Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Excellent advice on teaching from Carl Wieman

I recently came across to excellent sources for teaching advice.  One is an article by Carl Wieman in Change Magazine called Why Not Try a Scientific Approach to Science Education?  The other is the Instructor Guidance page from the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at UBC. 

In the latter link I especially like Best Practice number 2:
Omit everything that is not necessary. The shorter the assignment is, the more likely the students will actually read it and focus on the key material. Some instructors believe in longer, less focused, readings from which the students are expected to extract the relevant material. This is an unrealistic expectation for a first exposure to the material.
This point is discussed further in Why Not Try a Scientific Approach to Science Education:
Reducing Cognitive Load
The first way in which one can use research on learning to create better classroom practices addresses the limited capacity of the short-term working memory. Anything one can do to reduce cognitive load improves learning. The effective teacher recognizes that giving the students material to master is the mental equivalent of giving them packages to carry. With only one package, they can make a lot of progress in a hurry. If they are loaded down with many, they stagger around, have a lot more trouble, and can’t get as far. And when they experience the mental equivalent of many packages dumped on them at once, they are squashed flat and can’t learn anything.  
So anything the teacher can do to reduce that cognitive load while presenting the material will help. Some ways to do so are obvious, such as slowing down. Others include having a clear, logical, explicit organization to the class (including making connections between different ideas presented and connections to things the students already know), using figures where appropriate rather than relying only on verbal descriptions and minimizing the use of technical jargon. All these things reduce unnecessary cognitive demands and result in more learning.
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