Model: Terms and Definitions

Context: Most academic disciplines and subjects involve specialized vocabulary, including terms unfamiliar to most students, or familiar terms used in unfamiliar ways. Some terms involve concepts that are new and/or difficult, while other terms involve concepts that are familiar or easy for students to master.


Problem & Forces: Students must understand a set of terms and definitions, but avoid doing do. Some students skim over terms and definitions, particularly if they are unfamiliar or presented without context or motivation. Some assume that the meanings will become apparent from context. Some plan to memorize everything immediately before a test (and then promptly forget them).


Solution & Consequences: Therefore, use a set of terms and definitions as the model for EIA (Explore, Invent, Apply) Learning Cycles. Questions will guide students to explore the definitions, and then to invent their own understanding of the concept, which they then apply. This motivates students to carefully read and understand the definitions. This will take more time than a lecture or reading about the concepts, but less time than guiding students to create the definitions themselves, and the students are more likely to remember and use the terms later.

Discussion: A set of terms and their definitions presents information efficiently. Students have seen them in dictionaries and textbooks, so they seem familiar. Use terms and definitions when the definitions are not conceptually difficult, and when they provide a convenient summary that students can refer to later. If the concepts are more difficult, it may be better to develop them separately and have students summarize them later. A list of definitions can seem boring or tedious, so you might combine this with another model that provides an engaging motivation, or where students apply the definitions. Do not assume that all students will read and understand the terms and definitions; include questions to guide students to explore and apply the definitions. To save time, consider having students read the list before class and answer some review questions.

Examples: The figure shows a set of terms and definitions for propositional logic. In the POGIL activity, questions prompt students to use the definitions to complete a truth table with symbols and operators, and then to use proposition statements to write sentences that describe the effect of other operators.

Propositions and logical operators

A proposition is a statement that can have one of two values: true or false. For example:

            A = It is raining.        B = It is snowing.     C = The air temperature is above freezing.

For conciseness, propositions are represented by symbols, usually capital letters. (Fuzzy logic is another logical system for propositions that may be partially true.) Propositions are manipulated and combined using operators, such as:

i.    not   if P is false,                     (  ¬P  ) is true;    otherwise, (  ¬P  ) is false.

ii.   and   if P and Q are both true,   (P ∧ Q) is true;    otherwise (P ∧ Q) is false.

iii.  or      if either P or Q is true,      (P ∨ Q) is true;    otherwise (P ∨ Q) is false.

Figure: Sample Model - Terms & Definitions.

Another POGIL activity uses a set of roughly 20 terms for software development activities (e.g. Acceptance Testing, Architecture, Coding, Code Inspection), each with a 2-4 sentence description (adapted from Wikipedia). Questions prompt students to group the activities into categories (e.g. Analyze, Design)and rate them in several ways. Thus, this encourages students to read and think about the descriptions, not just skip or skim over.

Typical DCV (Directed, Convergent, Divergent) Questions:

  • D: How many terms are defined above? How many of the terms are defined using terms in the list?
    Prompts students to look at a set of definitions and start to see how they are related.
  • D: Which of these examples satisfy the definition of ? Prompts students to compare and apply
    the definition to a set of examples, which should be chosen and ordered to increase understanding.
  • C: Rewrite the definition of term using . Prompts students to rephrase definition using
    a particular example, notation, or vocabulary.
  • V: Give an example of from . Prompts students to apply definition in another context.

Author: Clif Kussmaul

Publication: C Kussmaul. 2016. Patterns in classroom activities for Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL). HILLSIDE Proc. of Conf. on Pattern Lang. of Prog. 23 (October 2016).

Contributors to this page: Clif Kussmaul .
Page last modified on Sat November 11, 2017 12:49:56 EST by Clif Kussmaul. (Version 2)