Initial Publication Date: October 22, 2008

Activity Design

Questions to Consider when Designing or Reviewing an Activity

These questions come from discussions at activity development workshops of the characteristics that make an activity excel, and of the features of an activity sheet that make it useful to other faculty. They bring together ideas that resulted from participants own experience teaching, from the review of activities in the workshop and from discussions of literature on teaching problem solving, learning more broadly, and curriculum design. They were originally developed in the Teaching Quantitative Skills workshop series on activity development and review; they were refined by participants in workshops creating and reviewing activities as part of the Pedagogies in Action Project (Physics, Statistics, Mathematics). Reflecting on these questions, Barb Tewksbury developed an associated rubric and the Using MARGINS Data in the Classroom project developed an observational protocol for evaluating the success of an activity as you use. The version presented here also reflects discussion by the PIs in the Cutting Edge project.

  • Will the activity lead to the desired learning?
  • Will I be able to tell?
  • Does the pedagogy promote learning?
    • Does the activity motivate and engage students?
    • Does it build on what they know and address their initial beliefs?
    • Is it appropriate for the variety of students expected in the class?
    • Are students engaged in independent thinking and problem solving?
    • Are there opportunities for students to iterate and improve their understanding incrementally?
    • Is there an appropriate balance of guidance vs exploration?
    • Does it include opportunities for reflection, discussion, and synthesis?
    • Does it provide opportunities for students to assess their learning and confirm they are on the right track?
  • Are the materials I provide for students complete and helpful?
  • Could someone else implement this from the information I provide?

This Observational Protocol (Microsoft Word 69kB Apr17 09) developed by MARGINS can be used to test if your activity is meeting your expectations during instruction.


Aspects of Activity Design

  • Assessment - This Cutting Edge resource reviews tools and gives examples of their use in geoscience courses.
  • Affective Domain - Another Cutting Edge resource reviewing the role of the Affective Domain in teaching geoscience. There are separate discussions of motivations, self efficacy, assessment, and the dilemmas the affective domain poses in teaching.
  • Metacognition A growing resource regarding what we mean by metacognition, strategies for developing students metacognitive skills, and tactics for assessment.
  • Scaffolding A starting point for what we mean by scaffolding and how to use it. This is a dated site at this point -- please don't hesitate to send recommendations for newer references.
  • Teaching with Models - Looks at the various kinds of models and their use in teaching.
  • Methods for teaching quantitative skills. The discussions of Teaching with Equations, Back of the Envelope Calculations and Models might be particularly helpful.
  • How People Learn - go here to order or obtain the full citation.
  • Learning for Use - the full citation.

Course Design

Developing Activity Sheets

  • Tips for Writing for the Web Thoughts about writing for an audience that is looking not reading; handling long pages and more.
  • Author Checklist How to tell when you are done - a checklist drawn from experience with reviewers
  • Copyright Pointers Help determining if you are within the bounds of fair use.
  • Editing Help - This provides complete and detailed instructions for page authoring. When you are editing a page there is also a link to help at the top of the green bar (upper right portion of the page) that contains a short help section that will get you through probably everything you'll need to know to create your activity page.