Transitions and Engagement

Short Problem Breaks

So I think we just, I used to give them, perhaps, 10 minutes to work on a problem, now I probably only give them two or three minutes.  I find that concentrates them and prevents them just talking about the State of Origin or whatever it is that’s on their mind.  We just need to keep changing the activity, rather than have extended activities... we want them to chat, but I think human beings won’t sit and chat about quantum mechanics for more than two or three minutes, they’ll get onto what they want for lunch.  So it’s that balance.

Keeping Their Attention

So, just to make them do some work, and made them think about the ideas themselves.  Talk amongst themselves about it.  I think that just too much of me in the lecture just washes over them after five to 10 minutes.  So they just need to have a break, think about the problem, do a couple of problems, talk amongst themselves... that seems to help, with both the variety of students in the class, but also just keeping them engaged.  Keeping their attention.

Focus on the Whole Class

At the start of every class my standard thing was ‘can you see me, can you hear me, can you see the slide?’ I would always look up the back for someone to put their hand up and always I would never talk to the front row. I’d always talk middle and back row and if someone was talking in the back row I’d pick them up and say ‘hey you, be quiet’ and then they know that I’ve seen them.

An Active Environment

I don’t like to be in a position where I’m stood at the front talking for 50 minutes. I like to be a in a position where I’m engaging with students, where they’re engaging with each other, where there’s a buzz, where there’s things happening, and it’s an active environment.

Actively Engage

So my approach to teaching is that I want students to be actively engaged with the material throughout the lectures, all the tutorials, all the workshops or whatever, and so I’m not giving didactic lectures, I’m not using lots of PowerPoint slides.  I’m giving them information. I’m describing things to them, but then I give them lots of examples and lots of things to do, lots of activities to do. 

'Meet the Scientist' Breaks

So into the lectures I put kind of ad breaks, I suppose, short 'meet the scientist' breaks.  So we would have a photograph and fun facts about a scientist and various places we would have a stop, and I have told them that all of that information wasn't on the exam, so they knew that they could stop and just take a breather and then pick back up on the chemistry afterwards.  So that, I think helped, especially the ones that were just finding it all a bit kind of overwhelming. 

Use Both PowerPoint and Visualiser

Use two screens in a lecture and then turn one off and go to the visualiser and spend time on the visualiser drawing things or solving problems or writing something. And at that point the class becomes engaged. So when you’re using PowerPoint, unless you’re really good with it, they’ll disengage. If you start writing and drawing structures and things on the visualiser, they start doing it and then it becomes much more interactive - they’re working from the visualiser then they’re back to the PowerPoint and then back to the visualiser again.

Pop Quizzes

Throw in pop quizzes when you discuss a concept and then give an example and give them a few minutes to work through that example. That's moving towards a partially flipped classroom context. Also use worksheets to give an increased level of formalisation to it.

Vary Your Approach

A topic like this is quite theoretical and if you approach it in a very didactic way, it can be very dry. It’s undoubtedly quite abstract, and if you present it in a fairly traditional way it’s even more so. Try to engage students with it, and get them to think and discuss and use different approaches. Coming at it from different ways helps to bring it alive a bit. 

Demonstrations to Keep Attention

Do a demonstration, for example, a little explosion where you get a fluorescent gas coming off. It’s in a way related to the material, but it’s more about keeping them awake and engaged. It’s just a little bit of fun. That helps. They obviously enjoy it. Keep the didactic, formal teaching very, very short, and just mix it up quite a bit.


Subscribe to RSS - Transitions and Engagement