Peer Instruction Protocol (Central Dogma)

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Students will actively review topics of study via a collaborative and student-centered discussion-based protocol.

Big Idea

Student talk can be leveraged to discovering answers together!

Learner Goals

Note: I recommend that you first check out this resource in order to get the most out of this lesson!

In high school I took several drafting classes and, for a while, I had hoped to become an architect. With respect to planning instruction and teaching, I feel that I can still live out the detailed approach to building something intricate and complex even though the product is a lesson rather than a certain "built environment".

The lesson-planning document that I uploaded to this section is a comprehensive overview of how I approach lesson planning. This template includes the "Big Three" aspects of the NGSS standards: Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Science Practices. Of course, there are many other worthy learning goals, skills, instructional strategies, and assessments that can be integrated into a class session. I don't feel compelled to check every box but, rather, use it as a guide to consider various options and tailor the lesson in light of these.

With regard to this particular lesson...

1. Students will collaboratively and effectively use the Peer Instruction Protocol as a means to better know, understand, and apply key learning goals from this unit of instruction.

2. In doing so, students will practice the use of student talk to make informal claims and support these with evidence and, where necessary, appropriately adjust their thinking.

I hope you get some value from my work! Please find the more intricate details of this lesson plan there.

Anticipatory Set ("Hook")

5 minutes

Getting Started: Students are prompted to gather various resources and materials for today’s review activity. In my context this includes the following supplies (that will be supplied in this lesson in later sections):

1. Student Composition Books (CBs) or lecture notes

2. Student version of the Peer Instruction Protocol file

3. Pre-labeled index cards

4. Unit #4 Map

Instructional Input/Student Activities

45 minutes

Teaching Challenge: How do I develop a classroom culture where students engage in meaningful and productive scientific discourse with peers?

Teaching Challenge: How do I support my students to compose, communicate and evaluate a clearly stated, evidence-based, compelling argument?

My response to the first TC is to say that routines are very important to operating a classroom in an efficient way. If I were to catalog all of the strategies and routines I use in the course of a single year, I would guess that the number would be less than 20. There is a natural tension between wanting consistency and wanting variety. No less is true for many of my students. Therefore to strike a balance between the two remains a goal of mine. That being said, students need explicit teaching, modeling, and coaching with meaningful feedback in each and every strategy in order to do so successfully.

To this end, I have adapted and incorporated the Peer Instruction Protocol (PIP), now made famous (among some circles) by Dr. Eric Mazur of Harvard University. I would strongly recommend to any teacher to glean a brief overview of his philosophy and pedagogical ideas. I implement the PIP a bit differently than he has in that he embeds the process into lecture whereas I use it more for a pre-summative assessment review. Of course, we all fall along a continuum between the "purist" and the "hack", so to speak. I am working toward the first point!

The heart of the PIP is student talk. Presently, I have been hearing an increasing chorus of educational reformers tout the praise of academic vocabulary and language (multiple puns intended). And I agree that the student must be involved to increasing degrees if a constructivistic classroom is sought. At the heart of it, PIP is about creating an environment where students share, rather than hoard, their learning. In a table group of 4 students it is likely that at least one of them can speak to a prompt, concept or question presented in class. The trick with this protocol is to encourage the free exchange of ideas so that more students benefit from both teacher and peers; really a marketplace-style exchange.

Peer Instruction Protocol (PIP): The process is always the same each time we go through this activity. The basic sequence of steps are:

1. Question: Typically 10-12 questions are created that tie into the learning objectives for a unit or sub-section of a larger unit. These questions are mostly of a concept-based question rather than simply a recitation of fact. I present each question one at a time with steps #2-5 followed.

2. First Vote: Students think quietly about the question and mark their answer. Then on my cue, all students present the index card (featuring the A, B, C, or D vote) so that I can survey the class at large. Based on this I determine if consensus has been reached (90% correct).

3. Peer Discussion: If consensus has been met at step #2, then we move on to the next question. If consensus has not been met I simply state that and do not share the correct answer. The next step is for students to discuss (in their team) what they thought the answer to be. At this step, I encourage students to make and argument and back it up with evidence (e.g. a page from their lecture notes or textbook or the evidence collected during a recent experiment).  Students then add their revote answer to their paper (beside the original one).

4. Final Vote: Based on the discussion at step #3, students are prompted to revote.

5. Whole Class Discussion: If consensus has been met at step #4, then we move on to the next question. If consensus has not been met I step in to mediate the resolution to the matter. This is essentially the “autopsy of prompt and/or concept”. Typically it boils down to a single word that influenced some kids to answer one way and others to answer a different way. Otherwise two answers are easily eliminated but the remaining two are too alike or confusing to rule out a clear winner. This also gives me clear feedback as to how to rephrase prompts in student friendly language or what concepts need some surgically precise review and/or re-teaching.

My response to the second TC is, of course, to highlight its importance to technical subjects like science and math as it is reflected in NGSS's Science Practice #7: Engaging in argument from evidence. Simply put, the art of argumentation boils down to "making a claim and defending it with evidence" and extends to "identifying the flaws in arguments (one's own and others) and improving them in response to reasonable critique and feedback" (paraphrased from A Framework for K-12 Science Education).

There are formal strategies for leading students toward this end (see Mutation CER for example) but I want my students to do this informally and with a degree of automaticity. Therefore, in the PIP and especially at steps 3 & 5, a tag phrase I often say is "OK, we're not at consensus so let's talk it out. Make a case for why you think the way you do. Back it up with evidence from your notes, a recent lab or activity, or on-line." Even from the beginning of this practice students were largely willing to talk things out. And generally the re-votes result in a marked shift from "initial wrong" to "right" but sometimes it backfires and an "initial right" student changes her opinion to wrong. However with step #5 I push students (in both categories) to explain their thinking. And they know this activity is purely formative so there is not much risk (other than appearing foolish to peers which is a different discussion point). 

To sum up, I hope that you will discover and agree that this strategy has great potential for addressing the needs outlined in these two TCs. Heres are a few links to different PIP installments for BetterLesson:

1. Punnett Squares

2. Ecology

Closure: What did we learn? Where do we go from here?

5 minutes

Exit Task: Students are prompted to revisit the following unit goal(s)* (what I term the "Unit Map" for students) and evaluate their understanding of each according to the “A-B-C” scale previously assessed: 4.1.1-7; 4.2.1-6; 4.3.1-6

*These goals correspond to my particular teaching context and can be augmented and/or modified to any situation (building, district, and state).