I’m an instructor at a community college in California and I teach mathematics. This quarter I’m teaching pre-calculus and calculus. As a part of a professional development program at the college, I have committed to reflecting on and writing about my teaching experience, once a week, for ten weeks. Here is my first reflection.

This quarter I’m also trying to use more active-learning techniques in my classroom. I’ve taught, up to now, in a conversational-lecture style, but comments from my colleagues and students during the last quarter have convinced me that I need to teach in a more student-engaging way—one that requires more active and less passive learning from the students. For right now, taking change slowly, I’ve altered the structure of my lesson plans to the following format: lecture, worksheet, lecture, worksheet, etc. The idea is to:

- Lecture on a topic for 15-20 minutes.
- Let students try to solve topical problems, alone or in groups, for 10-15 minutes.
- During which time I wander the classroom to observe and converse.

- Let students present solutions, with open conversation, for 5-10 minutes.

Not very original, but it gives me a way to start that is active-learning and lecture together—just a little outside my comfort zone.

This is week two of the quarter. Are my changed lesson plans working? Are my students more engaged? I am not sure. I need to find a way to evaluate what I’m changing, but since I’m in the middle of the change it’s hard to stand aside and just watch. And what should I be watching for? I have seen concentration during problem-solving by students, and I have seen them working in groups of two-three, but I have also seen play-working by individuals and groups. None the less, without any way to justify it, I have an impression that the students are more engaged by the insertion of the activities in place of straight lecture. (And why shouldn’t they be? Who can concentrate on listening for more than 20 minutes?)

I’ll continue the structure next week and try to improve the continuum of challenge in the problem sessions. I’d like to engage all the students so none are too bored or too challenged. But, that too, I’m not sure how to measure.

Time to walk.

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Very interesting to see how it works in Math Charles. I too have been experimenting with various Active Learning strategies in my class. (Elaine lent me a book called Pair Programming that has proved to be quite valuable, BTW) – Similar to you, I get my students into groups (pairs, actually) to solve programming problems while I walk around and try to help them. However, in my CS2A class, which is an introductory class, I find that some prep material needs to be presented before the students can even start coding. Thus during my initial lectures (the first 4-5), I find that a good chunk of my hour (around 15-30 minutes) is spent introducing the material they’d be using in their exercises later. I’m looking for ways in which that time can be condensed further and the students can jump into coding sooner in each lecture.

Also, in my CS2A class, we start off the quarter studying number systems, numeric bases and conversions from one base to another (2, 8, 10 and 16 in particular). During these lectures, I follow a pattern similar to you. There’s no coding in these lectures as it’s almost fully preparatory math. So I present the theory (now using more pictures), and then have them solve conversion problems on paper, while walking around.

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