Peer Instruction

Peer Instruction is a teaching method designed/promoted by Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University. It is similar to “think, pair, share”, but generally operates at a slightly faster pace. In this strategy, students are posed with a question in multiple choice fashion. Students are given time to formulate or develop their own answer, which they signal to the teacher via hand signals, flashcards, or “clickers”.

They are then asked to defend their answer to a student nearby. After a short period of discussion, students are asked to individually signal their answers again. At this point, the teacher gauges the answers around the room. If the responses are mixed, the teacher might decide to add a bit more information, or pose a similar question. The teacher moves on if the overwhelming majority of the class has the correct answer.

Concept Questions

The questions asked during Peer Instruction are referred to as “Concept Questions”. These are carefully designed to help students recognize misconceptions or other common mistakes. Generally questions don’t ask for straight up facts, but try to illuminate differences between two or more concepts.

In a math class, for example, students might be asked to add two fractions. The correct answer, of course, is one of the selections. The distractors would be composed of responses in which a common mistake is made. For example, one choice might add the denominators. Another might multiply them. Here is an example…

\frac{1}{a}+\frac{1}{b}=

1.  \frac{a+b}{ab}      2.  \frac{2}{a+b}      3.  \frac{2}{ab}      4.  \frac{a}{b}

The general idea is to have students make mistakes and correct them early in the process. This is done before they do homework, quizzes, or exams. There is no penalty for mistakes.

Peer Instruction

Students who have the right answer are given a chance to explain it to those who don’t. Those who don’t have the right answer can ask questions to clarify the answer. This is where the term “Peer Instruction” comes from. The overall process allows all students to be active in the learning process, and can be very lively.

A typical physics class usually includes one to five concept questions each day, but might include more.

Dr. Mazur’s book (see below) outlines the methodology of Peer Instruction and provides a ton of examples for use in a physics class.  The method can be adapted for other subjects.

Source:  Mazur, Eric, Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual, Prentice Hall (1997)

Professional Development

I offer professional development related to Peer Instruction. A one-hour seminar presentation includes an overview of the idea, examples, and other information to help teachers implement the method. A workshop expands the presentation and gives teachers a chance to develop their own Concept Questions and practice the method.

The professional development can be presented to teachers of all subjects, or be modified to target the natural sciences, the humanities, or mathematics.

Contact me to set up and customize your professional development.