Growing Groupwork From Groans To Groovy

How often have you made a group assignment only to hear “I hate working in groups?” In fact, how many times have you worked as part of a group, only to feel frustrated? POGIL requires students to work in self-managed teams, generally of three or four students. So how does an instructor facilitate the groupwork so that it is productive and even enjoyable?

  1. Asking students to work in groups does not mean instructors can stand back and watch! It is important for instructors to interact with groups – facilitate – as they work on activities. Simple questions such as “do all of you have the same answer” or “can you explain that to the other people in your group” or “have you discussed that question with your group yet” reinforce teamwork.
  2. Decide how you want to assign students to groups. This will depend on your classroom structure and environment. For more ideas, see this previous POGIL blog.
  3. Emphasize the importance of good communication. Remind students to talk to each other. Use your classroom polling system to ask the class to rate their team’s communication. And make sure that they know each other’s names – it is always surprising to me how long it takes for students to get to know other students.
  4. Give a group quiz – especially using the IF-AT scratch-off forms (see this link) – these forms are like lottery tickets. These group quizzes really reinforce interdependence.
  5. Use roles! Sometimes I feel a little bit silly using roles. In POGIL workshops and POGIL materials, the most common roles include group manager, recorder, and presenter. However, in practice the roles students may use might be different from this. One student might be good at asking questions, another good with remember calculus. This semester I’ve been talking with my class about reflecting on the roles that they create within their own groups.
  6. Yes, it is possible to get students to work in teams in large classes! First – and believe it or not – students actually do what we tell them to do. Second, you can reinforce teamwork by assigning some credit to it. Consider doing the occasional group quiz, for example. Even one or two percentage points out of the total grade provides incentive for many students.

Below, one of my students writes about the roles students have taken on in her group. Her words prove to me that talking to students about roles, and asking them to use roles, is not silly – it is critical to the success of the groupwork.

After briefly talking about group roles in class I felt that our group worked through the activities better. Generally I felt that my role became the question-asker. If I saw key words or concepts that I thought we should define together in the process of working through questions, I asked the group and we worked through definitions together. This particularly helped us when we were stumped on model two of activity S3 … One of my group members is strong in calculus and partial differentials. Whenever we needed to derive or write out a mathematical relationship to the concepts we discussed he was able to guide and help make sure we understood the answer and helped us with any questions we had. Another of my group member did well with visualizing models and coming up with example models to explain difficult concepts and how they relate to one another. With his help we were able to get a clear picture in our heads of the relationship between variables. The last (but not least) group member was good at keeping us on task with discussions. He kept us focused by considering how our discussions would be relevant to the questions being asked and to make sure we were moving through all the questions in the activities. These were the general trends I saw but I do not want to box anyone in to their roles. I think all of us at some point have done each of these roles to learn about the concepts being discussed.


How, when, and where can I go to learn how to be a better POGIL facilitator?

Have you ever considered becoming a workshop facilitator? Would you like to facilitate a workshop at your school or on your campus? Are you interested in a hands-on workshop where you could hone your classroom facilitation skills? Then the announcement below is for you:

The POGIL Project is now accepting applications for the
2017 POGIL Facilitator Training Workshop


The POGIL Project is now accepting applications for a three-day POGIL professional development workshop with a focus on workshop facilitation. The workshop is designed for those who attended a regional workshop between 2013 and 2016 or those who have previous POGIL workshop experience and who are interested in becoming a more skilled facilitator.

The workshop will provide hands-on, practical training in student-centered learning techniques and effective POGIL workshop and classroom facilitation.  Participants will be prepared and encouraged to run a half-day inquiry-based learning workshop on their home campuses at the conclusion of this three-day experience.

Two attendees at the 2016 Facilitator Training Workshop share their thoughts on the workshop and how they used the training after the workshop.

Ruthanne Paradise, University of Massachusetts – Amherst, writes:

The facilitator training workshop was really valuable. The things that I found most useful at the facilitator training workshop were the fishbowl experience, the continuous feedback, and making connections with new people. In the fishbowl it valuable to receive feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of my instruction.  This gave me confidence that I was correctly implementing POGIL in the classroom. The feedback that we participated in was continual. Each person at the training workshop actually led a different section. It was really neat to see the variety of different approaches to using POGIL in the classroom. It was good/safe place to see what worked well and what didn’t work well. And as with all of the POGIL connected events I have met lots of neat people and reconnected with others.

Craig Teague, Cornell College, writes:

I found the Facilitator Training Workshop to be quite beneficial on several levels.  First, I took the next step for my professional development and involvement in the POGIL Project.  I was able to see and experience both the nuts and bolts of how to run a workshop as well as the philosophy and pedagogy behind the workshops themselves–they’re designed as a learning cycle!  Second, I took away concrete ideas for how to improve my facilitation in my own classroom.  For me, the biggest aspect of this was having students report out from their groups–I realized I had been doing it the same way when there are multiple ways to report out.  Finally, I got to interact with wonderful colleagues at the workshop.  People there were dedicated to student learning and it was a pleasure to both revisit old acquaintances and friendships as well as establish new ones.

Please read over the workshop details below. Send in your application today!

Workshop Details

Workshop Location:
The Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott and The SpringHill Suites by Marriott; two adjoining sister hotels in the Downtown/Alamo Plaza area of San Antonio, Texas. Overnight room accommodations have been reserved at The Fairfield Inn & Suites. The meeting room location has been reserved at SpringHill Suites.

Workshop Dates:
January 14-16, 2017. The workshop will begin on Saturday, January 14th at 8:30 a.m. and end at Noon on Monday, January 16th. Participants should plan to arrive on Friday, January 13th for overnight room check-in at The Fairfield Inn & Suites Hotel.

Workshop Fee:
The workshop fee is $775, and includes registration, materials, a private, non-smoking room for the nights of January 13, 14 & 15 (checking out on the 16th), 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches & drink breaks. A limited number of scholarships are available for those who do not have access to professional development funds. Space is limited to 20 attendees.

Dinners, transportation and parking are not included in the workshop fee.

How to Apply:
To apply for this workshop, applicants will need to complete the Facilitator Training Workshop Application that can be found by clicking here.  Please return this completed application via email to Ellen Harpel at or fax it to (717) 358-4640 no later than November 1, 2016.  The POGIL Project will inform applicants of their status no later than November 11, 2016.

Additional Information:
For additional information and details on this workshop, please visit the POGIL website event page at: or contact Ellen Harpel at

What advice would you give to new faculty?

I was recently asked to participate in a panel discussion for new faculty; this could have happened anywhere – not necessarily at my institution. The topic of discussion was “what do you know now that you wish you had known when you started your career.” We had some fairly typical discussion about making time for writing, building your network, and talking to colleagues in your department about promotion and tenure.

Then there was this statement by one of the faculty – I will call this person Professor X – on the panel (I am paraphrasing): Limit the time you spend on teaching or preparing to teach… Also: I hate teaching. And this gem: Don’t spend time teaching because it doesn’t matter what you do or how you prepare – the outcome is the same. This person did allow that teaching graduate students  in the lab is fun and rewarding.

After peeling myself off of the ceiling, I spent the rest of the week thinking about these words. Is it really true that nothing teachers do matters? How can it be that someone has a faculty position at a university yet hates teaching?

Professor X, I decided, had mistaken “lecturing” for “teaching”. X did say “I like teaching my graduate students – I like seeing them learn.” Yep, definitely teaching going on there, and learning too. Maybe Professor X had prepared a fantastic lecture that had actually bored students or that students had not shown up for. Maybe after a series of lectures, the students had done poorly on an exam. If so, then I would have to agree with X! Don’t spend time on preparing a great lecture. Find another way to teach – teach your classes the way you teach your graduate students. For me that means use POGIL to teach.

I’ll close with some evidence that my students are learning – learning physical chemistry: So I want to start off by saying these group activities have more merit than I previously thought… [E]quating [multiplicity] to entropy makes a lot of sense when I revisit things I have learned in organic chemistry. In that class we said that the more resonance structures a compound had the more stable it was as there were more delocalization. What I didn’t understand is this delocalization was really talking about how entropic the electrons were. Instead of understanding that topic I just drilled in my head that resonance equals stable. Now I can finally get a better idea of how entropy relates to the stability of a system and its constituents…

And learning how to learn: While attempting to assist a teammate with a problem that I thought I understood adequately, I discovered that I had trouble relaying the information to him, which suggested to me that I didn’t understand the material as well as I thought I had. I have read and been told on many occasions that teaching is an excellent way to fortify our own knowledge, but it is also a method of determining where our weaknesses lie.

So my best advice: Attend a POGIL workshop – make your classroom more active and engaging. It will definitely be a great way to spend your valuable, limited time wisely.

We Want YOU: NCAPP in 2017


Kristin Plessel, NCAPP Chair, writes:

Get ready for the POGIL Project’s newest event, the National Conference for Advanced POGIL Practitioners or NCAPP.  NCAPP will be held June 26-28 on the awesome Muhlenberg College campus in Allentown, PA. You can find all the details here. NCAPP is designed for advanced users of POGIL to network, share and present their accomplishments.  It is a small conference designed for maximal discussion from and among participants where traditional talks have equal importance with roundtables and birds-of-a-feather sessions. The POGIL Project wants to learn about your POGIL classroom at NCAPP: Your experience can inform other classrooms.

Wayne Pearson previously shared why this event matters to him.

The theme for the inaugural NCAPP is to expand, engage and empower:

  • Expand our knowledge, expand our capabilities, and expand the reach of POGIL in all classrooms.
  • Engage participants with a conference that uses active learning strategies throughout to help us better engage students.
  • Empower participants to try new ideas and new perspectives to improve student learning.

Our plenary speakers are exceptional.  You can read about them here, but that isn’t the purpose of this blog post.  I am more interested in YOU at the moment.


This event won’t be a success without your proposals.  There are many ways to participate in the conference—consider which one is right for you.

  • Have you ever just wanted to get a group of people together and talk about group formation? Or how to deal with difficult students?  Or to discuss the coolest ways to get the attention of the class?  Then submit a topic for a roundtable
  • If you don’t have a specific topic to discuss, but you want to get a group of people like you in the same room, put in a Birds-of-a-Feather For example, I could suggest a proposal for two-year college instructors, or women in science, or organic chemistry, or food chemistry, or rural communities, or…
  • If you haven’t had the opportunity to teach a lesson during a fishbowl, I can’t recommend the experience enough! Twenty minutes of teaching a class just like you normally would, but you get feedback on your facilitation strategies from 20-30 supportive colleagues who understand your objectives.  This is my dream and a great way to get my administration’s support to attend.
  • More traditional sessions, like poster sessions and talks (which we are calling forums) are also included in the schedule. Poster sessions are interactive by nature, but a standard talk is as close to a lecture as you can get. A POGIL conference shouldn’t have a bunch of lectures happening, should it? Nope, that isn’t the POGIL way. Our forums will have two presenters as part of one 45-minute session. The presenters will be introduced via email to each other prior the conference so that they can discuss how to integrate the audience best.  A third of the time allotment is reserved for moderated audience questions.
  • Also included in the schedule will be some of the newest advanced POGIL workshops, present-a-model sessions, and author coaching.
  • But don’t forget the fun: We have time built into the schedule for informal networking—time to work on spontaneous collaborative projects or fun activities with new colleagues.

We hope that all of the sessions will engage attendees: expanding participants’ teaching philosophies and empowering participants to become pioneers in their classrooms.  I know I am truly excited about what I am going to learn at this conference.  I hope you’ll be there!

In order to maximize your experience and discussion, the conference will cap at 100 participants.  Be sure to apply by November 1st for priority consideration.



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

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 (


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.