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28
02
2017

Peer Teaching: A Key Methodology to Help Students Acquire STEM Abilities

Peer Teaching is by no means a new concept. Dating back to the days of Aristotle, this form of education relies on students teaching each other. Used in schools since the early 19th century, this technique has students who have mastered a particular subject instruct their often younger novice peers until they, too, become well versed into the topic or acquire some particular abilities. Nowhere, however, is this methodology most popular than in some universities, where advanced students are encouraged to take teaching assistant jobs, instructing earlier courses in courses they have already taken. Newer methodologies, however, take a different approach. One example is Learning Cells. This technique involves pairing same-year students into groups, and letting them assist each other in the discovery and learning of a particular topic with minimum input from the teacher. The goal of this methodology is for students to embark on a joint quest, giving them the chance to research together, to help answer each other’s questions, and to debate and analyze topics together.

Peer Teaching then, is no single methodology. In fact, researchers have identified more than ten different – and quite diverse – models, in which students teach each other. And it makes sense, as this form of education encompasses a series of advantages that make it extremely effective to help learners acquire knowledge and garner new abilities:

For starters, Peer Teaching allows students to get more individualized lessons. Whether it is by a student-teacher assistant helping a professor carry out their lessons or tutoring small groups within a class, or by having other same-level students to help research topics and come up with answers, this methodology (or rather, range of methodologies) can be really effective to make sure students get answers to their questions, and get a deeper understanding of the topics at hand. By having another student teach them (or assist them with their learning) students are also more prone to ask questions, and be more open about their learning process, as they don’t have to face the pressure of interacting with a teacher, or fear getting a lower grade.

Additionally, it is a way to promote active learning, as answering a fellow student’s question requires learners to research topics by themselves and go out to find more answers. Also, the need to organize knowledge in a way that makes it easy to transmit it to others is a very effective way to reinforce learning.

Finally, this form of learning enhances social and communication skills, fosters collaboration, increases confidence, provides self-learning tools, and engages students.

On institutions where resources are scarce, this form of learning can also help cut costs, and increase teaching staff without actually hiring new professors.

An Effective Method to Learn Computer Programming, Math, and Science

As we have seen, Peer Teaching has been going on for centuries, far before computers and newer technologies were available. However, Ed-tech innovations can play a defining role in helping students acquire STEM abilities leveraging these methodologies.

Many schools, for instance, are experimenting with this kind of learning in the computer lab, where they allow groups of students to work together to research and resolve programming problems. This helps them promote active learning and collaboration. Also, by providing a setting where students can apply their learning not only to help others, but to build functional products (or, at least, to complete exercises that produce a practical, and observable outcome). This is vital in helping boost the students’ self-confidence in regards to their STEM abilities, an essential and, yet often overlooked feature students who succeed at this field usually possess.

Computer programming, as well as the acquisition of other computer-related skills, usually require lots of help and supervision on behalf of teachers, so it helps having additional instructors answering questions and guiding learning. As in other STEM related fields like math and science, there is usually a big gap between the most engaged and savvy students, and their less advanced classmates. Often, lack of confidence or the notion that they are not “cut” for those subjects is what drive some students apart from this fields. By placing peers into a tutoring role, allowing them to explain concepts and answer questions using their own words and examples, helps teachers to have students connect with each with knowledge in a new way, and to bring down the barriers that impede students to ask questions and ask for help when they don’t understand a particular concept. It is important, however, to supervise peer-teachers, and to make sure their role is pure instructional and not directive; meaning they don’t hold an authority over their classmates, but rather that they become collaborators in their learning process.

Using computers, and software enabled exercises, meant to be resolved in groups, or by individual students, teachers can make sure that this instruction is properly guided. Besides helping their fellow students, “peer teachers” are given a chance to practice, and apply their knowledge, thus strengthening their own abilities.

In Australia, some schools are experimenting with this kind of learning. By having individual students research tools and technical ways to solve problems, and later explain them to their peers, they not only promote active learning, and have students teach and learn from each other in a language they can understand and relate to, with all the benefits this practice entices, but they also make sure the whole class is engaged by working on topics the group finds interesting and entertaining. By approaching STEM learning from the computer lab, teachers are also able to include notions of geometry, arithmetic’s, and even physics in a practical way to students from a very young age, demonstrating the importance these abilities have, and how useful it is to acquire them.

Teachers undoubtedly play a vital role in STEM education. But more than ever, they are becoming guides in their student’s own learning journey, and with an increasing number of technical possibilities, peer teaching is becoming ever more relevant as a way to help students learn, and engage with these topics.

 

 

Photo: hackNY.org (CC by 2.0)

 

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