Friday, December 08, 2006

Hot-Headed Moles in Antarctica

Hot-Headed Moles in Antarctica. I participated in an innovative class the other day. The instructor used a fake article on penguin devouring moles in Antarctica to teach about solving problems in groups. It is similar to exercises I have used dealing with hoax web sites but used a printed out copy of the article instead.

Problem-Based Learning in Language Instruction: A Constructivist Model by Mardziah Hayati Abdullah has information on problem-based learning. Abdullah wrote, "One method which supports learning in the target domain is Problem-Based-Learning (PBL). It was created by Barrows (1986) as an alternative instructional method to prepare medical students for real-world problems by letting them solve medical problems based on real-life cases, rather than having them learn mainly through lectures which taught the sciences out of context. The students worked in teams, and were assigned a medical practitioner who acted as facilitator. This practice was consistent with the assumption that learning occurs not in the "heads of individual speakers" but in the fields of social interaction (Lave & Wenger, 1991), where social partners also determine what and how someone learns (Cole & Engestrom, 1993; Salomon, 1993). It was argued that PBL made learning more applicable by encouraging students to think and act like they would in the real world of medicine. This same method, Duffy and Cunningham (1997) believe, can be applied in other domains. "

The mole scenario is rather outrageous. It is pretty easy to see as fake. I do not think many college students would fall for it but it may work well in the K-12 setting. (My eight year old son would believe it and think penguins being ate by moles was cool.) Similar articles that are a bit more believable may work best in a post-secondary setting. A direct link to the mole article can be found at LIFE ON ICE II.

From the site:

Dr. Janice Lingle, an associate professor of physics, had acquired a reputation among her colleagues and students as a person who enjoyed solving and posing problems. Thus she wasn't particularly surprised one morning when she found a clipping from Discover magazine in her mail box with a Post-It note asking: "Is this for real? -- Barb". (Dr. Barbara Jenkins was an Assistant Professor of English who often ate lunch with Jan in the faculty dining room.) Jan quickly read the short article and thought to herself, "This is great! I can use this today to introduce the next topic," and she rushed off to make copies for her students.

At 9:30, the 65 students in her nonmajors introductory physics class strolled in talking about who would make the final four in the NCAA tournament and what they were planning for spring break. At the beginning of class, Jan asked, "Could you please sit together with your lab partners today? I think you can help me with a question Professor Jenkins from the English Department asked me this morning." The students pulled their chairs into groups of 3 or 4 as Jan handed out the Discover article to each group. They enjoyed these unexpected breaks in the routine. "In half an hour, I want each group to advise me how I should answer Prof. Jenkins and give well supported reasons for your recommendation."

During the following 30 minutes, Jan moved from group to group listening to the discussion and occasionally asking or fielding questions. In one group she overheard Jon mutter, "Of course it's true. It's in Discover." And in another group a puzzled Melissa said, "Like, this isn't physics, it's biology. Ya know what I mean? Like, how are we supposed to know the answer?" Jan's response didn't resolve Melissa's puzzlement when she said somewhat cryptically, "Actually one could also think of this as a chemistry, geology, or history problem. It doesn't matter to me what information or reasoning you use to come to a decision, so long as it makes sense and everybody in your group can explain the reasons for the decision."

1 comment:

bentley said...

Many years ago, Canadian TV ran a wonderful PSA from the Concerned Children's Advertisers about "The Hidden World of the House Hippo." It won the 1999 Golden Marble Award.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xMC5f6aeeU