About our classroom

The Chem 201 classroom utilizes the POGIL (process oriented guided inquiry learning) method of teaching. The POGIL method was developed mainly by college chemistry teachers, but it has spread to include many other disciplines and pre-college instruction. Still, for most Reed science students, entering a POGIL classroom will be a novel experience. This page provides a brief sketch of the POGIL classroom and links to articles about active/group learning methods.

First, let me offer a brief sketch of POGIL courses that appeared in a recent research article (Baum [2013]):

In a POGIL course, group work takes the place of lecture. Students are given much of the responsibility for learning the material as they complete course activities working in small groups. The structure of most classroom activities is based on the learning cycle concept (Kolb, 1984; Spencer, 1999) derived from a cognitive growth model proposed by Piaget (1964). As such, students build on their prior knowledge and experience as they engage in a cognitively challenging situation. Group activities are designed to be completed within one or two class periods.

The instructor’s role in the course is to serve primarily as a facilitator of group learning, monitoring progress and intervening when guidance is needed. The instructor usually does not answer questions directly, but instead helps students to resolve uncertainties for themselves. Students are assigned specific team roles such as manager, recorder, assessor, and presenter, promoting positive interdependence and accountability (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991) and providing opportunities to develop process skills.

You may have been puzzled by some of the edu-speak jargon so let me supplement this brief description:

  • The learning cycle concept posits a form of learning that is strongly reminiscent of the scientific method. Instead of assuming that perfect and complete understanding can be reached in a single step, learning cycle theorists claim that learning is naturally cyclical. We acquire information or experience, form ideas about this material, and then put our ideas into action. The cycle repeats itself as needed, that is, when the weight of new material and/or unproductive actions requires us to revise our ideas.
  • POGIL classroom activities can take many forms, but Chem 201 activities will all follow the same format: a written document composed of “models” alternating with “questions”. Each model is a combination of text (always short) and chemical drawings and/or observations that report the results of some scientific activity. The questions lead the students through three stages of exploration (“do I understand the content of the model?”), investigation (“can I infer any patterns or relationships from the data in the model?”), and application (“can I generalize the patterns I’ve invented by applying them to new situations not found in the model?”). This sequence intentionally mimics the stages that working scientists pass through when confronted with new data. The combination of model + questions represents one learning cycle, and an activity will typically contain several learning cycles so that a deep understanding of the material is achieved.
  • Each model will supply some scientific information about the topic for the day. suggests that learning occurs in a spiral that reminds one of the scientific method. Given some information or experience, we develop ideas about how thingsĀ  My main role is to facilitate your learning. This means I will wear several hats: lecturer (I will spend roughly 20% of class time introducing, summarizing, and untangling from the front of the classroom), author (I am the author of several items: this web site, most of your learning activities, a substantial portion of the lab manual, exams, and so on), observer (even when everything is running smoothly in class, I will be listening in, looking over shoulders, and just generally studying how things are going – this class is learning experience for me too!), facilitator (during class I will help you overcome learning challenges so that you can get ahead), and tutor-coach (students bring questions and problems to me outside of class for additional help).

The POGIL method is such a radical departure from the traditional top-down, lecture-listener method of teaching that it makes sense to ask some questions about POGIL.

  • First, does POGIL work? The research is emphatic on this point: yes, POGIL works. Students learn the material at least as well, if not better, than they do in traditional classrooms. Students also get practice working in groups.
  • Does POGIL work in Chem 201 with Reed students? Again, our experience has consistently shown that it does. The achievement level of 201 students has matched or exceeded (sometimes markedly exceeded) the achievements of 201 students who received only lectures. Student feedback also demonstrates that the POGIL experience provides them with a more sophisticated understanding of how groups work and what it takes to make group work successful.
  • Do Reed students respond well to POGIL? Welllll, sort of. To tell the truth, student reactions tend to be cautiously accepting at the start of the semester, but enthusiasm grows as the semester rolls along. In general, Reed students like being in charge of their own learning and having their learning organized around discovery, social interaction, and frequent/immediate feedback so POGIL is a good match for Reedies.

Here are just some of the many research articles that have investigated classrooms based on active + group learning:

  • [Baum, 2013] Baum, E. J. Coll. Sci. Teach. 42(6), 27 (2013). “Augmenting guided-inquiry learning with a blended classroom approach”
  • more to come…