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Innovative Teaching Is Talk Topic

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November 8, 2005 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- In 1989, after learning of a test written in everyday language designed to assess one’s understanding of basic physics principles, Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur tested his own students. He called the results “shocking.”

“The test clearly showed that what I thought they were understanding they did not understand,” he wrote. On Thursday, Nov. 17, Professor Mazur will present “Confessions of a Converted Lecturer” at Northwestern University as part of the President’s Teaching Series. He will discuss “peer teaching,” the engaging, interactive method of instruction he has developed to more effectively teach science.

Open to the University community, the free event will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the McCormick Tribune Center Forum, 1970 Campus Drive, Evanston. A reception will begin at 5 p.m.  Reservations are recommended.

An internationally recognized scientist, Mazur believes that better science education for all is vital for continued scientific progress. His teaching method focuses on ideas and concepts instead of facts. He is author of “Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual,” which has been enthusiastically adopted around the world and across science disciplines.

In peer instruction, lectures are interspersed with conceptual questions designed to expose common difficulties students have in understanding material. Students have one to two minutes to answer a posed question. They then spend another two to three minutes discussing their answers in groups and reach a consensus on the correct answer. Questions are designed to help them discover and correct misunderstandings of the material and to learn the key concepts from one another.

Mazur and his Harvard colleagues have taught two levels of introductory physics using peer instruction. They have found that students make significant gains in conceptual understanding (as measured by standardized tests) as well as gaining problem solving skills comparable to those acquired in traditionally taught classes.

Mazur’s education research is designed to find verifiable ways to improve science education. His talk is sponsored by the Office of the President and the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence. For information or reservations, visit <http://teach.northwestern.edu/talks.html> or call (847) 467-2338

Topics: Campus Life