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Day 1: Learning Assistant Seminar (First Day)

August 25, 2015

In the first day of our LA seminar, we did a fairly “standard” learning assistant activity from the original UC-Boulder LA Pedagogy Course handbook.

Students are presented with an interesting object (in my case a horse skull), and are told to work in pairs to come up with as many questions they can ask about the object. They have five minutes.

Afterwards, questions are collected the board. Once we have a varied collection, students are prompted to go back and look for any patterns or categories–questions that seem to go together. Here are some of the categories:

  • Present (Is the skull fragile?) vs Past (How did it die?)
  • Quantitative (How much mass?) vs. Curious (Was species is it)
  • Utility (Could it be turned into fossil fuel?) vs. Existential (Why is it in the room?)
  • Physical (what is the density) vs Historical (Who found it?) vs Fantasy (could it shoot lasers from its eyes?)

After talking about their categories, I introduce a new way of looking at the questions list in terms of convergent questions with (one right answer / closes possibilities) vs divergent questions (no right answer/ many right answers / opens up possibiltiies) We return to this list and find that only one questions was divergent (“What could we learn by studying this skull?)

Students are tasked with trying to take the convergent (or closed) questions and make them more open. The group came up with examples like

  • “How could we measure its mass?”
  • “What are different ways we could test its fragility”
  • “What evidence would confirm that it could shoot lasers from its eyes?”
  • “What physical properties could we measure?”
  • “What species can we rule out?”

We formalized the following strategies for making questions more open:

  • Focus on ‘How do we know?”,  rather than “What is”
  • Use conditional verbs such as “would” or “could” to emphasize possibilities
  • Ask at one category level higher

For HW, they are reading a paper about questioning, which will reinforce the open/closed, but also introduce others issues related to questioning such as “Wait Time”, “Bloom’s Taxonomy”, etc.

The rest of the day went to introductions, logistics, and “questions and concerns” discussion.

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