User:Carl Boettiger/Notebook/Teaching/2009/10/19

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Grad Teaching Community Model Based Reasoning

I’ve been attending meetings with the Graduate student Teaching Community, a student-created and student run group to discuss teaching methods. It’s been great so far, with a mix of theory and practice. I just lead a session called model-based reasoning using NetLogo. This worked out very well. Building on the lesson plan we used with Julia Svoboda last year (to teach evolution) and paring it down to a 50 minute session, this was based in three group sections: After an introduction and mostly unguided exploration of the interface, I offered several prompt activities we’d found were interesting, and also encouraged students to explore and find their own ‘experiment’ and see what story they could tell about it. Students worked in groups of three.

After about 30 minutes I had one person from each group move two groups to the left, and one move one group to the left, and one remain, creating all new groups. I got this idea from the World Cafe book, though I learned later that it is called jigsawing. Rather than have groups choose a leader to share the idea with the entire class, everyone was charged to present what their group found to the two other members of the new group. This worked splendidly, keeping the small group atmosphere, getting everyone to speak and share and avoiding that always awkward transition back to the large group that I so dislike. In the third phase the groups remained the same but then debriefed the exercise amongst themselves. Finally they offered these suggestions to the whole group, guided by several questions I put on the board.

I was overall very happy with how well this worked, from the good turnout to the great discussions I saw among the students to the positive feedback. I learned to address each group individually to tell them to move to the next phase, rather than interrupt everyone and say “all groups move to discussing how the activity worked;” a small idea that still helped the flow and felt more natural. I think groups of 3 sharing a single computer worked really well, though pairs would be good and four might be too large. I think this might be able to scale very well, though having more instructors to circulate then would be very nice. I also wonder how it would work with less intrinsically motivated students.

Still, I think this was a great exercise in hands-on, experiential learning in small groups. Got great feedback and am looking forward to the rest of the GTC events.