Rome Week 3

I tried some more collaborative assignments this week in the Roman art class. I also had an interesting exchange this week with Bob Trader in the Communication department. From some of the articles he sent to me, I found out that I am assinging “team-based learning” projects in the class. Some of these articles talked about “problem-based learning,” a concept I did not realize had a name, etc. Interesting things to think about.

Specifically, this week I had created the following “team-based learning project” for in-class: I made up a fake “competition” between the cities of Ostia and Pompeii for the “Best City in Rome” to be awarded by “judges” from the Senate. Before class, students had read chapters about the art and architecture of Ostia and Pompeii and some chapters about these cities more generally. The class was divided pretty evenly (about 10 in each “city”) into Pompeiians and Ostians [by the way I always pre-sort the teams or groups as I am trying to be sure all students work with each other and get to know each other, in order to create a real community in the classroom]. Each “team” had to make a presentation to the “judges” from the Senate: MAJOR thanks to Steve Kerby and Chris Mathews for filling in as judges on very short notice!

The students had four categories that they had to consider: overall economic impact, art and culture, city planning, and general benefit to the Republic/Empire. Ostia won, but both groups did a very good job and slapped PowerPoint presentations together in record speed! They had 30 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes to make their “pitch” to the judges. I was impressed at how well they snythesized the reading and chose their respective city’s best features. They really did figure out the best way to pitch each city based on the criteria set by the “Senate.”

At different times this week, I spoke to students about the class and what they thought of it. They both happened to be first-year students. Both said they were enjoying the application of what they read to assignments in class. Each of them said they expected a straight lecture class, but that this class was making them read and “do stuff.” Both students said they didn’t mind reading because they knew that we’d do something with it – that they knew they would be held accountable.


I’m going to continue to hold them accountable and see how it goes for the rest of the semester. I’m impressed with this group so far.


6 Responses to Rome Week 3

  1. Bob Trader says:

    Hey Gretchen,

    I am totally fascinated by how this class operates. I would like to know how much time you spend preparing for this class. Is it more or less time consuming than a traditional class? Would it be feasible (time wise) to teach 3-4 courses at a time this way?

    How about the time spent on the course among students? Do you think students could handle 4-6 courses like this per semester? I remember when I was a student rank ordering courses by the amount of time I was willing to spend on them. Sadly, the grades I received in the courses were usually the same, but I definitely put more effort into some courses than others.

    It seems like this style of course would lend itself well to team teaching. I could even see this being done successfully with a fairly large number of students (like three teachers with 15 students each that have class at the same time and in the same place with varying combinations of students and teachers depending on what was happening).

    Thank you for chronicling your experiences with this course. 🙂


  2. rarmstrong says:

    Hi Folks,

    Bob- you bring up great questions about time prep, and time spent by the students for this style of teaching that puts a great deal of emphasis on seeing the students actively engage with the material, and I’d be very interested in Gretchen’s response for this class. I have found myself that the prep time is probably about the same overall, but I spend it a bit differently at different times. I spend more time finding appropriate resources for students rather than writing lectures, for example.

    I mix up different types of activities, as well, based on my work load and their work load. I’ll have some days during the semester that are this focused on one activity, and some that combine different activities in the classroom with some short lectures. I have only had one activity (I think) where they spent a week working on a unit and presentations (albeit nothing nearly as creative as a best city competition!).

    As far as student’s time goes, I can’t really get a handle on it because they complained about work load when i lectured at them as much as they complain about work load now. It seems to work well for some students since i always that take multiple classes for their GEs; it does not work for all, since i always have a couple that drop during the first week or two. I had more complaint about changing teaching style when i first began this transistion than i do now – either because more teachers are approaching their classes this way, or because the rumor mill tells them what to expect in my classes…. don’t know.

    I do know that i look forward to next week’s exciting episode of life in this Roman Class!

  3. gretchenmckay says:

    It’s hard for me to say how long it’s taking. So far, I would say, not that much time, or at least not more than usual. But that is because I took a week this summer and mapped out the ENTIRE course’s learning goals for each day (I don’t know if “learning goals” is the right term, but it’s helped me). I had an “ah-ha” moment one day when I realized that I had to stop thinking of each class as a *topic*, such as “Republican Domestic Architecture.” When I thought topically, I kept myself nearly “imprisoned” (probably too harsh a term) by the lecture mode. Once I changed the goal to: “have students understand Roman domestic architecture” my thinking shifted and I was able to see new possiblities for things to do in class. So, for instance, I had always had Pompeii and Ostia as a *topic* in class; this time I thought of the competition idea. I think they have a better understanding of these cities’ relationship to Rome than if I lectured.

    I also developed a “ways to achieve the goal(s)” section for each class. All of it starts with assigned chapters. The students have about 2-3 chapters to read per class, and the chapters are not long at all. And very easy reading. I think that is helping. If the texts were dense and complicated, this would probably not be working very well.

    As for time it takes, because I already have a 9-page, mapped out goal sheet for the class, I’ve figured out a lot of it already. The hardest part is worrying about something flopping! (I stress about that a lot). I’d say overall it takes me about the same amount of time. If I were teaching three classes a semester, I think I’d still be doing this, only because it is more fun for me as an instructor and I think the students get more out of it. In essence I’m doing that with two classes (my FYS this semester is a Reacting FYS — three games over the course of the semester. I guess I should talk about that class, too?).

    I think our students can work a lot harder than they do. I think they are also willing to work harder IF they understand why and there is a sense that the professor is putting time in it as well. I try to be fairly transparent with them – and am always very clear about what I want them to do. I had two students drop after the first day because they did not want to read and thought it would be too much work. Fine – go!

    The Rome Class is about to head into their “Reacting to the Past” game — the Rome Game (!). It is set the day after Julius Caesar is assassintated. All the students are Senators with different issues and interests, but the first topic is what to do with his body. I’ll be writing more about this, too.

  4. rarmstrong says:

    Gretchen- i’m struck by your shift from daily topics to daily goals. While it sounds like mere semantics, i can see that it really creates a shift in thinking about how you go about arranging the class period(s). I like that a LOT…. I’ve done goals only for an overall semester and never for class by class. I’m heading into a sabbatical next semester during which i’m going to rethink some of my courses and I am very happy to have this new paradigm shift to consider.


  5. Bob Trader says:

    Hi Robin and Gretchen,

    I think you have both made some good points. 🙂 It probably does take the same amount of time. My courses take a zillion hours of planning and much less time for execution. This is likely to stay the same regardless of how the execution is designed. It’s kind of like cooking. My wife makes 3-6 hour meals that are consumed in 5-15 minutes.

    I also like the paradigm shift from content to goals. I usually try to center each individual class on contemplating the implications of and possible answers to three somewhat general questions (there are times when we don’t get to all three). Three per class seems optimal from my experiences (Goldilocks and the three bears: too little is bad, too much is bad…). I have been thinking about this a lot recently since my courses are information intensive on the surface, but I am really more interested in synthesis. I use a kind of Socratic method. I talk and tell the story of what I am doing while asking students what they think, remember from previous classes, and so on. We spend the first 5-10 minutes of class reviewing materials from the previous class and the last 5-10 minutes reviewing that day’s materials.

    Have ya’ll seen this:


  6. gretchenmckay says:

    That is an interesting article. I’ve known about this demographic shift for some time. In the next few years there will be *far* fewer “traditional” students that have been coming to McDaniel and schools like us. That means there will be even more competition for “those” types of students. And we had best get ready to help the types of students that are described in this article.

    I would disagree with the statement about AP scores, though I guess that does indicate something. Good at test-taking?

    And I think the advantage that was cited with wealthier students in that they go to high schools where most students expect to go to college. For some of these other students, this is a wild-eyed suggestion.

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