SCALE-UP your Learning!

Robert Beichner, a professor at North Carolina State University, delivered a fascinating lecture at DIT’s Learning, Teaching and Technology Centre (LTTC). He discussed the way he teaches large groups of math students using hands-on approaches.

His approach is called “SCALE-UP” and is being used today at many universities — including MIT, Virginia Tech, and Old Dominion University (just miles from my Portsmouth home).

SCALE-UP stands for “student-centered active learning environment with upside-down pedagogies.”

Dr. Beichner tracks the learning that accrues using this format and has identified impressive results. For instance, using this approach, the top students actually reflect the biggest learning gains. Evidently, by teaching their peers as their teams work to figure out complex problems together, all the students learn a great deal. The top students seem to make the most new connections in their brains, however, which runs counter to common belief that top students get pulled down by “wasting time” explaining things to students who lack understanding.

Dr. Beichner teaches in classrooms of 99 students, he lectures for just ten minutes at the start of each class then gives the students a problem to work out for the following week. The students work in teams of three, and he always makes sure a student from the top 1/3 of the class is in each group. He compares learning gains of the students in the SCALE-UP classes with students in traditional lecture courses.

The SCALE-UP website explains:

Rigorous evaluations of learning have been conducted in parallel with the curriculum development effort. Besides hundreds of hours of classroom video and audio recordings, we also have conducted numerous interviews and focus groups, conducted many conceptual learning assessments (using nationally-recognized instruments in a pretest/posttest protocol), and collected portfolios of student work. We have data comparing nearly 16,000 traditional and SCALE-UP students. Our findings can be summarized as the following:

  • Ability to solve problems is improved
  • Conceptual understanding is increased
  • Attitudes are improved
  • Failure rates are drastically reduced, especially for women and minorities
  • “At risk” students do better in later engineering statics classes
Dr. Robert Beichner from NC State

Dr. Robert Beichner from NC State

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