(Each month, I write a “From the Director” column for the UBC Okanagan Centre for Teaching and Learning newsletter.)
Take a moment to answer this question:
No, seriously, think it over and deliberately pick A, B, or C. Maybe even write it down on a scrap of paper.
I’ve helped many instructors integrate peer instruction to their courses. Peer instruction, recall, is an evidence-based, active learning strategy where
- the instructor poses a conceptually challenging, multiple-choice question
- students think about the question on their own and vote for one of the choices using a clicker
- students turn to their neighbors and discuss the question and their answers
- students may vote a second time, depending on the nature of the question
- the instructor leads a class-wide discussion where students share their thinking, finishing with
- the instructor models expert-like thinking and confirms why the right answers are right and the wrong answers are wrong
Each episode of peer instruction can take anywhere from 2 to 10 or more minutes, depending on the question, the answers, and the richness of the discussion.
This question about chocolate is one of my favourites because it reveals how a good peer instruction question can spark and drive discussion. A learning outcome behind this question might be
students will be able to name the six phase changes (evaporate, sublimate, freeze, etc.) and translate back and forth between the technical name (“melt”) and plain English (“when something changes from solid to liquid”)
When I demonstrate peer instruction to instructors, after the second vote I start the class-wide discussion by asking student to tell me what “evaporate” means. “Great, yes, liquid to gas! What’s the opposite called when it goes from gas to liquid?” They have to give me the technical name, “condense.” Together, we touch on all six processes before going back to this particular question about chocolate. Sure, you could put up a PPT slide with a table showing all the phase names and changes but students could simply scan the table without activating the ideas and practicing saying the words. And imagine giving a 50-minute lecture only to discover there are students who misinterprets what you mean by “condense” — the technical definition (gas to liquid) is different than the plain English meaning in “condensed milk.”
So what will this chocolate do? It’ll change from liquid to solid. In other words, C) it will freeze.
“What!?! How can it freeze? It’s not even cold!!!”
That’s the other beauty of this question, and peer instruction questions in general. If there’s a strong misconception (“freezing is cold because, you know, ice”), you can build that misconception into the question, giving students low-stakes opportunities to activate and then confront their own misconceptions.
A good peer instruction question is not simply an assessment of fact. Instead, peer instruction allows the instructor to drive a discussion, giving each student an opportunity to think on their own and then practice talking like an expert with their peers.
For more information, check out this post I wrote about getting the most out of peer instruction.