Use of Think-Pair-Share and Problem Solving in Biomechanics

Filed in engaging students in class by on January 22, 2016 0 Comments

bme-billiar-profile-newCan you share a specific example of a task, activity, or question that you use to engage students in class and gauge their understanding?

I’ve tried many methods, but I’ll stick to the think-pair-share activity per the focus of this blog.   One of the tough concepts in my biomechanics lab course is viscoelasticity (materials exhibiting both viscous fluid and solid elastic behavior).  In the lecture component of the course,  I describe mechanical analogies, basically combinations of springs and dashpots, that produce similar behavior as viscoelastic materials, and discuss the behavior of each single element (spring and dashpot).  I then draw a picture of a force or displacement applied to a viscoelastic model represented by combinations of springs and dashpots and ask the students to draw a graph of the response of the material with respect to time.  I’ve done this for years, in a variety of courses, but in the most recent offering, I decided to use think-pair-share (I think because I had just been reminded of the activity in a MOOC Prof. Demetry suggested we take).  I was amazed at how well it went.  Some students drew the correct response of the system, most did not… I didn’t tell them the answer as I had in the past, rather I asked students with very different answers to try to convince each other of the correct response, then once they came to an agreement, I asked different groups to share with each other and try to convince each other of the correct system response.  In the end, the class as a whole agreed upon the correct response – it took a few more minutes than how I had done it in the past, but the students learned the concepts more thoroughly, and I certainly had more fun teaching it.

How do you incorporate one or more activities into a 50-minute class period—can you give a sense of how you facilitate, how you try to promote student engagement, how long it takes?

In my large lecture course, I often ask students to solve problems during class.  In general, I try to pose a problem every 15 minutes or so.  I used to just ask them to solve the whole problem in 10 minutes, but based on a WEPAN webinar, I now break the problems up into 30 sec to 2 min portions so students don’t get bored or frustrated (depending on how well they understand the material).  The students all seem to get the material and even look bored before I ask them to start solving a problem, but then they all wake up and pay attention when I walk around the room and check on their progress in just starting to set up the figure or equations, then I either ask for a volunteer or pick someone (or anyone in a row of students) to answer the first part, then I move on to the next part of the problem, etc.

What challenges did you face when you first tried this in class, and what have you learned along the way? 

As mentioned above, when I didn’t ask them to convince each other, many of the students just drew something then passively waited until one student would raise their hand and provide the answer, and I would draw it on the board, but they didn’t really get it.  And when given 10 minutes to solve the problem, some students were bored after finishing the problem in 5 minutes, and others were frustrated if they couldn’t get past the first part of the problem and sat there staring at their page for 8 minutes.

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