Teed, R. Wright State University, 260 Brehm Labs (EES) 3640 Colonel Glenn Highway, Dayton, OH, United States
Concepts in Geology (EES 345) is an inquiry-based ten-week geoscience course for pre-service elementary and middle-school teachers at Wright State University. For most of them, this is the first and last geoscience class that they take. Required readings are an important part of the class because of the amount of vocabulary and number of concepts that students need to master. It is not possible to spend much class time on lectures that cover the same material, as students are expected to be doing hands-on activities, presentations, discussions, and laboratory exercises applying the material learned from reading.
As the instructor, I administer frequent quizzes to encourage students to do the reading and to take notes. The quizzes are 10 multiple-choice questions each and the students are allowed to use a single page of notes. After they complete their quizzes individually, the students gather in groups of three or four and work on the same questions, but are allowed to discuss their answers. This motivates students further to be scrupulous about reading, enables them to help each other overcome mistakes, and helps them work out difficult problems that overwhelmed individuals in the group. The average group scores on in-class, closed-book quizzes are almost always higher than highest average individual score (more than 5% on the average), so even the best-prepared person in the group is managing to learn something from his or her peers. After the all the scores are recorded, I tally the number of correct group and individual answers to each question. If one or more groups gets a question wrong, it’s clearly a hard question and worth going over during class time. If more than half of the groups get a question wrong, it is not scored as part of the total.
When I used a new text last spring, students found the quizzes overwhelmingly hard. So I let students take the individual quizzes home to answer directly from the book and continued to give group quizzes in class. Students no longer brought notes to the group quizzes. In some groups, all individuals gave identical wrong answers to the same questions (and repeated that answer on the group quiz) indicating probable cooperation on the individual quizzes. The average group scores were no longer significantly higher than the average individual scores, indicating less learning, and the groups still had trouble answering questions involving problem-solving or synthesis or comparison of ideas.