What were you doing June 3 – June 6?

Every year, in the first weekend of June, my family asks “why is it so hard to talk to you at the PNM? What are you so busy doing?” This blog, and some that follow, will answer that question. The different working groups at the PNM (POGIL National Meeting) – smaller teams of participants who have agreed to work toward meeting one of the POGIL Strategic Plan goals – will share their reports of their work from the meeting.

However! The most important take-home is not that we were busy – it’s that we want you to join us. If you have an idea or insight or just want to help out, please contact the person named in the blog. I am certain that person will find a way to use your work.

The first report comes from Laura Trout at Lancaster Country Day School in Lancaster PA.

Which POGIL Strategic Plan Goal are you working toward? Who is a part of your working group?

We are Goal 1 – related to POGIL workshops and training POGIL practitioners. Our members are Laura Trout, Renee Cole, Stephen Prilliman, Chris Mayfield, Heather Wilson-Ashworth, and Bonnie Wehausen.

Goal 1:  Increase the number of POGIL practitioners and support practitioner professional development, with a particular emphasis on those in STEM disciplines. 


What is the name of your POGIL working group? What is your group charged to do?

The group I led was called “Revisiting Process Skills in POGIL Sessions“. Our task was to take a look at how Process Skills are taught in our workshops (Fundamentals through Advanced) and then to make changes to reflect current research – research that has been done by members of The POGIL Project, among others. Our idea is to incorporate some of the tools that have been developed or are in development, such as the ELIPSS (NOTE: check out this link!) rubrics. We feel that the current POGIL workshop curriculum has some “areas of improvement” when it comes to emphasizing the process skills pieces of POGIL.

What did your group accomplish at the PNM? What are you most excited about?

We used a Logic Model to determine outcomes for our group. We also started to develop a curriculum map for the POGIL sessions in the regional workshops, specifically focusing on what Process Skills would be presented, when they would be presented, and at what level.  We agreed that our new Process Skills curriculum would need video examples of the roles and different process skills. I think this is what we are most excited about. Several professors are looking into using their campus troupes to make short videos that could be put on the POGIL “channel”.


Please describe your short-term plans for the future (next few months), and then…

We agreed to have monthly conference calls using Google Hangouts. As homework, we are mapping the current POGIL sessions from the regional meetings, so we have a clearer picture of when Process Skills are addressed directly in our workshops. This will help us determine holes in the curriculum. Renee Cole and I will also be working on storyboards for the videos.

Please describe your long-term plans for the future (six months to a year). What is your vision of your group’s progress in a year?

We hope to have redesigned and/or completely new workshop sessions that relate to and emphasize Process Skills to present at PNM 2018 as “workshops in development”. If those go well the new sessions/activities would be implemented summer 2019 in all regional workshops. We would also like to have video footage that we could work on editing at PNM 2018

Who should someone contact if they were not at the PNM and want to get involved in your working group?

They should contact Laura Trout (email: troutl@lancastercountryday.org). We are happy to add people to the Google Hangouts and get their input.





The POGIL project recently awarded its first SPUR+ grant (see https://pogil.org/resources/spur for more information) to Rob Whitnell (Guilford College)  and Ashley Mahoney (Bethel University) for their SPIRAL: Strengthening the use of Process, Inquiry, Reflection and Application in the Laboratory project. The following is an interview about that preliminary results of that project with two of the participants, Gail Webster (Guilford College) and Craig Teague (Cornell College). The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

I participated in this project because of the great people.  I knew they would have a lot of good ideas, both in general and regarding specific labs


Why did you participate in this project? What were your personal objectives or goals?

GAIL: I routinely teach a two-semester general chemistry sequence that uses POGIL in the classroom, so I wanted to work on developing labs that incorporate more inquiry and process skills for my students. The literature suggests that increasing inquiry in entry-level college chemistry courses improves student learning and makes lab a better experience for students. My personal goals were to take labs that we already use in our courses, and work with others to improve those experiments. I am looking forward to more feedback from colleagues as those labs are used at other institutions.

CRAIG: I participated in this project because of the great people.  I knew they would have a lot of good ideas, both in general and regarding specific labs.  I think this group can have significant impact on the introductory and general chemistry lab scene.  Another personal objective is to take things back to my own campus for class testing and then full implementation.

What were the team objectives?

GAIL: The team objectives were to provide an atmosphere where we could brainstorm ideas, do our writing in a focused atmosphere, get immediate critiques from peers, and produce drafts of POGIL labs that will be ready for testing in the 2017-18 academic year.

I was with the mighty team of three in Greensboro.


How did you work (in person, over skype)? Was it effective?

CRAIG: We worked both in person and over Zoom (I think it was Zoom).  I was part of a group of three meeting in Greensboro, NC and there was a larger group meeting in St. Louis.  Most of the time was spent with our subgroups, but we had regular and scheduled check-ins via Zoom.  I think this structure was effective.  We certainly got a lot of labs drafted over the weekend.

GAIL: I was with the mighty team of three in Greensboro. We each worked individually, but at time, each of us would stop and ask questions of each other, share what we had, and solicit advice. We met online with the St. Louis folks Friday evening, Saturday morning/late afternoon, and twice again on Sunday. Our Greensboro team also moved around a bit on campus. We worked in a classroom, in the library, and in a study lounge. It was nice to have different areas available to us to think and to write. We set goals as a large group about when we would be at a stopping point to share our work, and I thought it was very effective. We have about 14 labs that are in the process of being reviewed!

What was your process?

GAIL: We developed a document that had “essential” and “desirable” characteristics of a POGIL labs. Those characteristics were based on work by Frank Creegan and also by the POGIL-PCL team. Authors screened their labs against that document, and then a reviewer did the same and provided comments.

The soap lab is a fun synthesis lab where students use different fats and all end up with a soap.

What experiments did you choose to work on and why those?

CRAIG: For me personally, for the most part I wanted to work on restructuring labs we already do.  I wanted to flip existing labs around into POGIL labs.  My college already has the chemicals and equipment necessary to run these labs.  With that said, there are labs that we don’t currently do that look really appealing to implement at my college.  Win-win.

GAIL: I chose two experiments: “How do we predict which ionic compounds will dissolve in water?” and “What are some properties of soaps made from different starting materials?” Both are labs that we currently do in the first semester of chemistry. The solubility lab is where students develop the concept of soluble and insoluble and where they learn to write net ionic equations. I wanted to get the lab to a better place so that students aren’t overwhelmed with doing a lot, but rather that they learn a lot and can apply what they’ve learned outside of lab.
The soap lab is a fun synthesis lab where students use different fats and all end up with a soap. They use the time that the reaction is heating to essentially do a POGIL activity about how to interpret line structures of organic molecules. In these labs, student learn a lot, and I think that’s why I was interested in improving the level of inquiry and process skill development in them.

What are some of the experiment topics you worked on, or what are the titles of some of the experiments? Do you have any experiments you would be willing to share?

GAIL: Our SPUR+ team is planning on presenting our work at PNM and soliciting folks willing to test our labs, so yes, we will be sharing labs!

CRAIG: We want to share, but I’d like to check with the project leaders first and, for some, the original authors of the non-POGIL labs we currently do that I’m turning around.

Gibbs energy and entropy from urea dissolution
Effect of pH on solubility
How do we predict which ionic compounds will dissolve in water?
What are some properties of soaps made from different starting materials?
Titration curve
How do we know if a reactant will completely disappear in a chemical reaction?Calorimeter hypothermia
Densities of liquids and solids
Which foods have the highest energy content?
What is the shape of a molecule?

What aspects of the experiments make them guided inquiry experiments? – in other words, what criteria did you set up and why? Also what defines a general chemistry experiment?

CRAIG: This is an interesting question.  We started with a rubric that was developed for a different but related purpose, then we both evaluated labs against this rubric and refined and updated the rubric throughout the weekend.  I think this is a strength to our approach, which is like the approach we followed in the POGIL-PCL project.

GAIL: We incorporated criteria from the POGIL website (based on Frank Creegan’s work) and the POGIL-PCL Project. (Blue = essential, Green = desired)

Characteristics of Inquiry Experiments

1. The experiment begins with a conceptual question.
2. Outcome of the experiment and concepts developed are known to instructor but not students.
3. The learning objectives incorporate the knowledge and skills needed for students to answer the conceptual question.
4. Each experiment will focus on at least one process skill such as teamwork, oral and written communication, management, information processing, critical thinking, problem solving, assessment, experimental design.
5. students will use critical thinking and/or problem-solving skills to develop a hypothesis and/or a conclusion that integrates available information and can be convincingly justified.
6. Students are expected to observe, collect and process information (describe, tabulate, summarize, calculate).
7. Students are expected to engage in problem solving and/or decision-making with regard to experimental design.
8. Students are cued to share or interact with each other.
9.  Each experiment should contain safety information in the student handout and instructor notes, as appropriate. The experiment should use the least hazardous chemicals that allow students to achieve the learning objectives.
10. Experiments are either Learning Cycle or Application activities. (Compare https://pogil.org/uploads/media_items/characteristics-and-types-of-pogil-activities-1.original.pdf), with each experiment concluding with reflection on concepts learned or ideas for future research questions.


Why work as part of a larger team instead of working individually?

GAIL: It’s fun to work with a larger team! There’s a richness of knowledge, experience and diversity in a team that cannot be achieved by working alone. Also, we were committed to working with each other for the weekend, and it’s easy not to hold yourself accountable. When you have others depending on you, the accountability factor increases, and that’s a good thing.

CRAIG: Many reasons:  new ideas, chance for wider implementation at a variety of institutions, accountability to other faculty members (e.g., I will review your lab against the rubric by x date; I will update my draft labs based on review feedback by x date).  Plus, it’s way more fun!  Collaboration is really important.


What insights did you have about “learning” as a result of this course? Answers from my physical chemistry II course

On our last day of class, I asked the reflector in each team to answer the question in the title. Here are their answers.

  • The group work was something that we all had to adjust to but as a group agreed that it was very beneficial.
  • Review & repetition are key to learning.
  • No one is an island, communication helps develop understanding.
  • “Learning” is hard.
  • We learned how to better apply info in the models to answer questions.
  • (1) explaining to others can help you determine what you need to study more and reinforce what you do; (2) practice often = learning by doing works best for me; (3) listen to others, they can help you see things in different ways.
  • It’s nice to have other group members to ask questions to.
  • It’s more than just memorization. All of the concepts we have learned have all built off of one another and we’ve had to analyze and process the information.
  • More critical thinking helped us with working through problems like the T/F on the exam. The interactive nature of the course helps with remembering how to work through certain problems/concepts.
  • Groups that work together, medal together.
  • Practice makes perfect and review sheets matter.
  • Learning is not about getting the information right away, but really is about being able to talk through problems and help other understand.
  • In terms of learning insights we have had, we realized that collaboration facilitated all facets of learning, including independent information processing.
  • That a lot goes into it, considering all the different process skills you talked about during the semester!

Grading an exam

Let’s talk tests. I prefer taking a test over writing one, and I prefer taking a test over grading one. However, there is no better way to learn what your students know than by giving an exam. In the next POGIL blog post I will discuss how teaching using POGIL affects the dynamics of giving exams.

When writing the exam, I want to make sure I test all the material (what if the students study something and I don’t ask about that something?). I want the students to think “yes, I’ve seen that before” – so I know that I have tested them on the things I have emphasized and made the students practice. Generally these are the number-crunching questions (calculate the work done… what is the wavelength of a certain transition..). Students do well on these questions, but it takes them a long time to solve.

I also want to put in a question the students have not seen before. Why? So I can test their critical thinking skills. After all, we tell our students that critical thinking is important. If something matters, there must be points assigned.

I try to think about making the test so that the weakest students in class can get at least a 60 and so that the strongest students find something to challenge them. Sometimes this means asking students to prove something mathematically (I teach physical chemistry!), and I will often set this up as an extra credit question.

Then I have to consider the grading. My physical chemistry classes range from 60 to about 120 students, and I don’t get any assistance from TAs for grading. So I want to include some tasks that are pretty straightforward to grade. This is why I include true/false questions – easy to write, easy to grade. Not, however, easy for students.

Maybe your students, like mine, beg you for an old exam to study from. Given that old copies of our exams are likely floating around (in bits or on paper), it seems fair to give everyone in the class the same opportunity. So I post the old exam (without answers) and then I have to be even more creative to come up with different questions covering the same concepts.

This spring I’ve had the added challenge of teaching in a 50-minute class period. In a 75-minute class, the students could have a full 85 minutes to finish the exam because there is 15 minutes between classes. A 50-minute class means at most a 57-minute exam. How to cut an 85 minute exam by 30 minutes?

Spring 2017 exam 1 – perfect exam. The students finished on time (in 57 minutes), and almost all of the students worked on the exam for the full 57 minutes. The mean score was 85%. No one scored below 50%. Success!

Spring 2017 exam 2 – flawed exam. No student turned in an exam before 50 minutes. After 65 minutes, I walked toward the room exit announcing that any exams not in my hands would not be graded. The mean score dropped to 75%. Because my students became flustered and frustrated with the exam length, they stopped thinking (clearly). Few of them had time to review their answers. Miss!

The Silver Lining: I did find that exam 2 highlighted the concepts the students had mastered (most could plug numbers into equations, assign point groups, assign symmetry to molecular vibrations, and describe the harmonic oscillator). Even better, I learned what my students really didn’t “get”. (They do not have a good grasp of the relative energies in translation, vibration, and rotation, and they have trouble manipulating equations symbolically.)

Coming soon: Spring 2017 exam 3: Return to this site in May to find out if exam 3 was a success or a miss.

How Can I Learn How to Incorporate Active Learning in My Teaching?

Short and best answer: Go to a POGIL Summer Regional Meeting (link).

Read on if you want more justification!

Maybe you’ve read or heard about the PNAS paper “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics”.1 Maybe your department head or dean has asked you and your colleagues to include more active learning strategies in your teaching. Maybe one of your colleagues has started using active learning and talks about how much more fun teaching has become. Maybe you tried some active learning strategies, but the students rebelled. Maybe you’ve heard of this “pogil” thing and you want to find out more. Or maybe you have even tried “POGIL” (you found those activities on a website and they looked effective and interesting) – and it really didn’t work out that well.


Working in teams on an activity at the Southeast Regional POGIL Workshop.

What to do?

One of the best ways – I would argue THE best way – to incorporate active learning in your classroom is to attend a workshop. “But wait,” you say, “I’ve been to workshops at my school. Someone comes in and lectures to us about how to get students to be more active. And their ideas work in their environment, but they would never work in my class.” Your students are not sufficiently well-prepared. Your class size is too big or too small.

Well, the POGIL Project has an answer for you – and the answer is an active workshop. Our summer regional workshops provide real, hands-on practice with active learning techniques. Workshop participants become students, and then the participants unpack and reflect upon their own learning. Here are some of the great features of a POGIL Regional Meeting workshop:

  • If you want to use POGIL in a lab course, you will do an actual, honest-to-goodness POGIL experiment, collecting and analyzing data in the same way as your students, and then you will write (a rough draft of) a POGIL experiment.

Writing a POGIL experiment at the Southeast Regional POGIL workshop.

  • If you want to write POGIL activities, there is a track designed just for you: You practice defining your objectives, developing robust models, and scaffolding learning cycle questions.
  • If you want to improve your facilitation of POGIL activities, there is a track designed for you, too: You can facilitate an activity of your choice and get constructive feedback on how to improve, and you learn innovative ways to get students more engaged.

The POGIL Regional Workshops have other benefits:

  • You work with faculty and teachers in your discipline and in related STEM areas, so you can see how these techniques work in different environments.
  • You network with faculty and teachers, getting tested advice on implementing POGIL in your classroom with your
  • Present your own classroom-tested ideas in a poster session.
  • Stay in a dorm and eat on campus (ok, this one might not be considered an advantage, but it does keep the costs down).

To see the full agenda and descriptions of sessions for the summer workshops, go here. To sign up, visit www.pogil.org.  And you can email mdubroff@pogil.org with any questions. Sign up now! Spaces are limited, reserve your place today.

(1)        Freeman, S.; Eddy, S. L.; McDonough, M.; Smith, M. K.; Okoroafor, N.; Jordt, H.; Wenderoth, M. P. Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 2014, 111 (23), 8410–8415.

Why Use Assigned Roles? Mare Sullivan, long-time POGIL practitioner and chemistry teacher, shares her experiences with implementing POGIL roles – especially its effects on her students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).


As a high school physical science and chemistry teacher for almost two decades, I have taught many students diagnosed with ASD. I was surprised – pleasantly surprised – to observe how this subgroup of my students responded to the introduction of POGIL strategies.


Our students were always working in threes or fours. Students with ASD struggled, not knowing when or how to enter, sustain, or leave a conversational topic – skills essential to healthy group function. We often partnered with our Special Education professionals to plan interventions and accommodations, but we had little success.It was painfully obvious who they were whenever they tried to work in a team.


During the 2005-2006 academic year, we adopted the guided inquiry and classroom facilitation strategies we had learned from attending POGIL workshops. However, we did not use specific team roles for our students. “They will take too much time to teach!”, we said, and “Roles really won’t make any difference for our students’ learning.” So, what happened? The guided inquiry activities had a positive impact on most students’ learning, but made no difference in how our ASD students functioned in their teams. These students’ struggles continued.


In 2010 we implemented specific roles for POGIL teams. We created role cards that included tasks useful in our science and math classes, and we chose names that made sense for our school culture. Large versions of the role cards were posted around the room for easy access. The very first task of the year was a 15-minute mini-guided inquiry activity to introduce roles. We included a roles-related question on each of our daily mini-quizzes for the first four weeks of class, and we occasionally gave feedback on students’ performance in a particular role as we moved about the room.


We were thrilled at how well our ASD students performed in their teams once we had incorporated roles. Without any additional training, the students memorized the sample scripts included on each role card. They used these sentences to initiate appropriate conversations with their peers. They learned their responsibilities and followed those “rules.” This gave them credibility with their peers because they were discharging their duties as expected. Students who had previously stood out as socially awkward in teamwork were no longer obvious. I knew tell who they were, but a classroom observer would not have known.


During student/parent/teacher conferences that Fall, one parent cried as she shared that for the first time in her son’s twelve years of schooling he had been able to function successfully in a cooperative learning group with his neurotypical peers. Tears welled up in my eyes, too. I felt gratitude for the unexpected gift this young man and his family had received, but I also felt regret that I had waited so long to make such a simple change to my classroom routines. It was a change that enhanced all my students’ learning to some extent but opened the door for one student to experience the joy of being a valuable team member for the first time in his academic career. He was the first but not the last student to benefit so dramatically from group roles. I hope that your students may have the same opportunity.


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.