Sunday, August 9, 2009

Education Requires Participation

The most consistently successful teaching methods are those that require students to be an active participant in learning. Very few people can sit passively through a lecture and remember most of what was discussed at the end. Actively listening improves their retention. This could include asking questions, answering questions, or taking notes. I remember one class in college in which the professor would ask a handful of students to answer questions at the beginning of class. These questions covered homework and the previous day’s lecture. He made notations in his grade book to keep track of how often you answered correctly and incorrectly. You could not relax even if someone else was on the spot because if they answered incorrectly, he would ask someone else. He quizzed every student at least once a week. This enforced active listening, but at the expense of great student anxiety. However, we paid very close attention to what he had to say. I prefer a dialogue. Ask leading questions to the group and get the students comfortable with answering. They will soon start asking questions, and you can directly address the areas where they need the most help. Reading retention can be improved by asking the students to answer questions. This requires them to look at the text carefully enough to pick out specific pieces of information. Better yet, ask questions that are not directly addressed in the text which require the students to use the information they have read to come to a conclusion. Well done interactive computer programs draw students in. The satisfaction of immediate feedback and reinforcement is extremely powerful and effective. Even without the high end graphics and sound effects, interactive programming hooks students because they receive immediate feedback and reinforcement. But I believe shop work is the gold standard. Nothing teaches students how to build circuits like building circuits. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a shop project is worth a thousand pictures. Labs do not have to be complex to be effective. A simple circuit consisting of a power cord, light switch, and light will show the student how a basic circuit works and how switches work in relation to loads. The circuit can be expanded by adding switches in series or loads in parallel. Now you are teaching series and parallel as well as circuits. If the students build simple circuits with heaters they can measure the resistance, voltage, and current to illustrate the principles of ohms law in series and parallel circuits. Keep in mind that many of your students have never wired anything. To them, wiring a few lights is exciting. I have seen students who could not wire a switch and light at the beginning of the week wire a heat-cool thermostat to a transformer, three relays, and three lights by the end of the week. Because I believe that students must be active participants in order to learn, I really prefer that each student do their own project. Often, if five students are assigned to wire a circuit, only one does the actual work and the other four write down the answers. In other words, one student does all the learning. If students must work in teams, make an effort to insure every student gets their hands on the project. The least confident students will stand back. However, they are the very ones that need the most hands on work.

When planning lessons, keep in mind that what the students do will have more impact on their learning than what you do. No matter how wonderful your powerpoint presentation is, if the students just watch it passively they will not get a lot out of it. For ideas on active lessons, check out the MyHVACLab online companion to Fundamentals of HVAC/R. Besides an e-book copy of Fundamentals of HVAC/R , animations, and a powerpoint presentation for each unit, MyHVACLab includes interactive activities and questions to insure that students are actively involved in the learning. A companion lab manual is also available that complements the Fundamentals of HVAC/R text. Among the unique labs included are labs illustrating the physics principles that the refrigeration cycle is based on. Heating and cooling a refrigerant cylinder while measuring its pressure and temperature helps students understand the pressure-temperature relationship and P-T charts better than a week of lectures will.

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