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STEM Education Poetry

Active Learning

The textbook, they say, isn’t gripping. 
For the lectures, it fails at equipping
The students with motive: 
It’s far too denotive.  
So faculty, now, should be flipping.  

This is one of my favorite academic limericks that I’ve written, as it approaches the humorous, lighthearted nature inherent in that form, rather than simply borrowing the structure.  That said, I’ve never posted it on Twitter because, separate from any supporting explanations, it has always seemed more flippant than I’d like (perhaps a particularly suitable descriptor, given the subject matter!).  Given its pertinence to educational approaches and terminology, it seems a useful verse to revisit in this space, with some additional context.  

The textbook, they say, isn’t gripping. 
Academic texts– especially scientific textbooks— are tough reads, given the amount of information they cover.  They are densely written in terms of actual prose; they often present data via several media (figures, tables, graphs); they introduce numerous new vocabulary words that are immediately applied (hearkening back to Bent’s categorization of “strange terms for strange things”).  

For the lectures, it fails at equipping /
The students with motive: /
It’s far too denotive.  
The next three lines of the poem highlight the challenges of textbooks for chemistry students in particular.  Chemistry textbooks are highlydenotive,” using a variety of symbolic notations with precise meanings that must be understood by the reader before disciplinary concepts can be effectively communicated.  Generally, these books themselves do not spend time on the language-learning side of the discipline (although exceptions certainly exist!), instead moving directly into the concepts described by the “strange terms.”  This writing style can be disheartening to novice learners, “fail[ing] at equipping the students with motive” to read before a class session.  

So faculty, now, should be flipping.  
One response to this challenge is “flipping the classroom,” a pedagogical approach which has gained significant momentum in recent years.  Faculty create resources (videos and lecture slides) to post online, in which they present their standard lecture material, distilling key points from the course textbook.  Students examine these resources in tandem with the book when their schedule allows.  In-class time is then fully devoted to active learning experiences such as discussions, practice problems, and case studies.  Research has shown that such efforts can lead to improved learning outcomes for STEM students, as well as more equitable classrooms