Friday, July 01, 2005

Pugilist match

There is a long, civilized (contrary to what my pun might imply) and enlightening debate going on at Kitchen Table Math about a math professor's discovery and use of a new-fangled (but really same old hat) method called POGIL (Process Guided-Inquiry Learning).

NSF-funded POGIL promises to extend constructivism to higher education. Reading POGIL's description of itself makes it clear that it is the same constructivist boilerplate so nauseatingly familiar to those who had the misfortune to be dragged through ed school.

"Recent developments in cognitive learning theory as well as results of classroom research suggest that most students experience improved learning when they are actively engaged and when they are given the opportunity to construct their own knowledge. These results counter the widespread misapprehension that effective teaching must be instructor-centered, involving the transfer of content directly from the expert (professor) to the novice (student). More "student-centered" approaches to learning are based on the premises that students will learn better when: they are actively engaged and thinking in class; they construct knowledge and draw conclusions by analyzing data and discussing ideas; they learn how to work together to understand concepts and solve problems; and the instructor serves as a facilitator to assist students in the learning process."

As the math professor discusses at his own site and in this debate, he finds useful elements in the method. But is his approach still POGIL?

Kitchen Table Math is a lively site I am addicted to. I highly recomend it.


Anonymous said...

Oh golly!

You made my day!

Well, all I can say is, it's mutual!

WichitaBoy said...

I've thought about this problem of getting the students involved for years. I hated it when I was a student and had to just sit there and take it passively. And there's no doubt that when you are actively engaged you learn better. I swore that when I was a professor I would be different.

I wasn't.

What went wrong?

The problem is that there is way too much to learn and way too little time to learn it. There is a huge body of knowledge accumulated in Western mathematics today. And there is a huge body of knowledge that is required to be mastered by students in a very short time in order to move up to the level necessary to get jobs. Think of the Fourier Transform, the backbone of engineering, and how much mathematics one must know in order to understand this one tool. What can be taught in five minutes is often something that took years of genius-level thinking to come up with in the first place. Students will never recreate it on their own.

That beating-the-head-against-the-wall aspect of mathematics, what mathematicians do all day long for years, is entirely hidden from students. How long did it take to come up with the Law of Sines? Centuries of observation and self-torment no doubt. The average student will never be led to it at his own pace. The average student will take a long time just grokking it when it is handed to him on a platter.

If the students are left to finger paint (or read novels) under the expectation that they will eventually rediscover pi on their own, then the accumulated knowledge of millenia will be entirely lost to this country.

Anonymous said...

amazing stuff . . . i'll be back.
meanwhile i'll tag you today in
my blog:

Amee and/or Gavin said...

Hi, I am an organic chemistry student at a community college and our "instructor" is using POGIL on us. I think it is an absolute pantload myself and it is frustrating the hell out of me.