The Interactive Lecture

I’m not going to lie: I like to lecture. This might seem like a problem, since I teach at a school where Project Based Learning is the norm, and a lot of the students seem to think that they signed up for a school where there won’t be the typical stand-and-deliver sort of teacher-to-student interaction.

First of all, I remind them, just because it is PBL doesn’t mean that you can’t have lectures, and second, you ASKED for the instruction when you said you needed a refresher or lecture on (…whatever they needed to know).  That said, as much as I might enjoy standing and delivering, I still want the students more engaged, and less, well, plaintive.

As I considered WHY I like to lecture – it’s fun to share ideas that I know something about – I came to an idea. Could I get the students to experience that same kind of fun as I do, sharing ideas, being the center of attention, etc? Could I make it so that students engage more completely in a lecture format?

Hence was born something that I have been working on for the last two years, and I call it (rather prosaically, I know) the “Interactive Lecture”.

Here is the idea: I create a series of slides (with mostly images rather than text) that invoke students’ previous knowledge, and then build upon that knowledge to create some new knowledge.  I then tell the students that I am not going to lecture to them – they must lecture. Of course, what they say will probably not be correct at first, but if the whole class pitches in, then together they should be able to come up with the right idea for a given set of images, and thus the ideas those images represent.

Once students have done their best to describe a particular slide, then I can augment with any commentary necessary to complete the ideas the slide is supposed to represent.  Then we start the process over with the next slide.

Check out the video. It shows only one slide from a deck I was using to teach about energy production in cells, so that you can see the cycle: students come up, they speak to it, and at the end, I add anything that I need/want to add.

This sort of practice can be a bit intimidating for students who don’t feel as confident about the material, so there are a couple of tricks that help out:

  1. I set expectations that people are going to say lots of different things, and that’s fine.  This process requires some risk-taking.  I tell students that if they disagree with someone’s interpretation, the only way they can disagree is to go up and offer an alternative interpretation – and then we as a class can decide on the explanation that seems to make the most sense, without telling anyone that they are wrong.
  2. I give a handout with the slides printed with some room for notes.  That way, students can look ahead to see what slides they might be able to address.
  3. Sometimes I have them talk to each other in pairs about a slide before we have anyone go to the front – so that the engagement hits 100%, and I can listen to conversations.  If one of the less-confident says something good, I can send them to the front so that he/she can publicly show competence.
  4. I give them room to be funny.  Sometimes a student wants to go up and just say something goofy, and honestly, it provides a welcome break from all the cognitive-heavy-lifting they might be doing as they decode the imagery.

The handouts (Trick number 2 mentioned above) provide a nice form of assessment as well; they serve as part of the two prompts that I typically follow up with this experience, where I give the students a sort of differentiated follow-up assignment.  Here are a couple of possibilities:

Level 1 Prompt: Now that you have participated in the lecture, write out detailed descriptions of the slides and the ideas the images are meant to represent. One to two sentences per slide, please.

Level 2 Prompt: Now that you have participated in the lecture, provide a description of the last slide, then explore in the textbook the “Electron Transport Chain”.  You may want to refer as well to the Crash Course Video on cellular respiration as well.  Then provide a detailed description of the electron transport chain, and its role in generating ATP.

Students choose one or the other.  Note that the Level 2 prompt actually requires less writing, but is more complex, so that the kids who want to go for deeper understanding aren’t just saddled with more writing.

I teach seniors, and this works very well with them, but I’ve also shared the technique with our freshman biology teacher, and she has used it with great success.  She reports increased engagement and students having more fun with the content that might otherwise be a bit dry with a teacher-stand-and-deliver model.

Here are links to two ppts for which I have used this technique.  The first is the ppt I used in the video, dealing with ATP and bioremediation.  The second has to do with Natural Selection.



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