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Tutorials/Cooperative Group Problem Solving

These two strategies are similar in that they both leave the lecture aspect essentially the same (it could of course be augmented with strategies like Clickers and Peer Instruction), and employ discipline-based educational research methods in recitation sections (which are a very common part of STEM courses). They both emphasize that students work together in groups on questions designed to increase their conceptual understanding and problem solving skills.

  • Begin with a pre-test on material already covered in the lecture
    • The pre-test helps students identify what they do and do not understand and what the tutorial is designed to help them with
  • Include worksheets with questions that are often qualitative in nature (e.g., predict how a prescribed change (increase/decrease in a parameter) would affect an outcome, compare one set-up to another etc.)
    • The questions are carefully sequenced to gradually build understanding of a particular concept or idea
  • Students work together and ask for guidance from recitation instructors when confused
    • It is important that the recitation instructors, instead of providing answers, ask guiding questions to help students move closer to the correct understanding
  • After the tutorials, homework is assigned which reinforces and extends the material covered in the worksheets
  • It is important that the focus of the tutorials be closely aligned with the student learning goals and the course assessments
  • You will need to request permission which you will be granted after a short verification period (a day or two) which ensures that you are an instructor.
  • The website also includes ConceptTests (clicker questions) for upper-level quantum mechanics.

Cooperative group problem solving:

  • Students are taught an explicit (and general) problem solving approach modeled after expert behavior (e.g., Visualize, Describe, Plan, Execute, Evaluate)
    • Each of the steps is broken up into instructions (e.g., the Visualize step: draw a diagram, identify relevant information and add to diagram if possible, identify relevant physics principles and target or intermediate quantity/quantities)
  • During recitations, students work on challenging ‘context-rich’ problems
    • ‘context-rich’ problems are problems posed in real-life situations (in order to make the material relevant to students), in which the unknown variable is not always explicitly mentioned. Context-rich problems often include extraneous information, or lack information which can be easily estimated by making reasonable assumptions
    • Students are expected to work together and use the problem solving approach to develop solutions to these challenging problems
  • Student groups typically include three students from each ability level (low, mid and high-achieving) based on some metric (pre-test, first exam)
  • Students are given different roles in the groups: Manager, Skeptic and Checker/Recorder
    • These roles are chosen because they reflect implicit expert-like problem solving strategies that are seldom explicitly taught
    • Students assume different roles from week to week
    • Student groups change several times during the semester
For more information see: