What do Bloom’s Taxonomy and baseball have in common? Just like baseball, students need constant practice and feedback in order to hone their skills and build their confidence in advance of formal assessments. It’s why Daniel Collins—professor and baseball enthusiast—opted for a multi-pronged scaffolding approach to help students master core concepts while delivering the feedback they need to hit ‘home runs’ even when the stakes are high. Collins, Instructional Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University, shares his tips to pave a solid foundation with the goal of getting students to embrace higher-order thinking.

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Pre-class: Where the foundation begins

Like many faculty, Collins realizes that students arrive to his class with vastly different levels of understanding. “I have a lot of first-generation students from small high schools who have taken one chemistry course so far,” he says. “For me, it’s all about how I can help get the material on their level.” Rather than rushing to cover all the material during his time with students, Collins slows things down. He instead records videos that are no more than ten minutes in length that give students a glimpse into what will be covered the next day in class. This method lets students familiarize themselves with concepts such as stereochemistry at their own pace. Plus, recorded lectures let learners rewind and rewatch at their leisure versus putting pressure on them to copy down diagrams as they previously experienced.

Once students are able to remember and understand information, Collins moves into ‘application’ mode. He creates weekly pre-class assignments using Aktiv Chemistry, an active learning platform that helps students visualize chemical structures, dimensional analysis, nomenclature, equilibrium and more. Collins sees this assignment method as a prime way to make learning less about points and more about knowledge retention. Plus, allowing students to complete these three-to-four question quizzes during a 24-hour period—versus a set time—makes the process less intimidating. “I’m not throwing students to the wolves. With videos online and basic foundational questions, my goal is for students to arrive tomorrow with some know-how,” he says.

In-class: Stepping up to the plate

Once the basics are covered, Collins uses live, in-person lectures to build skills and competence. He has three major goals when meeting with students in person:

  1. Fortify the material he’s previously discussed in video recordings
  2. Introduce more challenging concepts that may require faculty involvement
  3. Help students improve their skills by dispelling misconceptions about concepts covered thus far

Collins also translates his use of Aktiv Chemistry to real-time learning experiences. “I’m able to take the temperature in the room and immediately find out whether an example lands,” he shares. Aktiv’s helpful hints and guided feedback help students understand where they went wrong. Collins also uses class time as an opportunity to promote peer-to-peer learning. Students play a heavy role in guiding one another through the learning process by drawing out chemical structures and discussing their solutions in small groups. Not only does the process get students talking with new classmates, it helps build confidence in their own abilities.

Homework: Making learning stick in the long-run

‘How can I help students retain the skills they’ve gained during pre- and in-class work?’ This is the ultimate question that guides Collins when it comes time to administer homework. This new set of problems—typically no more than 20 questions in one sitting—aren’t designed to trip students up. Rather, it’s an opportunity for students to apply their understanding of chemical processes already covered in class. “My emphasis is on long term retention. It’s not to trap students over how they answer a question,” Collins notes. 

The penultimate item in Collins’ scaffolding sequence involves low-stakes quizzes. Administered using Aktiv, this is a final opportunity for students to absorb material and practice retrieving their understanding before their high-stakes tests. These quizzes are timed as Collins aims to simulate a real test-taking environment. He again reduces the pressure that can come with timed tests by allowing students to drop their worst of two quiz grades.

Practice makes (near) perfect

The above steps, including recorded lecture videos, pre-class assignments, in-class problems, homework and low-stakes quizzes might sound like a cumbersome undertaking. But Collins has found students are able to reap the benefits when it comes time to performing on their high-stakes tests. He’s found a multi-step scaffolded classroom to be extremely rewarding on student success. And he’s got the data to show for it. 

Data from Spring 2023 reveal students received an average of 83.2 percent on their exam questions. It’s Collins’ hope that his ongoing cycle of feedback and practice give learners the confidence to effectively problem solve in future chemistry courses and their careers. “My class should give them enough flexibility to see their long-term path—it’s what keeps me tinkering at all times,” he says.

Planner: One week lesson plan

Collins’ scaffolding techniques have made quite the ripple on student success. Put his tips to use in your own course with his sample planner below.

– Lecture materials released on LMS or engagement platform (videos, pre-class questions, class notes)
– Pre-class assignment on engagement platform
– Lecture: Complete notes
– In-class questions on engagement platform
– Supplemental worksheet posted on LMS
– Lecture materials released on LMS or engagement platform (videos, pre-class questions, class notes)
– Pre-class assignment on engagement platform
– Lecture: Complete notes
– In-class questions on engagement platform
– Homework launched (due Monday)

→ Download our fully customizable course planner to build lectures, tests and more

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