Nav: Home

Theater improvisation techniques show promising results for science classroom engagement

September 25, 2020

A researcher at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) has developed a unique method to improve class participation in a graduate-level thermodynamics course by incorporating theater improvisation activities in the classroom. Erin Lavik, associate dean for research and faculty development and professor of chemical, biochemical, and environmental engineering at UMBC, wanted to find a way to encourage better participation in a thermodynamics seminar, and thought that allowing students to warm up to each other through theater exercises might improve their confidence when discussing complex topics. Based on her case studies of class participation on days when improv activities were conducted and also on anonymous survey feedback from students, Lavik confirmed that the improv activities led to a higher rate of engagement and participation. The findings are published in Biomedical Engineering Education.

The research was conducted over the course of the Fall 2019, Spring and Summer 2020 terms, and the improvisation techniques were used both in person and digitally, after remote learning became the new normal. Lavik used a variety of improv games at the beginning of class periods. One example is "Yes, and," which encourages students to listen to each other and build upon what the previous person said in order to create a nonsensical story.

The importance of listening in this game fosters an attentive classroom. Everyone is expected to participate at least once in the story, which creates a community of students that are primed to pay attention and respond to one another easily. In the survey data that Lavik collected, students said that when the improv games took place, they felt more alert, engaged, and ready to participate.

These findings are situated in a larger body of evidence indicating that doing improvisation exercises can support alertness. Students who believe that they are able to improvise and think on their feet use that knowledge to reduce their anxiety both in their studies and in general. The positive reinforcement associated with the activities after their completion was intended to leave students feeling more comfortable talking and making mistakes in the course.

Now that most university instruction is taking place online, participation in seminars and discussions is more important than ever, but these platforms make it even less likely that students will participate actively. However, given that the improvisation activities can be done completely online and show promising initial results, Lavik believes that the technique might help to engage everyone more effectively.

"The improv exercises often led to laughter, especially the exercises that were inspired by thermodynamics," says Lavik. "It helps create an environment where it is ok to try out new ideas and experiment. It is easier to ask questions when people feel like they are part of a group."

The use of this interdisciplinary method has proven to be highly effective at engaging students and creating a classroom community, especially important given the common limitations of online learning. Providing a final note on the benefits of this project, Lavik says, "We can do a lot to augment learning by being creative across disciplines. This is just one example of why it is so important to talk across our expertise, sharing ideas and techniques across different fields."

University of Maryland Baltimore County

Related Thermodynamics Articles:

New model examines how societal influences affect US political opinions
Northwestern University researchers have developed the first quantitative model that captures how politicized environments affect U.S. political opinion formation and evolution.
Physicists build circuit that generates clean, limitless power from graphene
Physicists at the University of Arkansas have successfully generated an electrical current from the atomic motion of graphene, discovering a new source of clean, limitless power.
Theater improvisation techniques show promising results for science classroom engagement
A researcher at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) has developed a unique method to improve class participation in a graduate-level thermodynamics course by incorporating theater improvisation activities in the classroom.
Extracting order from a quantum measurement finally shown experimentally
In physics, it is essential to be able to show a theoretical assumption in actual, physical experiments.
Thermodynamics of computation: A quest to find the cost of running a Turing machine
Turing machines are widely believed to be universal, in the sense that any computation done by any system can also be done by a Turing machine.
Holographic cosmological model and thermodynamics on the horizon of the universe
A holographic cosmological model with a power-law term has been proposed by a Kanazawa University researcher to study thermodynamic properties on the horizon of the Universe.
APS tip sheet: Ultimate strength of metals
A new model is able to accurately determine the peak strength of polycrystalline metals.
How sensitive can a quantum detector be?
Measuring the energy of quantum states requires detecting energy changes so exceptionally small they are hard to pick out from background fluctuations, like using only a thermometer to try and work out if someone has blown out a candle in the room you're in.
A new model of metabolism draws from thermodynamics and 'omics'
Scientists at EPFL have developed an algorithm that can model biochemical reactions from metabolism down to RNA synthesis with unprecedented accuracy.
Samara Polytech scientists has developed a new concept of mathematical modeling
Scientists at the Samara Polytech are developing a new area of mathematical modeling of locally nonequilibrium transfer processes and methods for their study.
More Thermodynamics News and Thermodynamics Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.