Active Learning using the Socratic Method
Eric Mazur, a Harvard University professor, says learning interests him far more than teaching, and he encourages a shift from “teaching” to “helping students learn.” The trend toward “active learning” may overthrow the style of teaching that has ruled universities for 600 years. [Harvard Magazine “Twilight of the Lecture” May-June 2012]
How can you engage your students and be sure they are learning the conceptual foundations of a lecture course? In From Questions to Concepts, Eric Mazur introduces Peer Instruction and Just-in-Time teaching — two innovative techniques for lectures that use in-class discussion and immediate feedback to improve student learning. Using these techniques in his innovative undergraduate physics course, Mazur demonstrates how lectures and active learning can be successfully combined. This video is also available as part of another DVD, Interactive Teaching, which contains advice on using peer instruction and just-in-time teaching to promote better learning. For more videos on teaching, visit http://bokcenter.harvard.edu
After seven years of teaching Physics, Mazur realized his students could answer the questions on the test but didn’t grasp the concepts. After administering a test on force, a warning flag went up when one student raised her hand and asked, “How should I answer these questions—according to what you taught me, or how I usually think about these things?” After some soul searching about his teaching techniques, he realized “The students did well on textbook-style problems,” he explains. “They had a bag of tricks, formulas to apply. But that was solving problems by rote. They floundered on the simple word problems, which demanded a real understanding of the concepts behind the formulas.”
He decided to turn everything around and ask his students to discuss the consept with each other. The first time he tried this, it was utter chaos — but it worked. This innovative style of learning grew into “peer instruction” or “interactive learning,” a pedagogical method that has spread far beyond physics and taken root on campuses nationally
Interactive pedagogy, for example, turns passive, note-taking students into active, de facto teachers who explain their ideas to each other and contend for their points of view. (“The person who learns the most in any classroom,” Mazur declares, “is the teacher.”) Active learners take new information and apply it, rather than merely taking note of it. Firsthand use of new material develops personal ownership.
These techniques use the strengths of the Socratic Method that law schools in the US have been using for decades. In law school students read the material before class and in class they discuss with each other the analysis. The whole purpose was to (1) teach you how to think and (2) prepare you for a lifetime of self-learning.
Mazur uses interactive clickers to get instant feedback of understanding. This strategy of active learning can be applied to any grade or age level. Flip the classroom with the concept not just the lecture, then ask each learner to think about it and then discuss it with another learner.