each week. For me this works only in smaller classes. It sucks up time because students need to move – the more students you have, the more time it takes.

This way of forming groups helps the whole class feel better connected. I’ve found it works well for lab courses and non-technical classes required for majors (such as a Professional Practices course).

  • In very large classes (150+) that are a mix of majors, you may decide  to let students choose their own groups. Then you will need to somehow collect the names of the students in each group and their seating in the classroom (row and seat number). It is possible to use clickers to get row and seat number; another good option would be to collect the names of group members using a google form. In my experience students in larger classes need to stick with the same group throughout the semester. They will tend to be more loyal to their group, which brings them to class. (I tried switching groups in a large class more than once – Fail!)

Of course the drawback is that some of the groups won’t function well. Remember: your point of comparison is not a class with perfect groups: It is a lecture class. Even students working in less than perfect groups are more engaged than they would be in lecture.

  • Another option is to assign groups based on some criteria. I also recommend this for large classes as it avoids groups made of up friends, putting all students on more equivalent footing in the course. In a course like physical chemistry that requires a strong math and physics background, assigning groups based on math and/or physics grades ensures that at least one student in the group can take a derivative or solve an integral.

Again, it is likely that a few of the groups won’t work well together. You may find that some students actually request (early on) to be put with their friends. I find that most of the groups end up forming strong bonds. When friends are in different groups, then the two groups will often end up studying together outside of class. A great outcome!

What has worked for your courses? What has not worked? Please share your experiences either as comments send me an email at sshunnic@vcu.edu.

—Sally Hunnicutt