replacing old teaching methods with new ones based on soccer coaching
principles, an engineering professor has hit on a winning formula.
Linda L. Creighton
was the kick that intrigued him at first. Watching his daughter
at a soccer camp, Pedro Arce realized that Paula wasn't being
taught to kick the black-diamond soccer ball. Instead, her coaches
were teaching her a series of smaller skills that, when mastered
and put together, would enable her to step up to the ball and confidently
send it flying across the field. As a professor of chemical engineering
at Florida State University for 10 years, Arce is always alert to
teaching methods. He has long favored changes in the traditional
lecture approach that routinely result in notoriously high dropout
rates for aspiring engineers. Arce had explored the problem, writing
several papers that red-flagged the need for a new method to teach
engineering. He had even conducted workshops to champion a more
student-involved and collaborative effort.
it wasn't until he watched the coaches at the soccer camp that
Arce saw a different way that players learnedbeing introduced
step by step to small aspects of the sport, and then putting them
into practice. Athletes were free to make mistakes and learn from
themexactly the dynamic, focused, motivated reaction he hoped
to achieve in engineering classes.
what I live to see in my students, he says. Why not, he reasoned,
look at basic soccer coaching principles as a better way of teaching,
say, The Physics of Transport in Heterogeneous Continua.
even soccer coaching has a variety of approaches. When looking for
soccer camps for his daughter, Arce had been discouraged to find
that many of the coaches stressed winning above all, using techniques
designed solely to defeat another player or team. It was only when
he found a camp in Pensacola, Fla., that used the Brazilian method
of mastering individual levels of skills that he enrolled his daughter.
Making mistakes that prevent you from winning gives players
a very strong desire to improve and learn, Arce says.
freedomto make mistakes and learn from themwas exactly
what was missing in most engineering classes. Most of the
time the professor is determined to make sure material is covered,
that's it, says Arce. If a student asks a question,
a professor often is annoyed at having the lesson interrupted.
engineering class instructors, in Arce's view, ought to work
like a coach. This person has the key to unlock new educational
environments and achieve a better way for students to train,
Arce says. If instructor could model their approaches after good
coacheschanging a solo lecture into a dynamic learning
environment, as Arce puts itit could revolutionize engineering
education. I immediately thought, How can I apply this?'
Florida State professor Pedro Arce has created a Coach
Model of Instruction with five elements that he says
could completely alter the classroom experience for engineering
aspects: Know the material very well.
aspects: Know when to use a particular drill or change
aspects: Know the purpose and levels, and design tasks
aspects: Know the players very well.
aspects: Have the experience to do the job.
began to examine the coaching method with engineering classes in
mind. Enrolling in a coaching clinic using the same Brazilian method,
he earned a Master Certificate in Brazilian Soccera
license to coach. After taking the course, he realized that kindergarten
teachers instinctively use many of the same techniques.
students are highly engaged in the process of learning and teachers
usually do not interfere with the way students work, Arce
says. Too often in college-level classes the only person engaged
in activity was the instructor. Students do not question, challenge,
or interrupt their engineering professors with the same passion
that they had exercised in kindergarten, because of fear the instructor
might view it as a waste of time, Arce says.
decided that lesson plans ought to be linked to the objectives of
the semester's work and then finely tuned to the needs students'.
The tactic resembled the way a sports coach plans for specific goals
in each practice. Arce calls it the progressive sequences
method of introducing students to the basics of engineering. In
soccer, Brazilians are famous in the development of the player by
a progressive approach of learning, where every task is sliced into
easier pieces that are first mastered and only thereafter put together
by the players,'' Arce says.
inexperienced soccer player learns to head a soccer ball most quickly
if the coach designs drills that first involve the lower back and
then the neck, with follow-on drills for arms, running, jumping
and defense from other players. Finally, with all those skills taught
and learned, the soccer player can put them together in the complex
act of heading a soccer ball.
says the same learning sequence is useful, for example, in teaching
free-convection flows with homogeneous or heterogeneous heat sources,
where the concepts of heat transfer, momentum transfer, and mass
transfer are coupled.
the instructor ought to coach the students to work out the solution
to the larger problem. Instructors need to closely observe the performance
of their students, assess their understanding of the material, and
then design activities that would deepen that understanding. Arce
likened the approach to the game analysis that many
coaches use to detect aspects of team performance that need work.
Having instructors respond to students feedback just as coaches
gauge players during practice would generate the participation and
enthusiasm of students in an engineering class.
who spot weak points in students and come up with alternatives for
learning can be more successful than colleagues who rely on explaining
a concept over and over in the same ineffective way. As Arce puts
it: A coach that only lectures would be a very ineffective
Arce feels that without training, teachers are ineffective coaches.
Based on the model elements, says Arce, it looks
like the Ph.D. instructor only accounts for the technical aspect.
Where are we going to get the rest? Traditionally instructors
have not been trained in the art of teaching. Studies have shown
that only 10 percent of engineering students nationwide are taught
in student-centered approaches, Arce says.
with their coaching skills, teachers can change the
classroom dynamic from the one-way lecture to the constant interaction
that athletes experience with their coaches during practice. Arce
uses his so-called colloquial method to revamp classroom
dynamics. Students become the driving force behind learning. Emphasizing
discussion of different points of view, Arce tries in his classes
to enable students to learn a new concept or solve a problem themselves.
His overall objectives are to stimulate development of students'
confidence, and to promote critical thinking, individual judgment,
and creativity. To enhance the approach, Arce has his students sit
in groups or facing each other, rather than in rows facing the teacher.
has used his coach-instructor approach at three universities. He
says the passing rate is higher than 80 percent, and in one course
it reached 100 percent. His model for teaching received an award
for innovative engineering education last year.
he says the approach is demanding for instructors, students face
a high standard as well, preparing notes, reading extra material,
and working in an exam mode every week. Arce says students
hate this method in the beginning because they are singled
out for participation and discussion. For students accustomed to
snoozing or daydreaming during boring lectures, Arce has a hearty
alternative: Welcome to the party!
after homework has been graded, students are required to go to the
teaching assistant with questions, where they get a different explanation,
and then can go to Arce for further questions and discussion. This
way they get several exposures to solving problems, he says.
On exams, students are given different problems to solve with an
introduction to new material that is relevant to engineering application.
In class, Arce says he tells his students the worst thing they can
do is not talk.
is a safe environment in which to make a mistake, he says,
so that students are not afraid to modify and to change.
like a great game of soccer.
L. Creighton is a freelance writer living in Arlington, VA.
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