Testing what you don’t know

Did I mention that I attended a Software Carpentry (SWC) train-the-trainers event recently (editors note: not so recently anymore…)? And did I mention that they got me to read a fun book called _Teaching what you don’t know_? It had a number of fun-sounding ideas to encourage students to actively engage with material, in a chapter titled “Thinking in Class”, and I tried one out in a guest lecture.

The super-simple idea is this: at some point when students are spacing out from hearing too much talking from me, I paused for questions. When there were none, I said, “now I want you to turn to the person next to you, and spend just two minutes and see where your notes differ from theirs. And figure out what makes sense now but might not when you look back at your notes.”

Then I had a little break for two minutes, and people talked to each other. When I brought them back to me, there were questions and there was renewed attention.

I tried it again about 20 minutes later, and it didn’t have the same magic. Maybe it is a once a class thing.

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