My teaching style involves a host of different approaches to accomodate the variety of student learning styles in the classroom and the outdoor “classroom.” Below are some examples:
I’ve employed many different exercises to encourage student-led instruction and interaction with educational material. Examples include:
- Organized group discussions/debates for controversial ecological/management issues
- Think-pair-share in the lecture hall to discuss plant physiological mechanisms
- Student-generated quiz questions and exchange among peers as a means of reviewing for an exam.
- Breaking the lecture audience into teams to answer a multi-part question mid-lecture.
- Read more about Active Learning from Purdue University.
I have participated in flipped learning workshops and thought hard about the effectiveness of flipped learning for ecological course material. I believe I’ve found a happy medium that students enjoy and benefit from. I call them Scientific Study Videos (SSVs). They are 5-8 minute clips that highlight an important study in plant ecology and complement lecture material. Understanding HOW scientists learned what we know today is an incredibly valuable thought exercise for students as they learn about the natural world around them. What’s printed in textbooks came from an inquisitive scientist at some time. Students today can be just as inquisitive as those who came before them. Link to Youtube Playlist of Scientific Study Videos
Each of my lectures are organized by questions, not topics. These questions are posed in the beginning and I have the students answer them at the end of lecture, thus sandwiching their education with a question and their own answer to said question. I highly encourage students to ask their own questions of the material and attempt to answer them on their own. There is a lot of information at their finger-tips nowadays. During my courses I make sure to include some of the newest breaking science to date and explain that beyond this material is the unknown. The crux of my EEMB 140 Plant Ecology course is the research proposal whereby students propose an ecological question of their own design (see below).
Improving writing/editing skills
I value writing as an essential skill for undergraduate education. I often encounter students who graduate with a scientific degree have little to no experience with scientific writing and/or editing. I assign a 2-page research proposal assignment loosely based on the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Proposal. Students come up with their own original (to the best of their ability) ecological question and develop a proposal over several months with various checkpoints along the way including two rounds of peer review and editing. This assessment has been accepted to the EcoED Digital Library run by the Ecological Society of America.
Teaching Philosophy Statement 2017
I believe that science is the exploration and discovery of knowledge through questions. Asking questions is how we begin to learn and investigating those questions is how we gain knowledge. I teach science with the goal of inspiring students to question the natural world and themselves. When I teach, instead of just writing a keyword/phrase on the board, I simply add a question mark to the end of it. Having students ask themselves about the meaning of a concept forces them to think beyond a definition, a learning process analogous to how these concepts were originally developed by scientists. Fostering this inquisitiveness among students will not only prepare them to learn science, but serves to increase their awareness of the world they live in and their impacts on it.
During lectures, I accommodate different student learning styles by alternating among slides, writing on the board, asking questions of the audience and active learning exercises. These active learning exercises, in particular, improve instruction through inquiry and participation. In my General Plant Ecology course I have the students write a research proposal on an ecological question of their choice similar to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship proposal. As this is a novel exercise for many of them, I have exercises in class that acclimate them to process of developing a robust scientific question. In one exercise, we watch a short video about a Welwitchia sp. in Namibia with little narration. They write down observations and develop an ecological question from their observations. After sharing their question with their neighbor, we talk about the feasibility and ecological significance of their questions on the blackboard. I found that practical exercises synthesizing scientific observations are an excellent means of improving students’ research abilities, a valuable skill for careers after graduating from university.
While teaching at UC Santa Barbara, I became captivated by the science and art of pedagogy. This led me to my postdoctoral work, investigating questions in biology teaching best practices. By using the scientific method to address scientific teaching, we can better instruct students and reduce the achievement gap for under-represented student groups. As a passionate instructor and researcher, I want to employ education research-based teaching techniques in the classroom to better accomplish learning objectives.
Effective teaching requires adaptive curriculums, peer review and self-reflection. In all of my courses, I have written and implemented a mid-quarter survey to assess my course content and teaching abilities. Becoming a better instructor starts with self-critique, the willingness to accept the critique of both students and peers, and dedication to incorporating suggestions into course structure and teaching methods.
Socrates taught, “An unexamined life is not worth living”. Over the years, I have developed a philosophy of teaching that engages students’ curiosity, encourages self-examination and promotes a culture of questioning. Only by asking questions and investigation will we truly understand our world and ourselves.