Student questions and classroom discussion

One of the best parts about teaching in small classes is the interactions with and among students.  Even in my smallest class which, at 43 students, is very large for Northland (almost the largest class that any of the rooms in the building can even accommodate), I can’t get through an entire 50 minute lecture without students asking several questions.  I teach this class at 8 am, too, so to get questions — good ones, especially — is great. 

I try to leave the last 5 minutes of class for students to ask clarification questions, so students who don’t feel comfortable “interrupting” my lecture or who need extra time to digest information have an opportunity to ask questions during class time.  Sometimes I am not successful, other times not.  Today was one of the successful times.  

I lectured on reproduction all week and, while I say this of every topic, it is my favorite topic of the semester.  From reproductive endocrinology to reproductive ecology, everything is just fascinating to me. The students easily filled those 5 minutes with questions, which was followed by a discussion among a handful of us that carried over into the 10 minutes between classes.  Two students even came into my office to continue for another 10 minutes.  

Science classes, even those that tend to be more lecture-based, can stimulate student interest and instigate discussion.  I can’t claim to have the answers to how to do it, nor would I pretend to be an expert.  However, when the stars align and it happens, the feeling, as a teacher, is incredibly rewarding.  It’s why I do what I do.

How do you stimulate or coax discussion in science classes?  

For those of you who are curious, the two students and I were talking about hormones and pregnancy tests.  Specifically, a student said brought up a situation where a female was pregnant with fraternal twins, got a positive test result, miscarried only one of the embryos, got two negative test results, and then got a positive result a week later.  She wanted to know how that was possible.  I couldn’t answer her, but after some research, I found a couple other cases, but the reasons still seem to be poorly understood.

See?  This stuff is FASCINATING.

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