Physics Method and activities

Instructional Method
April 17, 2008, 03:43
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What are instructional methods?
Instructional methods are ways that information is presented to students. Such methods fall into two categories: teacher-centered approaches and student- centered approaches. There is not one “best” approach to instruction. Some goals are better suited to teacher-centered approaches while others clearly need student-centered approaches (Shuell, 1996). Teacher-centered instruction has been criticized as ineffective and grounded in behaviorism; (Marshall 1992, Stoddard, Connell, Stgofflett, and Peck 1993) however, this is not the case if delivered effectively (Eggen & Kauchak, 2001). Let’s take a closer look at these approaches.

Teacher-centered Approaches Teacher-centered approaches include instruction where the teacher’s role is to present the information that is to be learned and to direct the learning process of students (Shuell, 1996). The teacher identifies the lesson objectives and takes the primary responsibility for guiding the instruction by explanation of the information and modeling. This is followed by student practice. Methods that fall into the teacher-centered approaches include demonstration, direct instruction, lecture and lecture-discussions.


Demonstration involves the teacher showing students a process or procedure such a science process, a cooking procedure or a computer procedure. Involving students in demonstrations allow this method to be less passive.

Direct Instruction

Direct Instruction is used to help students learn concepts and skills. There are various models of Direct Instruction but all include similar steps: 1) intro & review, 2) presentation of new information, 3) guided practice, 4) independent practice.



Lecture is the most criticized of all teaching methods AND the most commonly used because 1) planning time is limited, 2) lectures are flexible and can be applied to any content and 3) lectures are simple. The most critical fact about lecture is that it puts students in a passive role.


Lecture-discussion is a combination of lecture and teacher questioning of students.
Learner-centered Approaches Grounded in constructivism, learner-centered approaches involve instruction where the teacher is a facilitator (or guide) as the learners construct their own understandings. There are a number of methods in this category that are listed and explained below.
Case Studies
Case studies involve groups of students working together to analyze a “case” that has been written on a particular situation or problem to find a solution. Case studies allow students to apply new knowledge and skills for solving complex issues. This method is not appropriate for use with elementary students. The case study is completed by discussion of the case, allowing learners to debate their conclusions.

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning involves small heterogeneous student groups working together to solve a problem or complete a task. All students in the group must actively participate with each student maintaining some independence. The success of the group depends on the input of each individual. This teaching method promotes active participation, individual accountability, students’ ability to work cooperatively and improvement of social skills.

Discussion/Discussion Boards

Designed to encourage thinking skills, discussion allows learners to increase interpersonal skills. Discussions may occur in the classroom or online. One way to implement discussions with twenty-first century students is to use discussion boards. Previously referred to as “bulletin boards” or “message boards”, these areas are places where a question can be posted by the teacher and students may post “threads” (comments to the question) asynchronously (at various times). Discussion boards vary in participation and good discussion may result from the expertise of the facilitator. Incentives (bonus points) may be needed to motivate all students and rules must be made clear. See more information about using discussion boards. Course management software such as Blackboard have built in a discussion board feature making it quite easy to implement.

Discovery Learning

Discovery learning is an inquiry-based learning method in which learners use prior knowledge and experience to discover new information that they use to construct learning. This method is the most successful if the student has some prerequisite knowledge and the experience is structured (Roblyer, Edwards, and Havriluk, 1997).

Graphic Organizers

Graphic Organizers are found in the form of diagrams, maps and webs and illustrate information in a graphical format. Diagrams may be drawn by hand or designed on the computer with programs such as Inspiration (grades 6-12) or Kidspiration (grades K-5). This strategy/tool can be used when brainstorming ideas, analyzing stories, analyzing characters, comparing and contrasting information, storyboarding (planning projects) prewriting during the writing process and breaking down concepts to show the relationships with parts (such a the parts of a cell). These graphical representations of information have been found to make information easier to learn and understand, especially complex information (Dye, 2000). Further, using visual learning strategies have been found to be effective with struggling learners (Bulgren, Schumaker & Deschler, 1998; Gardill & Jitendra, 1999 cited in O’Bannon and Puckett, 2007).


Journals are often used in classrooms to allow students to record reflections and ideas. Typically written in a notebook and recorded each day, the journal serves as a method of communication between the student and the teacher. A blog is short for web log and is simply an online journal or diary versus it’s more traditional “notebook” cousin. A new method for reflective writing, blogs can be used to share ideas and/or thoughts on various subjects. These reflections and ideas may be private or public. Blogs are considered great motivators for student writing and offer a novel way for students to engage in reflective writing and sharing information on classroom topics. Read more about using blogs.

K-W-L (Ogle, 1986)

Know – What to Know – Learned is a strategy that is typically used to provide structure to the learning process to allow students to recall what they know about a topic, what they want to know about the topic and what is to be learned. This strategy allows students to become actively involved in their learning. Generally, a chart is created on the board, overhead or hand-out. Students fill in the Know column before they begin their study. The fill in the Want to Know column with all of the information that they want to learn about the topic. After the study, they complete the Learned column with their new knowledge. Find more about K-W-L. An online generator of K-W-L charts can be found at

Learning Centers

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Learning Centers are self contained areas where students work independently or with small groups (pairs or triads) to complete a task. Centers may take the form of chairs placed around a table for group discussion, display boards that present questions/problems/worksheets, or computer/computers where students perform hands-on activities or research on the web.


Role-play deals with solving problems through action. A problem is identified, acted out and discussed. The role-play process provides students with an opportunity to 1) explore their feelings, 2) gain insight about their attitudes,and 3) increase problem solving skills.


Scaffolding, involves the teacher modeling the skill and thinking for the student. As the student increases understanding, the teacher withdraws the assistance allowing the student to take on more responsibility for the learning.

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) & Inquiry Learning

Problem-Based Learning & Inquiry involves teacher giving the student a problem where inquiry must be utilized to solve the problem. There are commonly four steps in this model: 1) student receives the problem, 2) student gathers data, 3) student organizes data and attempts an explanation to the problem, and 4) students analyze the strategies they used to solve the problem. A well known and highly successful inquiry-based strategy is WebQuests, developed by Dr. Bernie Dodge at San Diego University. This technique requires that answers to the problem in the Quest be drawn from the web. Read more about WebQuests.


Simulations are used to put the student in a “real” situation without taking the risks. Simulations are meant to be as realistic as possible where students are able to experience consequences of their behavior and decisions. Simulations are commonly used in social studies and science but can be used in other curriculum areas. Computer simulations are quite common in today’s virtual world. One example is “dissecting a frog” using the computer.

Storytelling/Digital storytelling

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A great way to strengthen communication skills is to get students involved in creating multimedia stories. Topics can range from biographical stories with photo collections from family archives to community mapping projects, virtual field trips within the community, or more complex stories created by older students. These digital stories can be planned, storyboarded and produced using slideshow software such as PowerPoint or video editing software such as Imovie. This strategy has become quite the rage in recent years with students loving the active learning. Read more about multimedia storytelling.

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