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Paper No. 21
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-6:00 PM


GREENE, Lauren1, MCCONNELL, David A.2 and ALMQUIST, Katherine2, (1)Mathematics, Science & Technology Education, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27603, (2)Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695,

Approximately 30 Physical geology labs serve nearly 600 students each semester at NCSU. We recently reformatted the labs to involve numerous active learning components. These new labs typically incorporated several hands-on activities, often designed around open-ended questions that were to be answered in small groups. The labs were designed so that teaching assistants would guide students using constructivist methods that help learners understand new concepts by building on their existing knowledge. We were curious to see if the TAs would respond positively to the reformatted labs or if they would revert to a more standard lecture-based model.

We designed a simple experiment to assess the degree of constructivist teaching taking place. One of the authors (LG) was a graduate student in science education who was enrolled in the lab during Fall 2009, the first semester the new lab format was introduced. LG had previous experience in using the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP; Sawada et al., 2002) to measure the degree of reformed (constructivist) teaching taking place in college and K-12 classrooms. Low RTOP scores (0-20) indicate a typically passive learning environment while high scores (70-100) are indicative of a strongly constructivist learning environment. LG completed a different lab each week (different instructor, different topic) and subsequently scored her experience using the RTOP scale. Classes taught by eleven different TAs were assessed and earned scores of 47-68, with an average of 58.

A review of lab scores revealed that all labs scored lowest on the RTOP’s Procedural Knowledge category that includes the use of a variety of means to represent phenomena, students making predictions, and student reflection on their learning. Some labs worked more smoothly than others and encouraged greater student engagement. Our analysis revealed that there are several actions that were characteristic of high-scoring TAs: 1. They would pause the class to explain the next part of the lab; 2. There were clear instruction about when students were expected to work independently or in groups; 3. They asked students questions during the lab – to groups and to whole class; and, 4. They connected the material to real world examples and other disciplines.

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