Eric Mazur is a Harvard Physics professor. I came across this video when somebody posted it on Dan Meyer’s blog in response to another person who was demanding data to prove that Dan’s methods would work. Professor Mazur has data to prove the merit of his shift from being a lecture style instructor to an instructor who facilitates peer teaching. Peer teaching is definitely a strategy we could employ in our revised curriculum in Alberta. If a University Physics professor can facilitate learning without having to tell his students everything, then certainly a high school math teacher who wanted to teach for understanding could emulate this process. This video is about 80 minutes long, but is worth the time if you can spare it. For those who can’t, I’ve summarized the key points below.
The reason that Professor Mazur switched his style was because his students were not showing gains when he compared pre-test results to post-test results. Despite going through an entire term of his lecture style physics class, students could not show a significant improvement in their understanding of basic physics.
His Key Messages:
- Students who have recently learned something are better at explaining it to other students than a teacher who learned and mastered it years ago. It is difficult for a teacher who has mastery of a concept to be aware of the conceptual difficulties of the beginning learner.
- Give students more responsibility for gathering information and make it our job to help them with assimilation.
- You can’t learn Physics (or Math or anything) by watching someone else solve problems. You wouldn’t learn to pay the piano by watching someone else play. You wouldn’t train for a marathon by watching other people run. If you want to learn problem solving, you have to do the problems.
- Better understanding leads to better problem solving. The converse of this statement is not necessarily true. Better problem solving does not necessarily indicate better understanding.
- Education is no longer about information transfer.
- He says that in his original methods he covered a lot, but the students didn’t retain much so the coverage was basically meaningless. In his new method, he has relaxed the coverage a little bit, but increased the comprehension enormously.
The Peer Instruction Process
- Students pre-read the lecture notes or text.
- Class is then used for depth, rather than coverage.
- Depth is attained through what he calls a concept test.
The Concept Test:
- A question is posed.
- The students think silently about the question for a minute or so and it must be completely silent in the class.
- Students answer individually and vote by show of hands or by SMART Response systems.
- Peer discussion. Defend your answer.
- Revised group answer.
Then he will “lecture” for a couple of minutes, and repeat the process with his class.
Benefits of his process:
- This process promotes active engagement. “It is impossible to sleep through class, because every few minutes, your neighbor will start talking to you.”
- He can continually assess where his students are.
- Teachers have to find the right questions to ask in their classes.
- Students will write on their evaluations that professor Mazur isn’t teaching them anything and that they have to learn everything themselves.
My take on all this:
I see this process as being one we could employ in our high school classes. I don’t think we’d expect kids to pre-read sections of the textbook, but we could certainly present problems to them in this manner and allow them to explore and construct solutions without having to tell them so much.