Chem Connections

Glossary of Teaching / Learning Activities

It is important that coalition members work with a common vocabulary with regard to student learning activities. Student learning activities are all the ways we engage students in the learning process. Our long-term goal is to create a resource manual which includes definitions and examples of many different type of activities.

  1. Guided inquiry (or structured inquiry)

    Guided inquiry can be used in the classroom or laboratory. In the classroom, students may be supplied with data or observe a demonstration. Through discussion in class and/or through investigating outside resources, the students learn about the chemical principles behind the data or observation. It can be particularly intriguing to supply students with an anomalous or counter-intuitive example. In the laboratory, students begin by observing something interesting or generating some data. They must then "discover" the chemical principles behind their observations. These are often called discovery-based labs. In guided inquiry, the instructor has a very specific outcome in mind. This differs from "open-ended" questions or labs.

  2. Open-ended inquiry

    In an open-ended question or laboratory, the process of "doing science" is stressed. The instructor does not have a specific outcome in mind, but rather sets up a situation where students can be creative while learning science. An open-ended question would encourage students to use both their prior knowledge and outside resources to investigate an area of interest. In the laboratory, students may begin by proposing a question they would like to investigate, designing experiments, collecting the necessary data, analyzing the data, and defending their results. The student is evaluated on how well they have completed the steps of the process, not on whether they got a specific result in the experiment.

  3. Cooperative learning (or collaborative learning)

    Cooperative learning involves carefully structured group activities. The activity is structured so that group members are interdependent (they must all participate to succeed) and individually accountable (all members are responsible for learning). Part of the structure includes an evaluation which allows the students to reflect on what worked well in the group, what didn't, and how the group process could be improved. Careful structure is the key to the success of a cooperative activity.

  4. The interactive classroom

    There are many examples of short classroom activities that encourage active participation of students, interaction between students, and interaction between faculty and students. Some examples are:

    • in-class problem solving in small groups

    • turn-to-your-neighbor activities (explain what you observed in the demo, summarize the key points that have been covered, etc.)

    • getting students up front (to solve a problem on the board, to participate in a demo)

    • two-minute paper (can be used at the end of class to assess what questions the students still

      have, good for providing instructor with feedback)

    • drill-partners

    • homework checkers

  5. Writing to learn

    Many of these activities come from the writing-across-the-curriculum movement. Some examples are:

    • Write what you know about... (used to get students thinking about a topic, to assess student's prior knowledge, and to document the student learning process)

    • Meta-analysis (students write about how they approached a problem, where they ran into difficulties, how they felt about it, etc.)

    • Journal-keeping

    • Two-minute paper (used to get quick feedback from students about their concerns or questions)

  6. Lecture

    Lecture can be used when students have questions they need an "expert" to answer. That "expert" does not have to be the instructor, but could be one of the students in the class or an outside consultant. Lectures can also be used to motivate and develop enthusiasm.

  7. Concept-mapping

    This is useful for helping students make explicit connections between the things they're learning. Students link together concepts with "logical connectors" that explain the relationships between the concepts. This may be particularly useful in helping students make connections between their own experiences and the chemistry they are learning in the classroom.

  8. Computer activities

    In addition to the usefulness of spreadsheets, mathematical programs, and graphing, computers open up possibilities for students to obtain and work with "real data," to visualize atoms, molecules, orbitals, etc., and to work cooperatively with faculty or students at other institutions. Computer simulations can be used to help students learn how to design experiments.

  9. In-class debate

    Debates allow students to practice using scientific arguments to support and defend a stance they may take.

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