AY 375 - Fall 2016: Third Day Lesson Plan

Introductions (10 minutes)

  • Pass out syllabus to anyone who doesn't have one yet
  • Welcome everyone, introduce each instructor
  • Go around and have each person introduce themselves and state what class they're GSI-ing for and when their sections are (instructors fill in the wiki as this is happening)
  • Answer logistical questions about the class

Section Recap (20 minutes)

Remind them that this is something we intend to do every week and that everyone should come prepared to share about how their previous sections went.

(3 minutes) Individually, think about how section went this past week. Questions to keep in mind:

  • What did you do?
  • How did you implement your activities?
  • What worked?
  • What didn't work?
  • What would you do differently?
  • How did you assess learning?
  • Did you receive any unexpected questions/reactions/etc.?
  • Did anything unexpected happen?
  • What were you thinking about while you were running section? Any moments of panic?

(17 minutes) Open the floor up for general questions and sharing about how sections are going.

Blooms's Taxonomy of Learning (20 minutes)

(5 minutes) Individually, write or draw the first thing that comes to your mind (can be a plot, equation, definition, idea, action, image, etc.) for the following words: a) Stellar Spectra, b) The Seasons, c) The Moon, d) Total Solar Eclipse, e) Blackbodies

  • Have members share what they wrote.
  • If you were teaching this subject, would this be something you would want your students to write/draw if they were asked this question?
  • Why did you write/draw that particular item? Does this reflect how you learned this material? (Presumably there will be at least two approaches to one of the subjects.)

(5 minutes) Now, think about what kind of question you would ask about each of the same subjects to your students. What do you want to test them on?

(5 minutes) Share these questions as a class. What words represent higher vs. lower levels of learning? What type of understanding are you testing? Do you immediately understand the material in this way? How do you get to this level of understanding? What is the highest form of learning you could imagine? (a pyramid shape should start to appear on the board).

Pass out Bloom handout. Students often treat learning as fact memorization and regurgitation. As GSIs, we want to help students come to a higher level of understanding. How can the questions we ask and the lesson plans we write encourage this?

(5 minutes) Using some of the verbs on the handout, re-write the questions you originally wrote down. Think about what concepts you would want a student to remember and be able to explain. Share new questions with class.

Break (5 minutes)

Learning Objectives and Lesson Plans (15 minutes)

(5 minutes) Consider your next lesson plan. What types of learning are you targeting with each activity? Do your activities match your learning objective? What is your learning objective?

(5 minutes) Achieving and writing good learning objectives requires an exact statements of your goals, not vague generalities. For example, how can we make the following learning objectives better?

  • Bad: Understand Kepler's Laws.
  • Good: Be able to identify the location of the star in an elliptical planetary orbit and understand this is a statement of Kepler's first law.
  • Bad: Appreciate the scale of the Solar System.
  • Good: Be able to calculate the ratio of distances between the Sun-Earth and distance from the Sun to other planets.
  • Bad: Understand that stars shine by nuclear fusion.
  • Good: Be able to define nuclear fusion and state that hydrogen fusion occurs in the core of stars.

(5 minutes) A good section has a lesson plan that targets these learning objects (and is implemented well). Reference 12-step guide for making a lesson plan. Discuss each step briefly.

Encourage students to keep a record of their lesson plans and to reflect on each one after they use it. We will be collecting their lesson notebooks to glance through them at some point in the semester!

If there's extra time

(5 minutes) How can we accidentally discourage learning? Pass out cut-outs of each topic in Six Ways to Discourage Learning article to 6 groups. Groups should read their handout and do the following:

  • Summarize how learning is discouraged
  • Explain how we as GSIs can avoid falling into the trap
  • Can you think of other ways we can avoid discouraging learning that wasn't mentioned in the article?

(10 minutes) Share as class.

Group Work (40 minutes)

(5 minutes) Why group work?

  1. Group work appeals to many learning styles. Group work provides a sense of shared purpose that can increase motivation.
  2. Group work introduces students to the insights and values of their peers.
  3. Life after college will involve group work.
  4. Listening to lecture and taking notes will carry the students only so far in their development. Learning cannot be passive. Group work engages students in the learning and thinking process.
  5. We (as college instructors) should be encouraging and developing students' ability to do higher-order thinking.

(10 minutes) Discussion (keep notes on board): In your experiences as a student or as a GSI, what have been some of the problems/pitfalls with group work? What are some difficulties in implementing group work? What types of group work have you experience or would you like to implement?

Some tips that address some difficulties of group work:

  1. Be sure to introduce the activity with crystal clear instructions. Ambiguity leads to either poor group work or individuals going off and doing their thing.
  2. The quality of the group work depends sensitively on the activity and questions asked. We encourage open-ended questions and questions that actually involve group discussion. The focus on problem solving results in individual working; new strategies are needed for this, like
    1. Only hand out one worksheet per group.
    2. Have the students write their answers on a large sheet of paper, work entirely at one of the whiteboards, or have some sort of whiteboard at each table.
    3. Anything else?
  3. Good group work activities take time, often more time than just lecturing. However, the added work results in added gains for the students.
  4. A “Q&A” part of section can involve a lot of peer learning, if you get good at enabling the students to answer each other's questions. This requires more sophistication than just asking the smartest student to say the right answer; you have to ask the question in a way such that all of the students have a chance to grapple with the question initially posed.
  5. “I paid all this $$ to be taught by professors and graduate students, not listen to classmates who don't know as much.” Let students know the benefits of group work. They will resist at first, but proper use of group work will show the students they are learning just as much (usually more) than if you were lecturing.
  6. “Students don't like working in groups.” Students are used to working individually. Or students might fear that some group members will not pull their weight. Again, explaining the rational for group work is key, as well as providing checks for students who do not contribute.
  7. Get feedback often.

Suggestions to your students (adapted from McKeachie):

  1. Be sure everyone contributes to discussions and to tasks. You each have something unique to contribute. Know that you both have something to learn from others and to teach others.
  2. Don't jump to conclusions too quickly. Be sure that minority ideas are considered.
  3. Don't assume consensus because no one has opposed an idea of offered an alternative. Check agreement with each group member verbally, not just by a vote.
  4. Set goals—immediate, intermediate, and long-term—but don't be afraid to change them as you progress. (These should be obvious in sections.)
  5. For bigger multi-part tasks: Allocate tasks to be done. Be sure that each person knows what he or she is to do. Check this before beginning.

Types of Group Work

  1. The Interactive Lecture
    • The “biggest” form of group work, where the whole class works as one big group (and you're a group member).
    • Can be used with worksheets and/or demos.
    • Continuously call on a variety of students to explain answers. If you don't want to call on individual students (cold calling), you might call on particular groups (“This group, what do you think?”)
    • This style tends to keep all students engaged and on task.
  2. Concept Mapping
    • A concept map illustrates the connection between terms, ideas, or concepts, which creates higher-level learning. Concepts and terms are written in bubbles and lines are drawn connecting related concepts. With each line, the relation is identified.
    • Students in groups can be given a partially completed concept map and a list of terms that they need to fill in the blanks with. Alternatively, students can work at filling in the relations between various concepts.
  3. Jigsaw Projects
    • Each group contributes to a specific part of the assignment. When members have completed their task, all groups shuffle so that one person from each original group is in each new group. Each person then shares their answer and explanation with the rest of the group.
    • Requires EVERY person in section to be responsible for knowing why the answer is what it is.
    • Good way of covering an entire worksheet worth of questions in a short amount of time.
    • Make sure you assess that groups understand why their answer is what it is.
  4. KWL
    • Stands for “what I Know, what I Want to know, and what I Learned. It happens in three parts.
      • (Part 1) To introduce a new topic, have the students list what they know about the topic before you start discussion. Collect these lists or have them share.
      • (Part 2) Using these lists, you can modify the remainder of the section to address misconceptions and erroneous understanding. Run section employing whatever demos, activities, etc. you want to use.
      • (Part 3) At the end of the unit, have students list what they have learned. You might ask them to identify the three most important concepts, answer some questions, or just free-write. Collect these lists or have them share.
  5. Choreographed Group Tasks
    • Example: Suppose you hand out a worksheet that has six questions. Go through the first two questions of a worksheet on the board (with varying amounts of feedback from students). Then have students work on the next two questions (which are similar but different to the earlier questions) in groups. Then have the class explain to you how to solve question 5 (and do so on the board). Ask for a volunteer to do question 6.
    • Students learn in different ways, so variety is a good thing.
  6. Activity Stations
    • Break the class into a few stations (3 is ideal), where one station deals with one aspect of what you want to cover in section that day.
    • Have the class break into groups of three, one for each station.
    • Each group spends 15 minutes at each station, then rotates.
    • Each station could be either a demo, hands-on activity, some worksheet questions.
    • Instructor must be very careful with timing so they can make it around to each group every 15 minutes to assess.
  7. Open-ended Questions / Case Studies (e.g., Think Like an Astronomer)
    • One thing that makes discussion difficult in science courses is that most of our questions have a single “correct” answer. Asking open-ended questions can encourage students to think about how concepts fit together.
    • Requires that the question is at the appropriate level of the class. Takes more time to prepare.
    • Anything that allows for interpretation is ripe for discussion.
    • e.g., You have a sealed box (of doughnuts) in the front of the class. Have students in groups device experiments to determine what is in the box (without opening it). Then tie this into how astronomers might detect dark matter, etc.
    • e.g., Give each group a budget and a catalog that includes costs of telescopes, mirrors, equipment, launching into space, etc. Have them come up with a plan to build a telescope at some particular wavelength (having to weigh whether it is in space, what resolution it will have, etc.).
    • e.g., Have students reproduce the thought process of famous astronomers and scientists (e.g., Hubble's discover of other galaxies and the realization of the size of the universe).
  8. Send-A-Problem
    • Have each group try to solve a different problem related to material covered in section/lecture.
    • Each group them gives their problem and suggested solution to a different group, which then evaluates the solution and offers corrections.
    • That group then gives their altered solution to another group, who provides the final evaluation.
    • Good for lengthy 7a/7b type problems or problems involving multiple steps. Has groups practice group thinking and comparing/discriminating among multiple solutions.


  1. Start keeping a lesson plan notebook. Think carefully about your learning objective(s) each week (write them down!), and flesh out your lesson plan. After section, reflect on how your section went and make comments in your lesson plan notebook. We'll be checking in on these notebooks sometime in the semester.
  2. Write a self-reflection piece: 2-3 paragraphs on how you envision your teaching experience to be this semester. How do you believe students best learn? What techniques do you hope to incorporate in your teaching practices? What do you hope your students learn? How do you anticipate your sections to be? What is your `vision' for your classroom? We will collect these next week and return to them at the end of the semester.