The APPLE of a teacher’s eye

One of today’s class activities was to play ‘20 questions’ to demonstrate how to describe the physical properties of matter. One class used up most of their inquiries with blind guesses of what a ‘mystery object’ was. Another asked progressively more specific questions about the object, including color, shape, composition, and palatability, unti one clever student got the correct answer—the mystery object was an apple. I realized partway through the day that ’20 questions’ is an excellent assessment of inquiry based learning ability. Asking informative, testable questions is the basis of scientific inquiry and I find it encouraging that such a simple game can help inspire investigation of the natural world.

An observation from the last two weeks that interests me is how just a few individuals in each class have the power to change the entire class dynamic. Everyone has likely had the experience of being in a class with a polarizing individual, whether a class clown, a trouble-maker, a teacher’s pet, or even just a really quiet individual. Some classes are quiet and sullen, some are alert and studious, and others erupt into giggles at the slightest provocation. My question is how much does class composition influence the mean ability of the class as a whole to learn? How great of an effect does class mentality have on the actions of a single individual? How much does class composition change the quantity and quality of the instruction given?

“By learning you will teach; 
by teaching you will understand.” 
~Latin Proverb


About Sarah Roels

I'm a former Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. I study mating system evolution in plants, using the model system Mimulus. I now work at Michigan State University as their GK-12 project manager.
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