In 1990, Eric Mazur, Harvard professor of physics and applied physics, had been teaching 7 years.
Has high evaluations.
And his classes are filled with premed and engineering students who can solve complicated problems.
Everything is great.
Then he reads in The Journal of Applied Physics about another professor
who had come up with a test,
a very simple test,
couched in everyday language,
to check students’ understanding of a fundamental concept of physics—force.
Thousands of undergraduates in the SW United States take the test.
And everyone fails.
After a semester of physics,they still have the same misconceptions they had at the beginning of term.
Here is the situation.
The students can recite Newton’s third law.
They can solve problems for class.
But they revert to Aristotelian logic when they try to solve physics problems using everyday language.
Mazur tries the test on his Harvard students.
Mazur gets anxious.
Is he a bad teacher?
Then he thinks again—
maybe its the students!
They could be dumb!
He considers the test.
Maybe its a bad, trick test.
He has a break through when he tries to explain the questions in class.
They aren’t getting it.
So he decides to try something unusual. He tells them to discuss it amongst themselves.
The room goes wild.
150 students all talking and gesturing.
in about 3 minutes, everyone understood the problem
He had just spent 10 minutes trying to explain it!
Interactive learning triples students’ gains
in knowledge as measured by these kinds of conceptual tests
and by many other assessments as well.
It breaks the gender gap between male and female students.
Results in better retention of knowledge.
And more students go on to become scientists.
There’s also better retention of knowledge. “In a traditional physics course, two months after taking the final exam, people are back to where they were before taking the course,” Mazur notes. “It’s shocking.” (Concentrators are an exception to this, as subsequent courses reinforce their knowledge base.) Peer-instructed students who’ve actively argued for and explained their understanding of scientific concepts hold onto their knowledge longer. Another benefit is cultivating more scientists. A comparison of intended and actual concentrators in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields indicates that those taught interactively are only half as likely to change to a non-STEM discipline as students in traditional courses.