Invention Activities

Pretty much anyone who has talked to me recently has heard me sing the praises of invention activities. These differ from more typical in-class activities in that students are asked to grapple with challenging problems BEFORE they are taught how to solve them. The experimental work of Dan Schwartz and colleagues shows that this struggle prepares students well to learn from the lecture.

Over the last two years, George Orlov and I have developed and refined six invention activities that we’ve been using to teach key concepts in applied econometrics. These include Ordinary Least Squares, controlling for a categorical variable, interacting explanatory variables, difference in differences, regression discontinuity, and fixed effects. I’m thrilled to announce that we’ve written “Using Invention Activities to Teach Applied Econometrics” that includes the details of all six activities as well as our arguments for why you should use them.

  • The abstract: An invention activity is a teaching technique that involves giving students a difficult substantive problem that cannot be readily solved with any methods they have already learned. The work of Dan Schwartz and colleagues (Schwartz & Bransford, 1998; Schwartz & Martin, 2004), suggests that such activities prepare students to learn the “expert’s solution” better than starting directly with a lecture on that solution. In this paper we present six new invention activities appropriate for a college econometrics course. We describe how we introduce each activity, guide students as they work, and wrap up the activity with a short lecture.
  • The paper
  • The online appendix