Hi Listers,

         I have a double message for you today. Consider this a two for
the price of one sale in the e-world of education discussions. The first
item is free.

  ITEM-1--   I have been gathering information about writing across the
curriculum approaches for many years. I use a variety of writing
assignments in my math classes in order to encourage students to move
away from the rote approach to doing algebra, where they repeat a
procedure 50 times without really thinking about what they are doing, to
one where they think critically about math concepts, rules and
procedures. Writing in most forms accomplishes this.

     To complete a short story I have compiled several lists of short
descriptions of writing assignments, which may be adapted to all
courses. I have included the original web site and authorship so you can
access the site. I was accumulating this information to include in a WAC
book I have written but no one seems interested in publishing such a
tome so I am going to make it available to you rather than having this
material sit in a file on my PC. The compilation can be found at my web
site at:

(note: htm is correct, there is no l as in html, for reasons that escape
me, but that is what my computer gave me when I saved the material as a
web page. Usually it uses the html designation, go figure???)

    Item 2--  is a question I would like to pose to you. One of my
students asked me why and how I started using cooperative learning in my
math classes. That started me reflecting about what I do and why. The
question also sparked the thought that it would be fascinating to hear
why and how other people started using student centered approaches to
learning/teaching. My reflections follow below.

 So that is my question to you:

     “Why did you start using student centered learning in your courses?

   Please note that I shifted from the word cooperative learning, which
may be too limiting in definition (and considered a fad by some people)
to student centered which includes many approaches, such as
collaborative, cooperative, pbl etc.,  or any approach which focuses on
the students more than the teacher (as information giver) and has
students working together, in and out of class, to meet the goals of the

 Please consider sharing your “story” with the list or e-mail me.

 I will compile the responses and make them available on my web site.

      Thanks in advance for your participation in this discussion.


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 (please note this is a new e-mail address for me)

Why I switched from lecturing to student centered learning.

     I used to be a very good lecturer. Being an engineering and
mathematics teacher I was well organized and without knowing it followed
the Advanced Organizer model of teaching. I established the day’s class
goals, provided an overview of the concept(s) under study and then lead
the class through a series of problems and questions which demonstrated
the concept or mathematical procedure under study. I was actually
humorous in my lecturing, even in math and engineering classes, which
helped lighten things up a bit. I developed concepts by starting with
simpler questions and then proceeding to more complex structures. It
made a lot of sense to everyone, during the lecture. I also used a
lecture discussion format to try to engage students and asked students
to work individually on problems and then present their solution on the
board for additional class discussion. I  tended to be very enthusiastic
about my subject matter and teaching and I am sure this was somewhat
contagious for my students. My approach garnered me a good reputation
among students. My student evaluations were high, my courses filled up
quickly and feedback I received from students was very positive.

    This approach seemed to work well until we got to the tests and
students would not perform as well as I or they had expected. When we
talked about this phenomenon, as a whole class discussion, students
expressed the frustration that they felt they understood the material in
class but when they went home and tried to work the homework problems on
their own, the material looked like Greek. Looking back, based upon the
research I have since read I am not surprised. I was doing all the
critical thinking by writing and explaining the concepts, strengthening
my own brain synapses, not the students.

     I used the lecture discussion method for about 8 years, at which
time (1982) I started a doctoral program in education at Boston
University in the Community College and Adult Education Department (no
longer so named). The basis for this program was Humanistic Psychology.
The professors generally practiced what they preached and demonstrated
student centered techniques ranging from cooperative to collaborative
approaches. As an example of collaborative learning, in one class on the
philosophy of education the professor simply walked in, told us this was
our class and that he would be the coach/facilitator and everything else
was up to us. That was quite a shock for us graduate students who
expected to be told all about the philosophy of education. After some
consternation and attempts to dissuade the instructor from such an
approach we got down to business and developed an excellent course.
Among other benefits we discovered was that we had quite an ethnically
diverse class. We decided it would be fascinating to try each other’s
food and decided to hold classes in each of our homes where we would
discuss the culture and educational approaches of our peers countries
and also try some new cuisine. The responsibility for class materials
and presentation was left up to us. We worked in teams to develop the
course curriculum. I probably worked harder in that course than any
other before it and learned more about the history and philosophies of
American educational systems, since that was my team’s responsibility.

    Interestingly, I had completed a minor in business, as part of my
Masters degree in Chemical Engineering at the Illinois Institute of
technology, where we used group techniques in case studies and in group
processing, trust building and group work, but because the focus was
exclusively on building working groups in companies in never occurred to
me to adapt these techniques to teaching. It wasn’t until I lived
through the approaches and practiced them that I understood the
implications for teaching. That helped convince me that hands on
interactive learning is very important for the individual learner.

     This was quite an eye opener for me and started my turnaround in
teaching philosophy from a teacher centered lecture approach to student
centered cooperative approach. There is a lot of flexibility which I
have learned to use rather than adopt one approach for every course. For
example, I provide a lot of direction and materials for my math classes,
such as work sheets and jig saws, in part because I teach developmental
math courses where students are still learning how to study and learn
math and how to learn together in groups. In my advanced engineering
courses I used more of as collaborative approach because the students
had been trained by me in earlier courses and were inclined to accept
the responsibility for their learning. They designed a power plant
virtually on their own.

    When I first started incorporating student centered techniques in my
classes I started out slowly.   I started using in class group work by
having students work in pairs followed by whole class discussion. As I
attended conferences I would seek out cooperative learning sessions and
picked up new ideas each time. I also started introducing writing
assignments into my classes. These can be found at my web site so I
won’t describe them here:

     I would emphasize here that I added only one or two new coop
activities each semester in response to my students performance on
assessments or their expressed needs and interests, rather than launch
into it totally. If students demonstrated that they were having
particular difficulty with a concept I would devise an interactive group
activity combined with writing to help them focus on the concept. I now
have a substantial collection of materials to chose from and continue to
build my coop files. I use cooperative learning virtually 100% of the
time in all my classes. Again a complete description of my class
procedures is on my web site. I do give whole class explanations (some
may call these mini lectures but they are not). They are highly focused
and generally very short, maximum five minutes, after which time
students seem to lose interest.

     Does it work?  You bet!  We give pre and post tests in our math
courses, using a computer placement system, and my students consistently
show substantial improvement on the post test. The few who do not
improve are not surprised by their results and neither am I. The
cooperative learning approach enables me to identify problems students
are having throughout the entire semester. Not every student responds to
the help and encouragement they receive, but they never blame me because
their responsibility in the process is clear. Many of these students
take my class again, if they do not complete it the first time, which I
consider to be quite a nice qualitative endorsement of cooperative

Finally, There are many positive intangibles for me personally,
associated with student centered learning approaches. The classes thrill
me every day. I enjoy every minute of teaching. Sound a little
Polyanish? I guess it is, but that is what I feel.  There are little
victories by students who have breakthroughs in concept understanding or
who successfully complete an assessment of their performance and are
celebrated by their peers or who show their enjoyment of working with
their peers, who often become their close friends. Watching students
help each other by giving explanations, discussing each other’s
approaches and even arguing about different approaches makes my day!  My
interactions with the students in class give me a feeling of real
accomplishment and satisfaction as I observe their improvement, and make
new friends myself every semester. I see the students more as peers than
I do “my students” and my respect for them becomes mutual. I did not
have these kinds of interactions with students and personal emotional
responses to teaching when I lectured primarily.