Studio Teaching in the Geosciences

This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Initial Publication Date: February 9, 2007

Compiled by Dexter Perkins at The University of North Dakota

What is a Studio Classroom? -- A classroom where students work in groups and are responsible for their own learning

Studio classrooms are not all the same, but all share common elements. They involve longer, fewer, class sessions with focused, intense, student activity. Any disconnect between laboratory and lecture time is absent because lab and lecture are combined. In fact, lectures are de-emphasized or eliminated altogether. Instead, students work together to solve in-depth problems and answer questions, sometimes moving from one workstation to another. The interactive classroom promotes holistic skills, including thinking, inquiry, creativity and reflection by students, frequently involving peer review and critiquing.

What is a studio classroom? (characteristics, types of activities, management, tips for success)

Why change your classroom to a studio classroom? -- To promote better student learning, help students develop higher order thinking skills, and help them develop good habits of the mind and the skills needed to be successful lifelong learners

A properly managed studio classroom can provide a quintessential active and cooperative learning environment. The value of such an environment has been well described by many. But, studio classrooms take this a step further . . .
Why Change to Studio Teaching? (analysis of learning environment, goal achievement, and student engagement)

What is needed to make this work? -- An appropriate classroom and longer blocks of time

Studio teaching is not really possible in traditional lecture halls because effective group activities require that students sit together and look at each other. Some schools have purchased new furniture and completely redesigned classrooms, especially if their studio teaching involves heavy use of computers. The benefits and principles of studio teaching, however, can be achieved using traditional laboratory tables, and expensive equipment is not needed. Studio teaching is most effective when classes meet for longer than a traditional one hour period.
What is needed? (considerations for classroom selection and scheduling)

How to plan and organize studio class? -- Carefully! And be prepared to make mid-course corrections.

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Preparing to teach a studio class can be time consuming. Because lectures are no longer the focus of the class, old lecture notes are of little value. The goal is to introduce and distribute assignments, and then step aside while students perform. To make this work requires careful preplanning and, often, making adjustments on the fly.
How to implement studio teaching (notes on the philosophy, strategy, and in-class activities

A typical class day might go something like this . . .

Before coming to class, students have done reading and homework concerning X-ray mineralogy. So, we start out the class by talking about what they found out. (If you use Just-In-Time-Teaching, this is a good time to discuss those things that the students showed most interest in.) What are the most important things they learned and what needs more explanation? When questions stop, students take a short quiz to see if they really have everything under control

Next we move on to a minilecture that introduces a project involving interpretation of X-ray diffractograms. After 15 minutes of lecture, students work in groups to identify a mineral from a diffractogram. After 30 minutes on this project, we reconvene and compare results. Once again, we identify and discuss any problems or complications that came up.

Now students prepare samples for X-ray identification. Groups are given several "unknowns" and they grind and mount them. During the rest of the day, the samples are analyzed while we do other things. Some groups will not be able to complete the analysis during class, so we have a sign-up sheet -- they can come back in the evening or the following morning to complete the X-ray work.

While the X-ray analysis are being collected, we discuss how crystal structures may be determined from X-ray data. To help explain this idea, we give students a simple arrangement of atoms, and they spend 15 minutes calculating what an ideal X-ray pattern should look like. Then, as a group, we compare their calculated patters -- if they do not all get the same answer we have a great teachable moment! Finally, we show them a real pattern for the crystal structure they modeled, confirming the validity of their calculations.

Before leaving class, we tell students what sort of reporting they will have to do during the next class, and we tell them to make sure they email all X-ray results to the rest of the class so they can compare all results.

Studio Classroom examples --a variety of sample questions for a variety of earth science topics

Find out what is being done at a number of different schools and in a number of different courses.

References on studio teaching and other references cited in this module

The literature on studio teaching is surprisingly skimpy.
Reference list (basic journal and web references)

Images not credited originated from the SERC Center or from Microsoft Clip Art.

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