Shannon Wachowski has always wanted to help people. With a background in chemical engineering, she found her true calling in education. While not all of Wachowski's students shared her enthusiasm for high school science content, she ultimately discovered POGIL was a great way to keep them engaged.
Learning the POGIL pedagogy also freed Wachowski to put structures in place to help students construct their own learning. “Sometimes people think POGIL is just about ‘worksheets,’ but it's so much more than that," Wachowski explained. "It's the facilitation of the entire activity. How do you group students? How do you help them engage with the material in a productive way?”
To an untrained eye, active learning may even look disorganized. “When I taught and administrators came into my classroom, they would think my class- room was chaotic, but it wasn't," Wachowski said. "It's controlled chaos.”
Wachowski is no longer in the classroom, but her experiences inform her work as a Science and Career and Vocational Education consultant for Wyoming's Department of Education. She's also helping to launch The Project's new classroom observation tool, OPTIC. Designed specifically for active learning classrooms, OPTIC will help both newer instructors and administrators see what someone like Wachowski sees during a POGIL activity.
“Collecting this data will help give a better picture of what's happening in active learning classrooms," she said. "A lot of the evidence we have is anecdotal, which means it's hard to understand what's actually happening. But having data from an observation tool changes that.”
With data from OPTIC in hand, teachers and administrators can more easily “advocate for active learning and POGIL as an alternative to more traditional teaching methods," said Wachowski.
She also sees the OPTIC tool as a powerful way to broaden the POGIL community and speed the acceptance of active learning classrooms more broadly. The more educators learn from one another, the easier facilitating active learning becomes.
"That's why the POGIL community is so important," said Wachowski. "People who are new to the community are welcomed, and they understand that they're not doing active learning ‘wrong.' POGIL really is a community effort to help teachers and students.”
OPTIC is currently in the testing stage. If you'd like to help the working group test the app or provide feedback on its training videos, visit https://bit.ly/3ngemic for more information.
- Will Scouten