Calling all teachers! Have you ever sat wracking your brain on how to create an engaging lesson for students who aren’t so keen on math? Are you trying to help your students understand concepts on a deeper level? Well, Dr Trefor Bazett’s webinar “How to Design Effective Interactive Learning Activities” might have the answers you seek. Dr Trefor is professor at the University of Victoria who has risen to fame on the internet with his engaging YouTube math tutorials. He recently gave a great talk sharing some of the things he’s learned about teaching and how he structures his course content to maximize student learning and engagement. We wanted to take the time to highlight a few of the points he made.

One of the things Dr Trefor emphasized in his talk was the concept of active learning. Unusual as it may seem, math is a lot like juggling. You can learn all the theory of juggling and how it’s supposed to work, but when it comes down to it, if you want to learn how to juggle, you have to actually juggle! And as he describes, it’s the same for math. If you want to learn math, you have to actually do math. This means that educators need to find a way to make learning active for their students, and find ways for them to actually explore and use the concepts that are taught in class. There are many ways to approach this, and Dr Trefor has a few ideas in his talk that might help get you started! For example, he discusses a backwards model wherein teachers create their lectures based on the assessments and activities, rather than the other way around. That way, you can be sure that what you’re teaching is what the students need to know in order to complete the activities you’re giving them—and that in turn can make the activities more engaging for the students.

Another idea he talked about that I personally found quite appealing was the idea of incorporating storytelling into your teaching. Stories are always more interesting than just plain lectures. And you don’t even have to weave together a grand epic with elements of math being taught along the way (although that would be pretty cool!). It can be as simple as changing the way you explain a concept. “X is true, but, Y is also true! Therefore…” Doesn’t that seem a little more interesting? By tying together concepts with pseudo-narrative threads using ‘but’s and ‘therefore’s, you can create a lecture that students will want to listen to—after all, they’ll want to know what happens next.

Drawing from some of the science behind learning, Dr Trefor also discussed the idea of cognitive load. This is essentially the amount of stress the student is experiencing when they’re trying to learn. Concepts will always have a certain amount of intrinsic load to them—that is, when you’re trying to learn how to factor a quadratic equation, there’s going to be some amount of stress associated with factoring itself. The part educators can focus on reducing is the extrinsic load, which is the stress caused by outside factors. For example, your factoring lesson may be hindered by having to teach online instead of in-person, or by the fact that you keep thinking 2x3 is 5 (or maybe that’s just me!). Dr Trefor describes how online tools like Maple Learn can help to reduce this extrinsic load. With a way to show and explain a wide variety of concepts without pencil and paper, and to help perform those calculations that are muddying up the underlying concept, you can reduce the cognitive load and help your students learn.

This is just a taste of some of the ideas Dr Trefor talked about in his webinar. If we’ve piqued your interest, you can watch the full thing for yourself here, or by clicking the video below! Be sure to check out Dr Trefor’s channel as well if you want to see his dynamic teaching style in action.

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