Teaching Philosophy Statement
As the instructor of an introductory biology lab for science majors, I have the privilege to play a foundational role in the career of young scientists. Rather than continue with “cookie-cutter” biology labs that confirm known phenomena and jump between topics, I guide students through a semester-long process of conducting and communicating their own science. I believe students deserve to have agency in their education, and one of the ways to do this in a biology laboratory is by having them design their own research. Like all practicing scientists, students are met with obstacles and opportunities for problem-solving during their research. Critical-thinking within the context of their projects creates confident and effective problem solvers. In an age of rampant anti-intellectualism, one of our biggest responsibilities as undergraduate educators is promoting scientific literacy. This skill is not only critical for future academic researchers, but for all modern citizens. Finally, it is my expressed personal objective to engage students with the natural world. Students will be confined to sterile labs in chemistry, physics and most other courses. Biology labs have the opportunity to provide students with a unique learning experience which may foster connections and motivate lasting interest in biological phenomena. I want to do my part to eradicate the methods of teaching that favors only students who can memorize information quickly for exams, only to forget it in the long term. I want to create a curriculum in which strong, multi-contextual, connections are made and students can take not only knowledge but skills and frameworks with them in the long term.
Methods to Achieve Objectives
I prefer to use a “flipped” classroom structure in which most of the lecture and reading takes place prior to class and questions are submitted before class begins. Class begins with a “dissecting” period in which we review submitted questions in small groups. This format makes it more comfortable for students to ask questions and foster student-based inquiry during activities. Throughout the course, I maintain a “Skills board” to draw clear connections between assignments and the skills they help build. Most of our 3 hours of in-class time is divided between two to three structured activities or assignments. The first assignment typically helps students generate their own examples and create questions, while the second and third activities often aim to engage higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning. At the end of each class period, I use short surveys to identify students’ current state of knowledge and misconceptions for the upcoming class period. This gives me one week to find ways to detangle misconceptions to promote better connections with new material. This also gives me the chance to identify student motivations to tailor course content to my audience, and make my expectations for the coming week clear.
I believe that weekly evaluation in the form of formative assessments is a powerful tool to direct my teaching. If I can identify common misinterpretations of introductory content, I can change my teaching to help students navigate their mental framework to create stronger connections. One of my primary learning objectives is to strengthen scientific process skills, so I use project-based assessment throughout the semester. This type of assessment is typically a one-on-one evaluation of a technique or oral demonstration of a skill. To emulate the collaborative setting of real-world science, the entire course is completed in deliberately designed groups. Students working in groups have open lines to feedback about their teammates both during and at the end of the semester via an online survey system. This fosters accountability between students and gives students a sense of security that they will not be stuck doing work for slacking teammates. Finally, both at the beginning and end of my course, I use summative take-home message evaluation.
Teaching and mentoring are essential aspects to advancing every field of science. On a personal level, teaching brings me immense joy. And when I succeed in engaging students with course material, I can pass that enthusiasm on to my students and have a lasting impact on their education. When I see students making strong connections within their course material or taking ownership of their science, I feel a shared sense of accomplishment. My status as a first generation college student has also heavily influenced my teaching philosophy. I know that not all students begin college at the same level of familiarity with science, and that some students make lack critical academic skills needed to perform well in college courses. Approaching students who struggle from a perspective of caring, and seeing an opportunity for mentoring, has really improved the progress of my students as a whole. Engaging struggling students in one-on-one meetings to identify areas of improvement has helped many of my students over the years.