Marist hosts Harvard professor

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Marist High School welcomed physicist and Harvard University professor Eric Mazur to speak to faculty on Tuesday, August 20.

In the physics world, Mazur is known for his contributions in nanophotonics. Beyond his own research and teaching of physics, he is an internationally recognized educational innovator and a sought after speaker. He is well known for his work on “peer instruction,” an interactive teaching method aimed at engaging students in the classroom and beyond.

He spoke with faculty members at Marist during a morning session about active learning, providing data and research on how the practice can transform student outcomes. Mazur focused on the value and importance of teaching by questioning, not telling.  He emphasized that educators need to use class time to assimilate information with students rather than transfer information to students. He pointed to the fact that with computers students can find the knowledge easily, but where they need help is applying the knowledge to connect it to other information, to synthesize it, and to apply it to problems to deduce solutions. 

Mazur also spoke about the task of educators to make learning happen by intrinsically motivating the students to learn through the art of engagement. He shared his cycle of posing a question, providing reflection time, polling the students, allowing discussion with a partner who has a different answer, polling again, and then explaining.  Mazur did a sample exercise with Marist’s teachers using a thermal conductivity question. It engaged the entire audience as they waited anxiously for the answer.

Science teachers spent the afternoon session with Mazur focusing on science-specific topics. They were eager to hear Mazur’s insights as the school’s new 10-lab science wing with a planetarium opened this month. Active learning and student engagement are some of the pillars around which the space was designed.

Marist administrators are dedicated to continual improvement with a focus on providing challenging curriculum that engages students with hands-on, real world lessons. To that end, the school’s esteemed faculty seeks out professional development, collaborates in in-house professional learning communities, and develops authentic learning opportunities that present core academic goals in innovative ways.

“Our students and parents deserve the very best,” Principal Larry Tucker ’79 said. “At Marist, we are committed to seeking out the finest resources, trends, and practices to prepare our students for college and beyond.”

Mazur is published in peer-reviewed journals and holds numerous patents. He has also written extensively on education and is the author of Peer Instruction: A User's Manual (Prentice Hall, 1997), a book that explains how to teach large lecture classes interactively, and of the Principles and Practice of Physics (Pearson, 2015), a book that presents a groundbreaking new approach to teaching introductory calculus-based physics. His motivational lectures on interactive teaching, educational technology, and assessment have inspired people around the world to change their approach to teaching.