Thursday, August 15, 2013

Active Learning Spotlight...POGIL

I am a huge fan of active learning.  I believe that active learning strategies use class time for more than just a transfer of information from the instructor to the students.  In active learning classrooms, students get practice at the content as well as other skills that are all about life.  That said, I am going to try and post about an active learning style about once a month.

First up is Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL).  As a disclaimer, I use a lot of POGIL in my classrooms and have facilitated numerous POGIL workshops in the US and a few in South Africa.  Thus, I am a bit biased about this particular model.

The Big Picture

Here's a question for you, which I paraphrase from a discussion I had while at a POGIL workshop long ago (say, 2004).
If you were to learn to play the violin, would you hire a teacher to play the violin for you an hour a day for 3 days a week?  No, you would receive instruction on how to play as you played the violin during the lessons.  That way the lesson time would actually include you learning, making mistakes, and correcting mistakes under the guidance of an 'expert'
In a POGIL classroom, instructors do not lecture much if at all.  Instead, guided inquiry activities that are created to follow the learning cycle and neuroscience theory are used by the students.  The students work in small groups 3-5 (with 4 being optimal) to complete the activity during class.  The instructor moves about the room, answering questions or making clarifications to individual groups or the entire class.  The instructor may also create interactions between the groups or collaborations to ensure the proper concepts are being learned and applied.  In the end, the students create their own learning and the instructor is just a coach or facilitator in the process.

In addition to learning the content, a pure POGIL classroom will also assign to each group member a role or job, such as manager or recorder or presenter.  During the class, the students must also take on their role while working in the group toward the goal of finishing the activity.  Thus, students in a pure POGIL classroom will also learn substantial process skills such as time management, leadership, communication, and delegation.

The premise truly is simple, and was encapsulated to me very early on by Rick Moog, a physical chemist at Franklin and Marshall College and one of the originators of this method stated, "The less I do, the more they learn."  In fact, my own students have come back to me after 'being forced' to do group work (which they say they hate) to tell me how much better they are at studying and learning on their own because of the class.

While some classes in chemistry have materials available to be taught completely via POGIL, I find using POGIL for data driven or conceptually driven topics is most useful, and I also employ other methods of teaching in my classroom.

The Activities

A POGIL activity is a guided inquiry activity.  However, it is not just a set of questions put down to get the student to read, follow directions or complete a computation.  Instead, they are developed under a certain set of rules that were created under the premise that the mind learns information in a certain manner.  If the activity is designed with how learning and the brain works, then the activity should create deeper knowledge that lasts longer and is applicable knowledge.

Though I am simplifying, the guideline for creating a POGIL activity is that it follows the learning cycle in the way the questions are arranged and asked.
Exploration ---->  Concept Invention ---->  Application
Activities begin by exploring a model, which can be data, a diagram, or some written information. Questions are asked in such a manner that they guide the students through the model and information to finally build a concept.  The invented concept must be tested and applied, so a proper POGIL activity will include questions that leech out misconceptions by challenging the invented concept of the student.  Finally, applications of the concept can demonstrate the use of the concept or further test the limits of its applicability.  When wording a question in the activity, it is best to use only directed and convergent questions, as divergent questions rarely help the student develop a concept or put the information into memory.

Each activity will usually end with applicable exercises that can be used by the student to assess their own understanding of the material.  The questions may concern only the activity, or they may show connections with past material, if applicable.  In a POGIL classroom, it is expected that the exercises are completed prior to the next class period.

You, Too, Can POGLE-ize

You may be thinking that the process is too long and too much work has to go into creating the activities.  Well, it is true in both cases, but neither is a hurdle too large to overcome.  It may be that others are working on POGIL activities for your subject.  If so, see if you can borrow their efforts in your classroom.  And, since the data shows that these students are better learners outside of class, they don't have to be directly taught everything...they can now go to the text and web and master some of the simpler concepts of the class on their own, in the own time (which makes POGIL very conducive to a blended learning classroom).

However, if you don't have the time to create activities and cannot find any, consider another option.  Outline a POGIL activity, including the models and questions you would ask to guide the students toward concept invention. Then simply give them the model and ask them the questions.  Put them into groups and see if it can happen.  I have found that with a POGIL lecture that even a small bit of active learning following the POGIL model will increase student attention and enjoyment in class.

The POGIL Project is happy to field your questions and help you learn to do a POGIL class properly.  Contact them if you find the above idea potentially useful for you.

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