Philosophy of teaching and learning
I am an educator because I want to promote a society filled with intellectually curious people, people who are motivated to ask questions and who are equipped to find the answers. I see the teacher as a friendly provacateur, one who challenges students to continually evaluate their current understanding in light of new information and who fosters curiosity by encouraging keen and careful observation. In other words, I view the teacher as a facilitator of the scientific method, someone who guides students from initial observation to ultimate discovery.
My primary goal as a biology educator is to help students learn to ask and answer questions about the natural world and the organisms that inhabit it. In my experience, student learning is the deepest and longest lasting when students are intrinsically motivated to understand new material.. An important first step in self-motivated learning is identifying and articulating what it is that you do not yet know.
Because identifying and carefully articulating relevant, unanswered questions is an important skill for biologists, medical personnel and lay people alike, my students practice this skill frequently. My courses are designed to be enable students to identify both gaps in their personal understanding and to find the edges of understanding across the field. To help my students find and fill gaps in their understanding I encourage intellectual exchange (see below) and introduce many tools for organizing your thoughts. For example, students in my classroom create visual organizers (e.g., comparing and contrasting tests for selection) and together we practice differentiating hypotheses from predictions. These tools help students learn to 'read their own minds' and identify areas where their knowledge is incomplete. After these exercises, student performance and self-reported satisfaction increased; students were also better able to interpret results and evaluate the quality of experimental design. Going forward, I will implement activities designed to help students identify open research questions and develop methods to answer these questions. For instance, a major component of a course I recently designed asks students to form a team and identify an open research question in the field of behavioral genetics. As a team, they must break the question into manageable parts and, using techniques discussed earlier in the semester, propose an experiment or analysis that would answer the question and move the field forward.
Cultivating Intellectual Exchange
Evaluating old understandings in the light of new information is at the heart of the scientific method and this practice permeates my classroom. Research has shown that factual information alone is not enough to correct misconceptions (and in some circumstances may cause people to hold their misconceptions even more strongly). So, though students in my class are certainly exposed to new information, I primarily use classroom time to facilitate the exchange of ideas -- these exchanges can be internal (between the old uneducated self and the newly educated self), between students, or between student and teacher. Students interrupt my lectures to comment, question and connect previous material. Class time is primarily spent working in groups to exchange ideas, and completing inquiry based activities and assessments that are structured to illustrate and correct common misconceptions. For instance, as a teaching assistant in an upper level course, I wrote weekly assessments asking students to interpret the results and validity of analyses in the primary literature. Students completed these quizzes individually, and were then placed into groups where they worked together to solve the problems, and were thereby required to interrogate their own way of thinking and justify their reasoning to their classmates.
Respect among students and between students and their teacher is integral to cultivating successful intellectual exchange. I respect my students by setting clear expectations for each class period and assignment (often using rubrics). I also