- As a teacher, I am interested in creating an environment where students can critically and actively engage with the class subject matter, rather than be superficially involved in learning through rote memorization or regurgitating data. Part of this process entails students grasping fundamental concepts before they can investigate a subject in more detail. It is my job as an instructor to present this material in a way that piques student interest and encourages them to delve deeper into aspects of the topic they find most intriguing.
- Rather than speaking at students with PowerPoint displays, in my lectures
I prefer to write notes by hand on the board during discussion, use appropriate
video and websites to connect concepts visually, and as much as possible,
develop group activities and generate class discussion. Sometimes, however,
I still find the classroom is too limiting to get students to understand
important concepts. I have found experiential learning to be an extremely
effective method of teaching environmental science. After a trip to the
local landfill where the visions and odors of their own contributions
to the dump produced a visceral response, one student said to me, “Maybe
next time we should just watch a video.” At that point I recognized that
the trip accomplished exactly what a video could not. In this case, for
at least one student, a profound learning experience had taken place.
The classes that I consider most successful are ones where I am able to use these principles to guide students, encouraging them to increase their knowledge of a particular subject while allowing them to use their unique abilities to arrive at informed conclusions. In teaching natural selection, for example, I divide the class into groups to create hypothetical creatures whose attributes were developed under varying selective pressures. The students spend time brainstorming then report back to the class by drawing their new creations on the board. The resulting organisms are bizarre to say the least. By the end of the class, however, the students can articulate how directional selection produced gigantic fingernails on an imaginary Rapossumink.
- I have learned from my teaching evaluations that one of my strengths
as an instructor is energy I bring to the classroom. I recognize that
as a new instructor this enthusiasm is easy to produce but may be difficult
to sustain. My goal is that as I continue to teach I will be impressed
with how much more there is to learn from the material as well as the
students, and this perspective will keep my classes fresh and vibrant
throughout my career. Students respond by participating in class discussion
and activities while I, in turn, benefit from their interest and insight
in often unexpected ways. For example, when I take my students outside
to identify terrestrial ecosystems, I have been struck with how I preconceive
ecosystem boundaries that are, in fact, quite arbitrary. Some students
recognize a small stump as containing an intact ecosystem while others
include buildings and the surrounding landscape as their unit of measure.
An extension of my teaching is to involve students in research, through funded projects and in classroom activities. Since my research is primarily applied work, this comes naturally. Many of my courses contain a service-learning component where students work on projects throughout the semester to solve pressing environmental problems in the areas where they live. As research opportunities expand, so to do teaching opportunities, and I look forward to teaching through research with students at all levels throughout my career.