Friday, October 24, 2014

Staying on the perimeter to stand with the class

A number of our active learning classrooms have the teacher station located in the middle of the classroom.  The sketch below, for example, shows the basic layout of the classroom I am teaching in this semester:
Five out of the nine Active Learning Classrooms have the teacher station situated in the middle of the room.
I now make a conscious effort to stay on the perimeter of the room when students are sharing, reporting out, etc.  Ideally, I even try to locate myself on the opposite side of the room from the student who is sharing.  Staying on the perimeter has made a noticeable difference.  For one, no student is located behind me; everyone is included in what is happening in the room.  Plus, the students seem to project so that at least the instructor can hear what they are saying, so when I remember (or am able) to locate myself on the other side of the room from the student, it is easier for everyone to hear the information being shared.

This particular classroom is spacious, and at first, I reveled in the fact that I was in the middle and could move about the room so easily.  A very different experience from the classrooms I am used to.  The more traditional classrooms always left me feeling stuck in one part of the room, like the rows of desks created a barrier between me and the students.  Even if we rearranged the room for small groups or an activity, the fact that so many desks were packed into the rooms left very little space for accessing different parts of the classroom.  So, being centrally located in the active learning classroom and having the ability to move around freely is awesome.

So it wasn't until a few weeks ago when a colleague shared his approach of standing with the class on the perimeter of the room that I even thought to pay any attention to where I locate myself when students are speaking.  At the beginning of the semester, I was simply following my instinct to move closer to the student.  Reflecting back, I suppose I did this as a way to acknowledge the student's contributions and, sometimes, to hear someone more clearly.  I admit that I am taken aback by both the simplicity of the suggestion to stay on the perimeter and the fact that I hadn't considered how my actions or location might be impacting the classroom environment, especially as students are speaking up as part of Q&A sessions or whole-class discussions.

I am grateful that a fellow instructor shared this insight with me while there is still time left to try it out this semester, so I am now sharing the tip with all of you.  The freedom to stand with the class when someone is speaking is now one of my favorite things about the active learning classroom.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why I continue to incorporate active learning

Our focus in class last week was on specification bias.  A challenging topic if you ask me - I have no doubt that my students will agree.  Our textbook offers a nice discussion of specification bias, including common causes, steps for detecting possible bias, and an equation for determining the sign of the expected bias.  The equation is handy but seems to suggest that identifying the sign (positive or negative) of the bias is a pretty simple process.  It isn't, especially for those new to applied econometrics.

But this post isn't about econometrics (I promise).  It is about the power of active learning in the classroom - a single example of why I continue to incorporate active learning strategies in my classes no matter what type of classroom I am scheduled in.

Here is what I have learned from students over the past few years when it comes to this particular topic:
  • Students find an intro to why and when we might encounter this topic/issue to be helpful.
  • They appreciate an expanded discussion of this "simple" equation from the textbook.  (What, exactly, does each component represent, and how do we determine whether a component should be positive or negative?)
  • Practice with applying the equation is helpful.  
I planned accordingly for Monday's face-to-face meeting.  The students completed a "warm-up" exercise prior to the start of class; the exercise asked them to apply the decision-making process outlined in the textbook.  Our class meeting then started with a Q&A session followed by a "Go to Your Post"-inspired activity in which the two sides of the rooms represented the two available conclusions with students out of their seats, casting their "vote" and discussing their reasoning with one another (Silberman, 1996, p.61).  

Then it was time to dig into the details of this equation from the textbook.

I offered a mini-lecture, complete with scribbles, in an effort to clarify some of the details that coordinate with this innocent-looking equation.  Or so I thought.  I paused for questions after about 5-7 minutes of talking about the components of this equation and was, for a moment, happy that the students seemed to be satisfied with my explanations.  

Some of my "clarifying" scribbles from the mini-lecture.  Not all that enlightening in hindsight!
Time for practice.  I presented the students with two scenarios to analyze plus a follow-up question and instructed them to work in pairs on the first scenario.  Usually, the classroom starts to hum with activity as students start to work, but the room was silent.  Finally, a brave student spoke up and asked which two variables they were supposed to be focusing on.  I could feel the relief in the room; it was apparent that she wasn't the only one wondering how to get started.

So we switched gears and analyzed the first scenario together as a class which provided an opportunity for the students to see how I applied the process and used the equation within the given scenario.  This inspired a handful of questions (good ones!), and then the students got to work on analyzing the second scenario in pairs.  We reconvened as a class to brainstorm possible responses to the coordinating follow-up question.

I am grateful for last Monday's experience because it reinforces my reasons for incorporating "work time" into our face-to-face meetings in the classroom.  What if I had assigned that set of problems as homework instead of as in-class work?  I may have not realized until days later that some of the students were struggling with how to get started.  Instead, by working on the problems in the classroom, I was able to respond to what the students needed right when they needed it.  

I have revised my list of what is helpful for students for this particular topic.  The second bullet point now looks something like this:
  • They appreciate an expanded discussion of this "simple" equation from the textbook and a demonstration of how to apply the equation within a given scenario.
Silberman, M. (1996). Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Getting started with Padlet

My collection of Padlet walls (or pages) is growing by the day.  My previous post highlights a few reasons why, but for a few ideas on how others are using Padlet in the classroom, check out this post on the Padlet blog, this short article from Education World, or this example from, just to name a few.

Since I have been broadcasting my newfound love for Padlet, it is only fair that I offer a brief overview of getting started.  And it is brief because it really is that easy!
  • The first step is to visit
  • The Padlet homepage.
    • The link to "Features" at the top of the page provides an overview of what can be done, all on a Padlet wall!
  • When you are ready to try it out, either click on the orange "Create something" button in the middle of the page or the green "Sign up" button located in the upper-right corner.
    • When your Padlet wall is ready, the toolbar area on the right will guide you to either post something or modify the wall:
The Padlet toolbar will prompt you to post or modify wall settings when wall is created.
    • You can always modify later – layout, background, privacy, URL, etc. – by clicking on the gear/cog icon that appears in the toolbar hanging out on the right-hand side of the page. 
In my experience, it really is that easy! Of course, these are just the basics, so if you are interested in more detail, I recommend this video from Richard Byrne at FreeTech4Teachers.