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Enough with the Lecturing, Already!

Findings from studies comparing lecturing to active learning in undergraduate education show that fewer students fail science, engineering and math courses that are taught in an active-learning style than with lectures. The study was reported on in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in May. Read the summary here:


On average across all the studies, about one-third of students in traditional lecture classes failed (withdrew or got Fs or Ds). About one-fifth of the students fail in classes with active learning.

According to Scott Freeman, University of Washington, and lead author of the study, "If you have a course with 100 students signed up, about 34 fail if they get lectured to but only 22 fail if they do active learning, according to our analysis. There are hundreds of thousands of students taking STEM courses in U.S. colleges every year, so we're talking about tens of thousands of students who could stay in STEM majors instead of flunking out every year."

For me, the main take-away from this is: Traditional teaching styles can kill the excitement, joy, and passion for learning CS, and if they don’t love it, they won’t stay. Perhaps we can help fill the pipeline we have been crying about for years by merely changing teaching styles! While the study was on undergraduate students, I’d bet similar patterns could be found with high school students.

The good news is that there are many resources for adding more active learning into high school CS classrooms. Check out the latest on the CSTA website under “Curriculum” and “Resources.” See what’s being recommended in the Exploring CS (http://www.exploringcs.org/) and CS Principles (http://www.csprinciples.org) curriculum. And a quick scan of the Session Descriptions for the 2014 CSTA Annual Conference reveals that almost EVERY session is about adding excitement to the CS classroom with innovative programs and activities.

No excuses now….drop the lecture.

Pat Phillips
Editor, CSTA Voice


I fully agree: to deliver a truly captivating and inspiring lecture is a challenge that few teachers can meet. One of them is Walter Lewin at MIT, I was totally blown away by his approach! Of course, I can't imagine a school other than MIT with both the infrastructure and open-mindedness to install a human pendulum in a lecture hall... so active learning is the way.
However if you ask me which lesson was the most enjoyable for both myself and my students in this past school year, it was indeed a lecture, in which I encouraged my students to participate themselves. In the second grade of middle school (eight grade for US standards) I used the seven-segment display to introduce the textbook concept of digital representation of information. They loved it. My following classes in that grade - the curriculum is mainly analog vs digital, introduction to multimedia & networks, files, extensions, search engines and safe Internet use - were focused on work at the computer in pairs after a 10-minute "lecture" on what we were going to do. The challenge is to keep the whole class motivated with exercises that are near their interests (so they won't wander off to other sites despite my "periscope" vision!). It's not easy one way or another but when you get them so involved that they don't want to leave even when the bell rings, it's the best reward in the world:)

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