Teaching Philosophy

How are a talk show on second hand smoke, two children’s books, two crime dramas, a documentary on war, and a cookbook related?  Chemistry. Or more specifically they are examples of student projects from my general chemistry course several years ago. Although the chemistry in each project was not always as accurate or perhaps as in depth as I might have liked, they will be lasting memories for the students involved in their creation. The projects highlight the great potential and quality of work that motivated and excited students are capable of producing when they are highly engaged and interested in their work. When students are able to see the relevance and be able to use their learning to better understand or navigate in the world, then they have truly gained from their education.

Through my involvement with providing input in the Next Generation Science Standards and more recently with exploring and implementing 3-Dimensional Learning (3DL) I have come to embrace the idea that learning must create usable knowledge to be worthwhile. 3DL requires student learning to span the core ideas of the discipline, employ science practices, and involves cross cutting concepts. Learning in this way requires students to not only gain content, but to be able to actually use their learning. This requires students moving beyond approaching learning as a process of collecting facts, but instead being able to use the core ideas of each discipline to better understand the world around them and help to solve problems. This caused a notable shift in how I think about and implement my teaching of general chemistry as, over the past few years, I have embracing 3DL more. Based on the tenets of Backward Design, if I want my students to be able to use their knowledge in authentic ways, I must provide assessments that require them to do so. Although I have always required my students to tackle novel application questions, the 3DL framework (from the 3D Learning Assessment Protocol) has been very helping in getting me to think about how to tweak my questions to ensure that I have science practices explicitly included in my questions (as opposed to more traditional questions simply situated in a real world context). Of course, once I adjust my summative assessments, then I need to provide students with suitable opportunity to practice answering 3D questions. This has led to me to heavily embrace the scientific argumentation approach of claim-evidence-reasoning and it is now common in both my lecture and lab classes. Throughout my class, I work to both provide examples of and get my students to apply chemistry concepts using this template. For the lecture, I also recognized the need for students to practice applying their learning outside of the class. Because most online homework systems are not designed to readily provide this type of practice, I have collaborated to help develop a text message-based system to give students this opportunity. Because I then use the students’ out-of-class responses as the jumping off place in the next class session, the effectively closes the teaching loop and helps the students recognize the value that I put on this practice. In class, I also work hard to truly help students understand the goals and expectations from the class. I explicitly provide the 2-3 daily learning goals for each class period, which I then linked to the past exams so the students can see the alignment between the course goals and the assessments.  This simple act of drawing back the curtain and letting students in on our “secret” of what we are hoping the students will learn and why it matters helps the students focus on the important aspects of chemistry rather than guessing the expectations of the faculty member. These approaches frequently have students returning to me later for letters of recommendation because they walked away knowing that I cared deeply about their success.