In the astronomy education community, it’s almost universal that we come into the classroom and, as quickly as possible, get a browser on the screen showing Astronomy Picture of the Day. As the students find their seats and settle, they can’t help but glance up at the picture. It gets them into “astronomy mode.” More often than not, the instructor can find some connection between each day’s APOD and the class’ content. We can begin each day with a conversation about astronomy.
Recently, I’ve been visiting classes of first-time instructors. Many times, the students arrive, find their seats, stare momentarily at the blank screen, and launch into some conversation with their neighbors. And not one about astronomy or chemistry or history or whatever they’re going to be doing for the next 50 or 80 minutes.
That’s an opportunity lost.
Instructors, your students are here, ready to turn their attention to your material. Grab their fleeting curiosity and exploit it! Find a picture or diagram or something interesting, maybe even from later in today’s class, and put it on the screen. And then do this:
Add two lines of text:
What do you notice?
What do you wonder?
Can there be better prompts for starting a conversation with your students? EVERY student can notice something and wonder about it. This is another opportunity for you to
- give your students practice interpreting graphs/diagrams/photographs
- give them practice talking about your field
- create an opportunity for your students to contribute to the class, rather than being spectators
- learn what your students are thinking about — that’s critical if you want to build new knowledge on existing knowledge (you know, How People Learn…)
I know N=1 isn’t data so let me call this a case study about how a simple picture with those “notice” and “wonder” prompts reveals wonderful things about your students. I was in a meeting with half a dozen grad students, from all across campus, and I put up this slide:
Within 30 seconds of me saying, “Well?”, they’d taught each other that this was a sunset. It went something like this:
There’s a half a Sun.
So it’s sunrise or sunset.
Dude, we’re in San Diego. The only place you see a horizon like that is West. This is a sunset.
Get. Outta. Here! Do you know how much context and personal experience and astronomical knowledge was revealed there! And I didn’t say a word of it!
So, do it! Find an interesting picture and make it your first slide. When you get to class, get it on-screen as quickly as possible, before you straighten your notes and pull last week’s homework from your bag and get the microphone cord threaded through your shirt and talk to that student about that thing and…
You don’t have to wait for the clock to strike before you start teaching.
Credit where it’s due