Classroom Teaching Strategies & Research

Below is a general overview of my approach to teaching and descriptions of research projects on teaching interventions-- one study that I conducted while in graduate school and one I plan to conduct when I next teach an introductory geology class (2018). For resources on teaching methodologies, the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), Teaching-as-Research, and specific strategies for teaching in the geosciences, check out my LINKS page.

When teaching, my goal is to instill in my students a high level of excitement about the material and confidence in their abilities to apply new-found knowledge to real-world problems. In the classroom, I prefer using alternative teaching methods to augment lectures (e.g., guided- and structured-inquiry assignments, collaborative learning periods, demonstrations, active hands-on learning with mineral and rock specimens), as these types of teaching strategies often improve students' critical thinking skills, conceptual understanding of materials, confidence in scientific knowledge, and interest in and retention in STEM fields. When implementing a new teaching method, however, it is critical to determine if the intervention is an improvement over the old to ensure that student learning is optimized and not negatively impacted. For example, inquiry-based teaching practices are most often successful for students in traditionally disadvantaged groups, but these inquiry-type methodologies can also be detrimental --particularly to disadvantaged groups-- if implemented with minimal guidance (see Hmelo-Silver et al. (2007) Educational Psychologist for a good review of these issues). During my Ph.D. I conducted a Teaching-as-Research project (through Washington University's STEM Teaching-as-Research internship program) on structured-inquiry assignments, and prepared a comprehensive plan for addressing and researching student misconceptions in environmental science that I plan to implement with the next set of courses I teach.


  Average percent NLGs for “easy” questions, “hard” conceptual questions, and “hard” data/graph questions, for all students  

Average percent NLGs for “easy” questions, “hard” conceptual questions, and “hard” data/graph questions, for all students  

Structured Inquiry in Environmental Geochemistry

With this Teaching-as-Research project, our goal was to determine if structured-inquiry assignments improve students' conceptual and scientific knowledge relative to traditional algorithmic-based assignments in an upper level course: Environmental Geochemistry.

Students used Geochemist's Workbench to model hypothetical systems in a series of modeling assignments --half of which were 'Practicals' (traditional rote-based) and half of which were 'Experiments' (structured inquiry). Using pre- and post-assignment questions, attitudinal surveys, and pre- and post-semester surveys, we assessed differences in normalized learning gains (NLGs) and student attitudes. Experiments and Practicals improved confidence, conceptual understanding, and data/graph interpretation ability to a similar degree. Interestingly (and quite unexpectedly), the Experiments improved understanding of simple scientific concepts more so than the Practicals, and consistently increased undergraduate students' and female students' NLGs, but had the opposite effect for male students.


  Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Niobrara River Valley, NE, with Miocene-age rocks and fossils. Image Courtesy of National Park Service and   Earth Science World Image Bank http://www.earthscienceworld.org/images

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Niobrara River Valley, NE, with Miocene-age rocks and fossils. Image Courtesy of National Park Service and Earth Science World Image Bank http://www.earthscienceworld.org/images

Next Planned Research Topic: Overcoming Student Misconceptions in Environmental/Earth Sciences

Environmental and Earth Sciences have their fair share of controversial subjects. While skepticism is certainly healthy, some of these issues are especially challenging in the classroom; misconceptions can be tightly held and as a result, difficult to address. My research objective with this project is to determine if small group discussions of demonstrations and literature, followed by instructor-led class discussions break down student misconceptions more so than traditional lecture-based classes. I plan to investigate various strategies (e.g., mixed lecture and demonstrations, discussions and instructor-led demos, discussions and student-led demos) to address student misconceptions in Environmental or Earth Sciences--

--hopefully when I teach Intro to Geology in Winter 2018 at W&L!