Instructional Strategies for Worked Examples


Internet Archive Book Images. (2014). Image from page 249 of “Elements of geometry and trigonometry” (1835). Retrieved from

Although I made it through high school calculus class with a decent grade, I would not say it was a positive experience. Geometry, on the other hand, was completely different. It was FANTASTIC! Interesting point – the same teacher taught me both classes so we can eliminate that variable right there. Now before I go further, I need to remind you I was an English major and I have not taken a formal math class in a couple of decades. (Ouch. That really hurt to write.) What I remember most about geometry was the problem sets and being asked to work through them in groups, hitting challenges that my teacher knew we were going to hit, and then moving through them with his guidance and instruction to frame our methods and tools.

That memory of geometry class came bounding back as I was reading “Learning from Worked Examples: How to Prepare Students for Meaningful Problem Solving” by Alexander Renkl at the University of Freiburg, Germany. His article outlines both the effectiveness and a plan for using worked examples. What I found most helpful was the way in which Renkl reviewed his strategies and provided examples of how they can be used in different situations to maximize student learning. To give you a sneak peek, here are the ten principles that Renkl uses to differentiate worked example strategies:

  • self explanation – elaborating on and/or comparing examples
  • explanation-help – providing instructional explanations
  • example-set – demonstrating sets of problems to emphasize similarities/differences
  • easy-mapping – providing visual or auditory cues to connect like components
  • meaningful-building blocks – breaking a problem down into building blocks
  • studying-errors – providing explanations for incorrect solutions
  • model-observer – videos displaying models (competent and non-competent) completing worked examples
  • focus-on-learning – integrating problems into the learning domain
  • imagery – visualizing how the problem would be solved
  • fading – remove worked steps as learners become more adept in the process

(p. 122 – 125)

Renkl, A. (2014). Learning from worked examples: How to prepare students for meaningful problem solving. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.), Applying science of learning in education (pp. 118-130). American Psychological Association.




Tweaking the WordPress Theme

At the end of last year I was asked to assist with a WordPress site for a series of sessions that was being presented by our Center for Teaching Learning and Research. It turned into a pretty fun experience as I chose a theme and begin designing around the content. In the end – all functioned as we’d hoped, but we did run into a few challenges that required me to tweak the theme a bit. In essence, (like many WordPress sites) I felt like I was manipulating the platform to do what I wanted vs. what it was intended to do (i.e. It’s a blogging platform but I want to create a WEB SITE!)

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 10.17.16 AM

Here’s what I learned:

  • Sometimes you won’t find a theme limitation until your content is fully loaded. In our instance the theme organizes content on the main screen based on timing (which I could control) and block size (which I could only slightly control based on text). This resulted in two events being out of order.
  • Being able to manipulate CSS can be the key to success! This was the only way I was able to remove the blog date from the posts. This was confusing since the blog date was different than the event date.
  • You can’t please everyone with design, but getting feedback as you move through the process allows you to at least be somewhat confident that you haven’t completely missed the mark. Each piece of critical feedback always hits me hard but I try to hide that from everyone because it’s what makes my designs better. Being able to absorb, analyze and process feedback without taking it personally is a growth process. Finding your voice to disagree with feedback and provide counter points is a whole other lesson that I’m slowly growing into as I become more confident in my design choices.
  • Creating something feels really good. It’s been a long time since art class for this technologist but being able to create something that others respond to is a meaningful exercise and one I hope to do more and more.


How unexpected opportunities can inform practice

This post is the first in a series of posts based on course work completed for the class Education as an Advanced Field of Study that I completed at Northeastern University.

This annotated bibliography item reviews a case study that developed during the progression of an environmental studies class that connected students with professionals in the field. The findings may be helpful to faculty who are interested in learning more about how to integrate practitioners of certain expertise levels into coursework for a connected class, as well as how sharing the results of unplanned teaching practices can be beneficial to all.

Meretsky, V. J., & Woods, T. A. N. (2013). A novel approach for practitioners in training: A blended-learning seminar combining experts, students and practitioners. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Volume 13, Number 3, 48–62. Retrieved from:

The authors of this case study were concerned with the disconnection between academic areas of study and the context in which the taught skills and knowledge are applied. Through their design of a blended course format professional practitioners in the US Fish and Wildlife Service regularly interacted through videoconferencing with graduate students in the area of environmental science. Data collection and analysis was qualitative and relied primarily on surveys given to students, practitioners and participants. Since the authors also served as the instructors, or facilitators of the course their thought process behind the design and adjustments to the course was included as well.

Since the authors were also intricately connected to the design of the course being studied, I had hoped to find some self-reflexivity which would better define the impact of Meretsky and Woods’ values on their evaluation of the blended seminar. However, since the case study grew out of the initiation of an outside agency, and Meretsky and Woods acknowledged that their data collection occurred based on the “unexpected opportunity”, it stands to reason that the authors retroactively recognized the importance of the experience in connection to existing research on situational learning, experiential learning and cognitive apprenticeship. Results from practitioners and students indicated that on a very general level the interaction was positive and from students’ perspective added value to course. The authors included many details about logistics, opportunities and challenges of the course which coupled with the general data collection indicate a positive area for future study.

This piece helped to inform me about a different concept of blended learning. Ideally I had been searching for more experiential based application of blended learning, however since the study included some unexpected collaborations between the agency practitioners and the students, I found it relevant to my focus. In particular the organic development of the collection of information indicated how unexpected opportunities can inform learning practices by chance, and how logistics and environmental concerns can inadvertently increase attention and usage of hybrid learning collaborations.

The importance of place

I live less than a mile from where I grew up on a dairy farm. Maybe it’s the lens of maturity or clarity of mind or a combination of both, but somehow the beauty of this place becomes brighter each day. Along with that clarity comes the realization of how terribly hard my parents have worked to provide me with opportunities that were never offered to them. It’s bittersweet to feel the benefits available to me, because the hard work that allowed these things to fall within my grasp was not just my own. What I’ve achieved I’ve reached from the shoulders of my parents. As a parent, I understand; but I still hope to one day lift them up to reach a dream.

Sun rising with the fog

Sun rising with the fog

Tech Sessions

Below is a listing of the tech sessions/classes that I have taught:


Fall 2013, for ENAM 1272A: Lit & Philosophy of Friendship (Professor Billings)

Fall 2013, for EDST 0305A: Elementary Literacy and Social Studies (Professor Hoyler)


J-term 2014, for RUSS 0202A: Intermediate Russian (Professor Wieda)

Final Cut Pro

Spring 2014, for ART 0164A: Sculpture and Video (Professor Huddleston)


Spring 2014, for FMMC 0282A: Videogames: Art/Culture/Medium (Professor Mittell)

Wikipedia Tutorial

Fall 2013, for NSCI 0100A: Introduction to Neuroscience (Professors Cronise and Root)


Fall 2013, for FYSE 1041A: Economics of Social Issues (Professor Holmes)

Fall 2013, for FYSE 1286A: Keys to Dan Brown’s Inferno (Professor Beyer)

Fall 2013, for FYSE 1401A: Bad Kids (Professor Tiger)

Spring 2014, for ENAM 0323A: Cinematic Movement: Poetry (Professor Van Jordan)

Google Sites (Google Apps for Education)

Spring 2010, Hannaford Career Center in-service for teachers


What I learned from a demo MOOC.

#456 on my to-do list is to register and muddle my way through a MOOC to see what all the discussion is about. However, I have a hard time committing myself to something that I don’t see myself finishing. This is worsened by all the pretty sad MOOC completion stats that keep flying through my Twitter feed each day. I felt like the universe was sending a sign that was a little less pessimistic than “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” So I was thrilled when I stumbled upon the edX Demo course and found a low committal way to check out the whole MOOC thang.

The course is billed as:

“A fun and interactive course designed to help you explore the edX learning experience. Perfect to take before you start your course.”

Ever the list maker…here’s what I found:


  • Videos were ok – but they’ll never be good enough to replace a strong teacher in person
  • Quiz questions were nothing new. I think I’ve evolved to the point where this is expected in most mediums.
  • Rubric evaluation of writing seemed too formulaic. (Am I sensing some irony here…a rubric that is too formulaic?) Basically I’ll never trust being graded by an automatron.
  • Automation comes at a cost. To scale up education you pay a steep price in interaction. Although discussion groups can mitigate this feeling, I wouldn’t be too keen on spending time interacting with a group of strangers without having some sort of insight from the professor.


  • Interactive learning components were the gold in this mine shaft. They represented a lab-like-test-it-out mentality that is a game changer. The immediate feedback on my work elevated the level of learning that can take place in this sandbox setting.
  • Interacting with my peers on my writing and in a discussion forum is nothing new, but it’s crucial to the learning experience. Being able to build a sense of community and identity as a learner sets a student’s place in the classroom. I’ve always been a huge fan of discussion groups anyways b/c I revel in having time to really think and plot out what I’m going to say.
  • The demo pulled back the curtain and revealed it does indeed take a village (or a team) to build this stuff and run these things. (Forgive my technical jargon.) Course staff includes a product manager, video producer and an associate video editor. Interestingly enough they hold bachelors degrees in computer science, and economics and a MFA in filmmaking. (Sounds like a fun team to work with!)

So would I take a MOOC? I’m not sure. I don’t like not completing things so there’s that. I am tempted to audit EdX’s Intro to Computer Science course, but based on the estimated effort (9 problem sets, 10 – 20 hrs each and 1 final project), I think I’d be using it more as a window into a MOOC with content than as a learning tool. Although the course intro video sure does make it look pretty cool.