Session 4: Interactive Teaching and Active Learning

We learnt in class today why should we do active learning and how? There are a couple of good reasons.

  1. It increases student retention of materials.
  2. It calls on the student to participate in his/her own learning.
  3. It allows instructor to assess in real time the classrooms grasp of concepts.

Active teaching is in between traditional teaching and mastery teaching. In mastery teaching, each student is tested, taught and tested again with a feedback mechanism that improves the teaching method to perfectly fit for student’s progress and learning style. It is however impossible to realize in large scale, and active teaching is a step towards this direction that gets students more engaged with a more interactive and more versatile teaching method. See below for a statistical result for what students are happy to learn during a 50mins class. Lecture cannot last for more than 20 minutes without losing student’s attention on average: this calls for a mix of different in class activities, i.e. active learning events, to get students engaged with. The data is taken at a young group of students and thus cannot speak for higher level learners such as graduate or post-graduate students. But it is a diagram to keep in mind when designing a relatively demanding class.


Session 4 Readings

  1. Encouraging Student Participation: Why It Pays to Sweat the Small Stuff

By: Maryellen Weimer, PhD from the Teaching Professor Blog. Faculty Focus website:, September 18, 2013.

  1. Carleton College – What is Interactive Lecture 
    from: Carlton College website
  2. Large-scale comparisons of science teaching methods sends a clear message 
    Wieman, Carl E., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PNAS, 2014 111 (23) 8319-8320; published ahead of print May 22, 2014, doi:10.1073/pnas.1407304111

The first material encourage us to sweat the small stuff: details on how and when to ask students questions, how to connect with them and solicit timely feedback on the teaching styles. These are very subtle but important thoughts every lecturer should give and practice. It’s a thought provoking piece of work that I will read again before I teach a large class.

The second material can be found at

which explain in depth what is active learning and how to apply it:

“Interactive lectures are classes in which the instructor incorporates engagement triggers and breaks the lecture at least once per class to have students participate in an activity that lets them work directly with the material. The engagement triggers capture and maintain student attention and the interactive lecture techniques allow students to apply what they have learned or give them a context for upcoming lecture material”

Engagement triggers could be anything that tangentially relates to the teaching materials but can capture students’ intention easily, including a recent campus news or a personal story.  And the activities that follows require a thorough expertise of the subject to apply the interactive techniques, such as: clickers, think-in-pairs, brainstorm, in class demonstration and experiment.

The third material is a review paper on recent studies of effectiveness of the active learning. The take home sentence for me personally is a great summary of what it actually take for good active learning:

“Good active learning tasks simulate authentic problem solving, and therefore teaching with these methods typically demands more in- structor subject expertise than does a lecture.”

Session 4: Interactive Teaching and Active Learning

Post-Session Assignment

  1. Refer to the ILO you selected for your 1st microteaching session.
  • Describe how you will use a specific interactive technique(s) to help students achieve this ILO during your final 6-minute microteaching. This should include details about how the activity will work in the microteaching (e.g. How will you introduce the activity? What prompt will you give students? Will students work alone or in pairs? How will you wrap up the activity?, etc.)  Consider other planning details (e.g. Do you need to rearrange furniture? Will you have to bring materials with you to facilitate the activities?, etc.)

According to my learning ILO for the uncertainty principle class:

students understand the mathematical principle behind the uncertainty principle, can derive the uncertainty principle of any given discrete measurement operators and infer the measurement variances, can identify conjugate measurements among a given set of measurement operators.

Considering the limited time for the microteaching, I will assume the content of uncertainty principle is well covered in the previous class, and this short activity is to engage active thinking on solving the problem on the spot using what we learnt.

The activity is a card game: I will prepare 7 cards with different kind of Stern-Garlach experiments setup. Assume there are 7 students in the class, each one will be assigned a card to begin with. They will write down the measurement operator of the corresponding experiment on the card. The second step is they pass them down to the right hand neighbor, who will first grade whether the previous card owner wrote the correct measurement operator, and then write down the uncertainty relation of the corresponding operator regardless whether they are correct. In the third step, they pass the card again to the right hand neighbor, who will decide whether the uncertainty relation of the corresponding measurement operators are correct. Finally all the card will be graded by the lecturer on each decision, which will count towards their homework scores.

I do need to rearrange the furniture since it will be a card game with circular dynamics. Every student will be able to work with at least 6 other students directly and indirectly, so it will be a good measure of how often and at which step of the derivation students tend to make mistake.

  • Consider an interactive technique(s) you might use to support this same ILO if you were teaching a full-length class period. Describe what you might do differently given more time.

My in class activity for the full length class will be: group students in pairs, between each pair, each designs a new pair of conjugate measurement operator that hasn’t been taught in class or in textbook, then they exchange their answers and examine whether her/his partner’s measurement operators are legal and if they are provide the corresponding uncertainty relation of the measurement.

In class survey of their progress in the problem solving to adapt in time the speed of the class. This activity will take around 15mins in total with five minutes on each side and then five minute for them to discuss and then present.

This in class activity help students to apply their learnings for higher level tasks that require deeper understanding of the knowledge: to be able to design new problems based on the existing knowledge.

Active teaching techniques are the most difficult to master, as pointed out by Carl Wieman, but it is an ultimate test on how creative and thorough, we as teachers are.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s