In a classic scene in the movie Apollo 13, all of the NASA engineers gather in a room with all of the stuff in the spacecraft and have to figure out how to make a square air filter fit a hole made for a round filter. In the Houston, We Have a Problem activity, students are given a collection of items or information that they must use to solve a problem presented by the professor. The first step to prepare for Houston, We Have a Problem is to identify a problem for students to solve. The problem should be related to an application of course content and preferably (although not necessarily) one with multiple paths to a solution. Next, you will need to collect items or information for students to use to solve the problem. You might literally put the items on a table or provide a list. The items might be objects (e.g., lab equipment) or information (e.g., equation or formula) that can be used to figure out a solution. It is also useful to provide red herring items that likely will not be useful but will require students to think about their possible use.

This activity helps students to reflect on their thinking about a topic or issue and explore how and why that thinking has changed. It can be useful in consolidating new learning as students identify their new understandings, opinions, and beliefs. By examining and explaining how and why their thinking has changed, students are developing their reasoning abilities and recognizing cause and effect relationships. This activity involves asking students to respond to each of the sentence stems at the end of a lesson:

  • I used to think...
  • But now, I think...

twin girls in a crowdAn image that sparks discussion or reflection can make a great connection activity. You can find a variety of images on Flickr that can be used as prompts, and the New York Times also has a weekly feature called What's Going On in This Picture? that can provide some inspiration.

 textbook figure=Images can be used as a Content Activity to help illustrate or demonstrate concepts that are difficult to grasp through text alone. Avoid using images for purely aesthetic reasons; rather, use images that are directly related to learning outcomes. You can find existing images using sites such as MorgueFile.com, Flickr, and Wikimedia Commons. The following link includes a comprehensive listing of additional websites where you can find free and royalty-free images: Where to Find Free Images and Visuals. You can also create your own diagrams, charts, tables, and flow charts using tools such as Creately and Gliffy.

infographic exampleInfographics are visual representations of information which help to present complex data quickly and clearly. They are a great way to show the power of graphs and charts to communicate an important idea. You can find many existing Infographics for use in the classroom via Cool Infographics, or you can create your own custom infographics using tools such as Canva, Easl.ly, Infogr.am, and Piktochart.

The jigsaw method is student-centred Content Activity that supports active learning. Using the jigsaw method, a general content topic is divided into smaller interrelated pieces. Students are then organized into teams and each member of a team is assigned to become an expert on a different piece of the topic. Then, after each person has become an expert on their piece of the topic, they teach the other team members about that topic. You can learn more about the jigsaw method by watching the following video:

kwl chart imageK-W-L charts are graphic organizers that help students organize information before, during and after a lesson. They can be used to engage students in a new topic, activate prior knowledge, and monitor learning. A K-W-L chart typically consists of three columns:

  • K - What do you Know about the topic?
  • W - What do you Want to know?
  • L - What did you Learn?

As a Connection Activity you can ask students to complete the K and W sections of the chart. Students can do this individually or in small groups.

Learning objects are digital modules of information that can be used and re-used to support learning activities. Learning objects usually consist of smaller units of learning, typically ranging from 2 minutes to 15 minutes so they make great Content Activities. For more information about learning objects please see A Learning Object about Learning Objects.

You can find existing learning objects through databases such as Merlot, OER Commons, Wisconsin Online Resource Center,and SOL*R. In addition, you can work with our Multimedia Developer to create custom learning objects, such as the following Metrology, Liquid Ring, and Alternating Current examples.

Lecture is one of the most common Content Activities found within higher education. When using lecture as a Content Activity, it is recommended that you keep it short (15-20 minute maximum) and focused. For some tips on planning and delivering effective lectures, please see the following:

When using lecture as a Content Activity, it can be helpful to include visuals to support your content delivery. If you are looking for some good alternatives to the traditional PowerPoint presentation, check out Emaze, Haiku Deck, Prezi, Slides, and Sway.

coupling agent exampleYou may also want to consider using a guided note taking strategy where you can provide students with a worksheet or handout with blanks that they can fill-in during a lecture to promote active listening. The following is an example of a guided note taking template:

bingo exampleAnother option to add greater interactivity to your lecture is to include a Lecture Bingo activity where you would create a bingo card with terms that will be discussed in a lecture. During the lecture, students listen for the terms and mark them accordingly on their bingo cards when the terms are used in the lecture. As participants collect five vertical, horizontal, or diagonal dots in a row, they yell "Bingo!"

memory matrix exampleA memory matrix is a simple square or rectangle which is divided into horizontal rows and vertical columns. The rows and columns will contain key course content or topics that students need to “connect.” Students must fill in the blank cells with information that connects particular rows and columns. The Memory Matrix is useful as a Practice Activity in courses with high information content. It is best used after a Content Activity that focuses on a substantial amount of clearly categorized Information.

The Minute Paper learning technique is best used as a summary activity.

How to implement a minute paper

Ask students to spend one minute at the end of class summarizing a key idea from the lesson. It could be answering a key question, defining a key term, or expressing what they found most surprising, most significant about the lesson, or how they will apply the lesson in their lives—whatever best suits the content.

Students can also articulate what points they are still finding “muddy” or unclear. Minute papers can be handed in or kept as entries in an ongoing learning journal.

In today's lesson, what was least clear to you?This technique consists of asking students to jot down a quick response to one question: “What is the muddiest point in ________?” This technique provides information on what student find least clear or most confusing about a particular lesson or topic. As a Summary Activity, the muddiest point requires students to reflect on the lesson and identify any areas which were not clear. Faculty can use the feedback to discover which points are most difficult for students to learn to guide their teaching decisions about which topics to emphasize and how much time to spend on each.

The sharing of a relevant news story that relates to the topic of the lesson can be a very engaging Connection Activity. You can easily stay up to date on relevant news through Google News and several new sites have education-related resources including the Globe and Mail and the New York Times.

The Numbered Heads Together learning technique is a good strategy for content review and synthesis. To facilitate this activity, put the students into small groups (4-5) and number off within each group. Pose a multiple choice (review or application) question. Give 1 minute for groups to choose an answer, then call out one of the numbers (1-5). All students with that number in the group stand and call out the answer. If there are dissenting answers, investigate the reasons for the choice and use the opportunity to briefly explain the right answer. Repeat as desired. The following video provides a more detailed description of this technique:

one minute paper exampleA one minute paper is a quick, concise paper, written by students (either individually or in groups) that typically focuses on a short answer question. The question is usually introduced at the end of a class to help summarize and reinforce the material learned in that particular class. This activity provides the feedback required to ensure that the intended learning was successful (or not) and can also provide feedback to the students. If the students are confused by the content, or are unable to answer the short question, this is an indicator to both the student and the faculty member that the material taught in the class may need to be revisited.

one sentence summary exampleThis activity requires the student to answer the questions represented by WDWWHWWW (Who Does/Did What to Whom, How, When, Where, and Why?) about a given topic, and then to synthesize those answers into a single informative, grammatical sentence. The purpose of this strategy is to find out how concisely, completely, and creatively students can summarize a given topic within the grammatical constraints of a single sentence. This strategy can provide feedback on students' summaries of just about anything that can be represented in the declarative form, from historical events, to the plots of stories and novels, to chemical reactions and mechanical processes.

OER are digitized materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and re-use for teaching, learning and research. There is no point re-creating the wheel if a useful resource is already available, so OERs can be a great place to start when looking for Content Activities. You can search and find OERs through the following databases: OER Commons, Connexions, and the Open Learning Initiative.

A poll that asks students to share their opinion about the lesson topic can help spark discussion and connect students to the lesson. You can create an online poll using Fluid Surveys or Micropoll, or in class you can ask students to step to a side or corner of the room that represents their response.

The Prairie Fire learning technique is a great way to review content, or application exercises. This technique will help students develop a study sheet. In order to facilitate a Prairie Fire activity, develop a number of review or application questions and prepare handouts with all questions and room to write answers. Divide the class into small groups; assign one or more questions per group. When ready, sweep across the room, having a reporter from each group stand and present the group’s answers. Allow time for everyone to record, question, clarify the answers. The following video provides a more detailed description of this technique:

An ungraded pre-test can be used as a Connection Activity to test for existing knowledge and preview important content. You can have students complete the pre-test individually, or in small groups to encourage discussion about the responses. You can use an online polling tool such as Socrative or Poll Everywhere to gather anonymous responses, or you can create an ungraded quiz in DC Connect.

pre test example image