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Hands-On Learning

When I took introductory physics in college, it was in a large lecture hall with 300 or so other students and some guy lecturing down front.

It wasn’t much different at other universities, or in other freshman-level classes for that matter.

Now some institutions, including MIT, are rethinking that mass-produced approach to learning.

The physics department has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning. Last fall, after years of experimentation and debate and resistance from students, who initially petitioned against it, the department made the change permanent. Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent.

M.I.T. is not alone. Other universities are changing their ways, among them Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Harvard. In these institutions, physicists have been pioneering teaching methods drawn from research showing that most students learn fundamental concepts more successfully, and are better able to apply them, through interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning.

Of course, such an approach couldn’t possible work in K12 classrooms.

Students will just have to wait until they get to college to have “hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning”.

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1 Comment

  1. Now for more universities to join. Maybe then some in my district will stop being concerned about “content” and less use of lecture to a model where students work deeply with content as I facilitate. The article here about streamlining science standards and a focus on solving problems, real-life applications, etc. is also encouraging.

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