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    Incorporating humor to ease tensions in active learning

    Well-timed, appropriate humor can provide relief in tense classroom environments. Humor can be especially critical in active learning environments, where students’ immersion can heighten anxiety and stress. In this video, Mandell, his teaching assistants, and students discuss the central role that humor plays in whole group sessions following simulations. After the intensity of the learning activity and the constructive criticism of “hot” debriefs, humor becomes a helpful tool to keep students engaged and allow them to reflect on mistakes with some levity.

    Contextualizing learning with guest speakers

    Though simulations may effectively replicate real-world situations and problems, they are still just that: simulations. Accordingly, finding ways to reinforce the idea that similar situations are being experienced by real practitioners in the field becomes critical. In this video, Mandell and his teaching team discuss how their negotiations course enlists guest speakers to come speak to the class. These speakers contextualize the skills and concepts students learn and enact in class and share their first-hand experiences with similar problems in the field. 

    Using Project-Based Learning to Engage Students

    In contrast to traditional lecture-based courses, using projects in the classroom pushes students to actively apply what they have learned. In AP50: Physics as a Foundation for Science and Engineering, instructors put aside textbooks and lectures, challenging students instead to construct a machine that meets a real world challenge. Once students are engaged, instructors then begin to make textbook connections, pointing out how fundamental class concepts can enhance the quality of students’ project. This is what Eric Mazur calls the “Trojan Horse” of learning.

    Designing Authentic Projects

    Effective projects are carefully designed in order to deepen and broaden students’ understanding of course concepts by applying them to real-world challenges. The point is to demonstrate to students how what they’re learning in the course -- information that may see fairly dry in the abstract -- becomes  extremely important when applied to everyday problems. In this video, Eric Mazur and his teaching team underscore the value of using projects to give learning a deeper meaning. They emphasize how learning is much more memorable when students get a chance to be hands-on and enact...

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    Presenting Projects Publicly as Summative Assessment

    Creating opportunities for students to make their learning public can raise the stakes and broaden a course's horizons. In this video, one of Eric Mazur’s students and his teaching assistant introduce how they use a public project fair as the primary summative assessment in the class. At the fair, students demonstrate how their projects work to external judges and then answer questions about the design process and related class concepts. The result is an engaged public and motivated, proud students.

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    Using Team-Based Learning to Prepare Students for the Real World

    As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the future of work will become increasingly collaborative. As he explains in this video, this is what underpins Eric Mazur’s approach to team-based learning: a belief that instructors need to help students learn how to work together because this is how they will succeed once they leave our classrooms. 

    Designing Project Teams that Work

    Teams are most productive and conducive to learning when students with complementary skills, knowledge, and dispositions work together. That said, students generally don’t enter classrooms already sorted in these diverse ways. Often they group together based on achievement and engagement or based on background characteristics. In this video, Eric Mazur and his teaching team explain how and why they intentionally design heterogeneous teams. By using pre-class surveys and student demographic data, they find ways to assign students to teams in ways that play to each member’s strengths and...

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    Using Team Contracts and Peer Feedback to Foster Team Building

    Many students balk at the idea of working in teams, particularly when they don’t know who the other students are. Students may be concerned others won’t pull their weight or that the output may not meet expectations. Given this, it is important for instructors to be intentional in fostering team-building experiences and peer-accountability processes. Doing so, instructors can ensure that teams get off on the right foot and persist productively throughout the class. In this video, Eric Mazur and his teaching team give examples of how they do this by discussing the use of reflection, team...

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    Devaluing the Right Answer

    Most instructors experience students asking them if they have the right answer or just asking for the right answer outright. However, as Eric Mazur and his teaching team in this video acknowledge, simply giving students the right answer can “sabotage” problem-based learning. This is because what matters in problem-based learning is not the answer so much as the process of arriving at an answer. Devaluing the right answer is one way for instructors to make this principle of teaching clear in their classrooms.

    Using Peer Instruction to Improve Student Learning

    Peer instruction discussions are an efficient and student-centered way to address common misconceptions about  course concepts. By getting students to individually answer class questions and then getting those with different answers to talk to one another, you can encourage students to assess each others’ ideas and move closer towards the correct answer. In this video, Eric Mazur describes how he leverages peer instruction using in-class polling technology. He notes how even after a short discussion amongst peers, students can go from around 50 percent ...

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    Creating Assessments with Individual and Collaborative Components

    We all know the image: Stressed, fearful students trickle into a silent exam hall, all tired from cramming from the night before. But as Eric Mazur notes, stress is not conducive to deep and meaningful learning. In fact, the stress of exam culture often means that students only study for tests and then forget what they learned soon after. To flip this script, Mazur and his teaching team have instituted two stage exams. In the first stage, students work individually; but in the second stage, they share answers with each other, discussing and debating until they find the right answer...

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    Sequencing materials to build student energy and excitement

    Tapping into the energy in the classroom to make real-time decisions for keeping students engaged, curious, and challenged may prove more effective than blindly following a scripted lesson plan. In this video, Paola Arlotta describes how she uses advance planning and in-the-moment data from students to know when is appropriate to increase the level of difficulty or reveal surprises in the content.

    Engaging with small groups to deepen discussions

    It can be tempting to sit back and relax as an instructor when students are engaged in small group discussions. Doing so, however, keeps you from learning how students are understanding and engaging with content. Small-group discussion is an opportune time for you and your teaching team to get to know, compliment, complicate, and challenge your students’ thinking. In this video, Tina Grotzer discusses what she thinks about as she circulates and listens in on her students’ small group discussions. 

    Using jigsaws to facilitate small-group discussions

    “Jigsaw” discussions are an efficient and student-centered way to get your class familiar with many different texts or materials. By dividing students into groups that each work with different content, then having individuals from each group teach that content to their peers, you can encourage students to build on each others’ ideas and find patterns throughout their course content. In this video, Tina Grotzer describes how she uses jigsaws to facilitate in-depth discussion in her classroom. 

    Being transparent about instructional moves

    Your instructional decision-making doesn’t need to be a secret. Sharing your reasons for making certain instructional moves with your students can enhance their classroom experiences by helping them become more metacognitive about their learning. In this video, Tina Grotzer models being transparent about instructional moves with her students, showing how this communication is a crucial component of her course. 

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