Saturday, July 16, 2011

Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL)

I spent a fascinating 3 days this week on the University of Redlands campus this week learning about Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL), a relatively new way to teach science (and other subjects) where students in 3-4 person cooperative learning groups figure out the concepts they are to learn using directed work sheets, rather than a teacher-based PowerPoint lecture. Those who have used the system report dramatic improvements in student learning, and particular, in student retention.

The system was initially used in chemistry classes at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, where several of the boys from my high school graduating class in York, PA, got their training as engineers. Because of the great results, the idea spread to many other colleges and universities, where it has been used successfully in a variety of college courses. The original copied "activities" have now been published as work books, that the college students buy. High school teachers soon discovered the method and started using the college materials in AP classes. This started the High School POGIL Initiative (HSYPI) . You can find sample lessons in both biology and chemistry through that link. Very inexpensive workbooks for these subjects will be available in January (unfortunately.)

A POGIL lesson is carried out in 3-4 student groups, where each student has a role: Manager, PR (the only group member who may ask the teacher questions,) Recorder, Quality Control (consensus builder,) and possibly Process Analyst (who looks at the group's dynamics.) These groups are often kept together for a longer period of time, as they learn to work together.

A POGIL lesson is based on the Learning Cycle: Exploration, Concept Invention/Term Introduction, and Application, which all refer to a model, which can be a diagram, a demonstration or even a video.
  1. Exploration involves very direct questions to the model, to make sure the students understand the details of the model. These might include questions as basic, "What does the dotted line represent," but go on to more detailed understanding of the model.
  2. Concept Invention helps students derive the concept to be learned in the lesson based on their exploration.
  3. Term Introduction gives students a name for the concept. Up to this point, they are exploring and thinking about connections. They may already have invented a term for the concept, but this step introduces the term in a new question.
  4. Application gives the students an opportunity to use the new concepts and terms in a broader, often more open-ended question.
  5. The Learning Cycle may start again in the same activity with a new Model, Exploration, Concept Invention and Application. 
The students learning is guided by a worksheet with the model and questions that start as Direct in the Exploration phase, then Convergent (using the material gleaned from the direct questions to the model - which have a correct answer) in both the Concept Invention and Application phases, and then the open-ended Divergent questions for more advanced applications. Divergent questions go further, and do not have a correct answer (although there may be incorrect answers!)

As you can see, this is a sort of guided discovery learning. There are also labs created according to this system. In particular, POGIL labs are used for exploration and content invention. They come before any lecture on a topic, rather than afterwards.

You can find a few worksheets on the website. Unfortunately the many activities that have been developed in Bio and Chem for high school will not be available until January. At least the workbooks then will be very affordable. (The current college workbooks cost about $35.)

A lot of teachers are creating lessons for their own use, and sharing them on the site, and elsewhere. The main way to create your own lessons is to turn the book lesson around. Start with the examples as models. Then turn the introductory material into concept invention and term introduction questions. But easiest for a beginner of course is to find existing materials. I googled POGIL and found several sites where teachers have made their lesson activities available.

As soon as I find out what I will be teaching (which depends, of course, on which school hires me to teach which subject that I soon have a credential for: Math, Bio, Chem or Physics) I will be working on finding or creating appropriate POGIL lessons. From what I can see, the students are active all the time, so there is little time for them to cause classroom management issues. Even the smart kids will be working well in their groups (for which there are always a few extension questions.)

In a couple weeks I'll be off to Orlando to learn more about Reasoning and Sense-making in math, which is a less structured concept with the same aim - to facilitate the students' owning their learning, so they have little need to memorize factoids that don't necessarily make sense.


  1. I'd be curious to hear how your year with POGIL went. I am attending a workshop this week as I try to learn more about POGIL. On the surface, I like the concept very much. I wonder about how often the worksheets are done in class and if any lecture accompanies them.

    Would love to hear how you handled the course.
    Jon Freer

    1. Hi Jon,
      As you can see, I haven't updated this blog much this year, since I started really teaching, actually.
      The POGIL HS books of printable worksheets (there's a CD) weren't published until January and February this year. I sort of took all fall off (no jobs) but accepted a part time job at the school where I Interned for the spring semester, and used guided inquiry extensively. The Biology activities were great - but they were the ones that weren't published until February, so I had to create my own, which was a learning process. It was fantastic having students working in groups of 3 almost all the time, so I could go around facilitating. The great part was that no one could just sleep at let the others do the work. It took a while to get them working together, and I wasn't consistent doing all the POGIL management, which I will try to do next year. I interspersed with labs and other activities I could think of. They would not have enjoyed doing just POGIL activities. It was definitely a learning process on my part, but I think the kids did a lot more talking and writing than they would have otherwise, which is a very good thing. Even the group that preferred sleeping usually completed the activities.
      I can't imagine teaching by lecturing. I'm sure I'd loose more than half the class along the way, particularly in large classes. The classes I had this year were just under 20, so a lot different - but they all had learning and/or emotional issues. POGIL was definitely good for them.