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Inside the POGIL Philosophy

  • http-blogs-fandm-edu-wp-content-blogs-dir-29-files-2012-04-rmoog-jpg
  • Rick Moog, professor of chemistry

Rick Moog pops out of his seat in search of data to outline his point about inquiry learning. He returns a few seconds later, eager to explain the facts and figures he now holds.

"This," he says, "is stunning."

Moog, professor of chemistry, is principal investigator and project director of The POGIL Project—Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning. He discusses a graph comparing two groups of students who took the first semester of organic chemistry in a lecture hall at a large university. One class used the POGIL approach, characterized by small groups and inquiry learning.

On the first day of the second semester of organic chemistry, the students took an unannounced quiz on the material they learned in the first semester. Approximately 60 percent of students who learned in the traditional lecture setting scored below 50 percent, while nearly one quarter of all POGIL students scored between 90 and 100 percent.

"I was depressed about the students from the traditional setting when I first saw those numbers," Moog says. "How can it be that one month after students passed the final exam, most of them couldn't even get half of it correct?"

Moog's solution is the implementation of POGIL, a pedagogic strategy in which students work in self-managed teams on guided inquiry activities. The POGIL Project, which seeks to disseminate POGIL principles to high school classrooms across the country, received approximately $90,000 in supplementary funding from the National Science Foundation this semester. The project received a $2 million grant in 2007.

The foundation of POGIL began during the 1990s, when Moog and two other Franklin & Marshall professors—Emeritus Professors John Farrell and Jim Spencer—wrote guided inquiry activities for their chemistry classes. Spencer and Moog teamed with five professors from other institutions to establish The POGIL Project in 2003, with its national headquarters located on College Avenue.

"I tell my students that we didn't do this on a whim," Moog says. "The structure of the activities themselves is based on how people learn. Research has shown that students develop deeper conceptual understanding when they learn this way. Students receive fewer Ds, Fs and Ws (withdrawals), and more As, Bs and Cs."

The POGIL method seeks to encourage the scientific method. In groups of three or four, each student is assigned a role—in many cases, the scribe, the manager and the presenter. As students work through the materials, they ask the same types of questions that expert scientists would ask themselves.

"If I go into a classroom, I can tell you after the first 10 minutes if it's a POGIL classroom," Moog says. "For example, if the only person who's spoken in those 10 minutes is the professor, it's not a POGIL classroom."

The project has also spread to high school classrooms. The POGIL Project recently completed the first of a three-year, $450,000 grant from the Toyota USA Foundation for the High School POGIL Initiative (HSPI). The goal of HSPI is to develop and test POGIL activities for biology and chemistry classes across the country.

Cynthia Wingenroth, POGIL project associate, is the HSPI coordinator. Laura Trout, a teacher at Lancaster Country Day School, serves as the editor-in-chief of the high school project.

"We want to support faculty from all disciplines in implementing, improving and studying student-centered learning in their classrooms," Moog says. "If people decide not to implement POGIL fully, but choose to use just one aspect of it in their classroom, I feel it's been a success."