Alex Reinhart – Updated October 3, 2023 notebooks ·

See also Teaching statistics for statistics-specific topics. Also, see Student assessment for ways to see what students are actually learning.

See also Course evaluations, Cognitive task analysis.

How students learn

Learning styles


Developing expert thinking

See also Cognitive task analysis on methods for figuring out how experts solve problems.

Working problems

There’s a lot of emphasis on having students work problems to improve their understanding, and it’s folk wisdom that students don’t really understand until they do homework problems. But:


It would be nice if students were intrinsically motivated to work hard, but often they are not. What can we do to motivate them?

Teaching methods

PhysPort has some resources on encouraging student engagement in active learning, since active learning doesn’t work unless the students are active.

Peer Instruction

Peer Instruction is a teaching method from Eric Mazur and colleagues at Harvard, designed and tested on introductory physics courses. It’s a flipped classroom approach that tries to give students many opportunities to screw up and be corrected, rather than letting their misunderstandings persist until exams.

Unfortunately I haven’t seen studies testing peer instruction in statistics courses. (Please send me some, if they exist!) In physics, however, it has dramatic results, doubling student learning:

Active learning and flipped classes

More generally, “active learning” strategies seem much more effective when compared to traditional lecturing:

Big classes

Demos and simulations

Intro stats labs often take the form “Here’s a simulation of phenomenon X [the central limit theorem, sampling distributions, …]. Press this button and see what happens.”

In physics, lecture demonstrations have a similar tenor: “Here’s this apparatus, now watch what happens when I press the button.”

However, this doesn’t teach students anything unless they predict the behavior in advance, so they have a chance to realize they’re wrong: Crouch, C., Fagen, A. P., Callan, J. P., & Mazur, E. (2004). Classroom demonstrations: Learning tools or entertainment? American Journal of Physics, 72(6), 835–838. doi:10.1119/1.1707018

Further, physics demos are often misinterpreted by students, who misremember the outcome of the demo in ways consonant with their misconceptions. Asking them to predict the outcome in advance (assuming they have learned the conceptual framework needed to do so) reduces this problem dramatically: Miller, K., Lasry, N., Chu, K., & Mazur, E. (2013). Role of physics lecture demonstrations in conceptual learning. Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 9(2). doi:10.1103/physrevstper.9.020113

Other papers:


Competency/mastery learning


Interteaching comes from operant psychology, and frames itself as providing positive reinforcement for learning behavior instead of aversive consequences (like course failure). Seems focused on courses with lots of reading and conceptual material, like psychology, rather than math or hard sciences. Most research on interteaching seems to come from one group.

The basic idea – read before class, discuss in class, get targeted feedback – seems to match with Peer Instruction’s methods, with the addition of a “prep guide” and some different incentive systems.