Tragically, many students come to college with very little modeling experience. Not modeling in the sense of fashionably wearing retail clothing or modeling in the sense of painstakingly gluing tiny pieces together in order to make ostentatious little cars, but modeling in the sense of deriving mathematical equations to represent real-world phenomenon. Dr. Abra Brisbin, Department of Mathematics, utilizes an active learning teaching technique called “information search” to get her students to interact with models in a meaningful way.
Setting: Activity utilizing pod groups (5 pods with 3 students per pod), groups reporting out, and a discussion involving the whole class
Setup for the activity: Students were assigned to read two papers ("Just modeling through: A rough guide to modeling" by Michael Pidd and "It's the findings, stupid, not the assumptions" by Stephen Shugan) and write answers to three questions about the papers before class.
How the activity unfolded in the classroom: I assigned each group one of the first 5 principles of modeling discussed in Pidd's paper. They discussed their assigned principle within their pod, and used the whiteboards to write answers to the following questions: What does this principle mean? Why is it important? Give an example of applying the principle. While discussing within their pods, several groups used the computers at each table to bring up a copy of the paper to refer to.
After about 15 minutes, I asked a member of each group to explain their answers to the rest of the class. I solicited discussion on connections between the principles and students' prior knowledge by asking, "Did any of the principles surprise you?" and "How could this principle apply to the model of the wolf population we worked on last week?"
After the activity: The presentation by students and discussion were part of the activity. On a subsequent homework problem, students were asked to build a model of the number of restaurants in the United States, and write a paragraph describing how their model-building process illustrated a principle of modeling.
Additional comments from the instructor: "I was pleased that this activity got students to think about the broader context of modeling, in contrast to the specific mathematical tools for modeling that are the focus of most of the course. In the future, I would like to spend more time discussing the Shugan paper (most of the time was spent discussing the Pidd paper), and integrate additional questions throughout the term to call students' attention back to this activity."
Tip provided by Abra Brisbin
Write-up by Jon Pumper