Day 6: Robert Mawhinney's Chemistry Chunk-Challenge-Chew-Chat-Check

Roberts photo


Name: Robert Mawhinney

Area/Discipline: Science & Environmental Studies/Chemistry

A PhD in Physical Chemistry, I specialize in computational chemistry. Since joining Lakehead in 2006, I have taught thirteen different chemistry courses, most of which include laboratories.


The Technique

When we went from on-campus to online, there was a noticeable absence of engagement with my students. The course material is challenging, and so I quickly modified the order of my live lecture elements to first introduce a concept, then move to discussion and problem solving, and then work together to correct/refine our understanding.

One noticeable positive I experienced from this early online change was a feeling of being more connected with students than I had in my first couple of online lectures. I was not receiving much feedback directly from students in those first lectures. These days, I am more confident about how they are doing, what they are doing, and how they are doing it.

I’m really enjoying the small group discussions/breakout rooms (the chew). I can speak directly with small student groups. In the first step (chunk), many students are silent, so it is unclear how to engage effectively.

How I Use It

One full Chunk-challenge-chew-chat-check cycle should take approximately 30 minutes. A 60-minute meeting time means you can complete two full cycles.

am image depicting the steps in the process

The first thing I do is review the concepts/material to be introduced in my lecture so that I can create a set of elements (i.e. a cycle). I want to create ‘sections’ of the lecture that seem complete. I try to break my chunks into ten minute. Each section will become a cycle.

  1. I ready my first lecture section (the first chunk) for delivery and then develop a question for this section.
  2. Time for a breakout: Here I send small groups to discuss and work together to solve the challenge question. I tend to randomly assign learners to a room, so learners may not be in the same group in the next cycle.
  3. Once learners move to the small group, I’ll go visit them to see if they have follow-up questions. I am ready to give out ‘hints’; I have a few of these handy[1]. The breakout room has a time limit of ten minutes and, when this time ends, learners rejoin me in the big virtual classroom.

  4. Time now to poll students on the answer. I use a multiple-choice question format so that learners can read it easily and answer quickly. I look at the results to see if there is obvious confusion to determine where my next step will take us.
  5. Now, I’ll show how I would go about answering the question. As I work through my solution, I will reference the multiple-choice poll answered so learners can see (based on their choice) what they understood correctly or where to correct their process.
  6. And now ... see step 1 for round two!

    [1] It’s efficient to develop your hints at the same time as you develop your questions;-)

Feedback from Learners

Learners seems to be much more engaged, and the ability to converse has certainly improved a lot.

I polled the students to see how they view the technique. 92% gave a thumbs-up to the approach!

"solving problems with other students' explanations gives a different perspective than just your own on a concept."

 "I like being able to talk things through and hear what others are thinking."

A Short Task to Challenge You

You may have recently given a lecture or perhaps you are preparing your course for the next semester. Whichever has a lecture ready to go, this is the best choice for you for this activity.

  1. No matter the length of your lecture materials, see if you can organize/reorder your materials so that the first ten minutes is a Chunk (it has enough information where a learner can use it to act; enough information to think more deeply about it).
  2. If you got to deliver this first chunk right now, what question would you ask me to determine if I understand? Design one question to test my understanding of this chunk.
  3. I might not get it on the first try, so develop two hints that you could give me to help me determine the answer (mostly) on my own.
  4. Answer the poll below to let us know if you will try out your chunk/question with your own students. 
  5. I would love to see how you go about answering the question, but that isn’t possible right now. The reflective task below would be a great spot, however, to share your thoughts on the above, if you choose to participate in the activity.

One Final Task

Is this something you can use in your online classroom? How might you utilize it?  If you want to share your results on social media, please let us know by using the hashtag: #12techLUDay6.