Photo: Bob Dreizler
My Teaching Philosophies
My broad goal is to make biology accessible, exciting, and relevant for all students. I'm perpetually learning and trying to improve myself as an instructor, so I know I will never be done working towards that goal. Some of my specific teaching strategies are...
1. I seek to cultivate an inclusive, welcoming, and supportive classroom environment that promotes equity and diversity.
I understand different students approach the subject of biology in different ways due to their varying academic backgrounds, past science class experiences, levels of familiarity with practicing scientists, degrees of existing interest in science, and numerous other factors. Even though we all have different backgrounds and goals, I think it is important that all students feel a sense of belonging in class. As such, I incorporate a variety of strategies aimed at increasing students' sense of belonging and self confidence in science. In addition, I try to adopt a stance of humility by recognizing my own limitations in understanding the backgrounds and experiences of all my students.
2. I try to find out what you know.
This diagram from an index card blog demonstrates an important truth about learning. We learn in a lot of places outside of classrooms. If we hope to gain new ideas or change our ideas in classes, it's important to recognize our preconceptions and the contexts in which we naturally learn. For those reasons, I put a great deal of effort into understanding the knowledge students bring to the classroom, so that we can examine and build on that prior knowledge. In addition, I design classroom activities that might mimic the ways we learn outside of classrooms and in real biological situations. With your prior ideas in mind, I can work to create activities that help you reach your academic and professional goals in the context of the learning you're engaged in as part of other classes and outside the classroom.
3. I encourage cooperation in the classroom and try to cultivate an environment where we all have a voice and are all free to make mistakes.
Doing science depends on bringing people together in teams to share unique perspectives on problems. In addition, people generally learn best by communicating their ideas with others. For those reasons, I stress teamwork and collaboration in my classes. A collaborative environment more-closely simulates how scientists work and creates a mutually supportive classroom where we all work together instead of competing against one another. This means we must all be encouraged to voice our ideas, even if we think they might be "wrong." I believe every student has something valuable to contribute to class, regardless of amount of past experience in biology, and I want my classes to provide space for every student to feel engaged and involved. Further, I hope everyone can become brave enough to make mistakes during class. Mistakes represent great opportunities for learning, and any student failing to make mistakes from time to time might be missing out on chances to challenge their prior ideas and grow as a biologist.
4. I "assess" student learning in lots of different ways.
"Assessment" can refer to any activity that provides me with insights into how and what students think. As a college student, my science classes generally had a couple midterms and a final, and that was it. Those were really the only times for the instructors to find out what I knew or how I was doing. That meant the instructors were not aware of my progress or my confusion with different concepts, and could not adjust to my needs. That also meant each test was a pretty scary, high-stakes event! Each one counted for a lot of the grade. In my classes, I try to spread out points over exams as well as other diverse assignments and activities that let students express their knowledge in many different ways and formats.
5. I try to align my expectations with students' expectations so the path to success is easy to follow.
From my own experiences as a student, I know how important it is for students to understand, as specifically as possible, what is expected of them. When grading assignments, I often use rubrics that I give to students when the assignment is introduced. These rubrics outline, in specific terms, what students must do to earn full credit. In developing rubrics and grading tests, I try to assign points to students for exhibiting skills that will be valuable to them in their careers or lives in general. Many of the things I grade can additionally be revised for more credit if full credit is not achieved after the first submission. This allows students to receive feedback directly from me and come to understand what I look for in a complete response.
6. I find out how things are going.
I structure formal opportunities for students to give me feedback and suggestions during the course (not just at the end when it's too late to make adjustments). While this structured feeback is very important, I also appreciate when students make the effort themselves to tell me about their individual concerns and learning preferences, and how I'm serving their needs as an instructor.
7. I benefit from the experience and expertise of my colleagues.
Community colleges are rich in teachers with extensive experience as innovative educators. I enjoy working collaboratively with other teachers to better understand how different instructors serve their students and communities.