Teaching Philosophy    

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Teaching Portfolio Materials Referenced Below:

Core Philosophy: Develop Scientific Literacy

                My highest priority in teaching is to build science literacy at many levels – to develop students’ abilities to make scientifically informed decisions in their daily lives, to critically assess and synthesize published information, and to interpret and persuasively communicate their own research findings. I find that an emphasis on science literacy as a set of widely applicable skills gives students a sense of ownership over their learning. Further, even students in distant majors can find enthusiasm for core concepts in my fields, ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry, when those concepts are presented in contexts that are relevant to students’ personal decisions: the foods they buy, the cars they drive, and even the votes they cast. I therefore value teaching as an opportunity to simultaneously expand my own biological knowledge base, prepare my students to succeed in their careers, and empower them to make sound decisions in an uncertain world.

Methods: Guided Practice, Practice, Practice

Science literacy is about skills: students should be able to locate valid information sources, interpret data, accommodate uncertainty, critically assess and build arguments, and identify the unknowns whose resolution could alter their conclusions. My teaching approach is therefore also skill-centered: during class, I want my students spend far more time practicing scientific thinking than noting scientific “facts.” In 2010 I worked with faculty in my department to develop a sophomore ecology course with a strong active learning component. Students in that course now spend much of each class session actively brainstorming, problem solving, and communicating in ways that develop their science literacy. I helped to identify learning goals and plan activities for several class sessions and also developed a data-analysis exercise for a tree diameter dataset that the students augment with their own field measurements each year. As a TA for an aquatic field ecology course in 2011, I facilitated active student collaboration by helping them to share field data and analyses via a class website. Most recently, as a student in Duke’s College Teaching Practicum in 2012, I continued to practice active learning pedagogy by preparing and delivering a series of teaching demonstrations that encourage thoughtful and equitable student participation.

In my faculty career I anticipate teaching opportunities not only in the classroom but also, informally, in my positions as mentor and employer. As with teaching science literacy in the classroom, my philosophy is still skill-centered in the lab, but my target skill set is more specific: I want to help these young people build skills and confidence that will advance the science careers that they are exploring and developing. For example, when I mentored a student in the National Science Foundation’s program for Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), I pushed my mentee to navigate the primary literature and develop her own research questions, and I provided feedback to ensure that her experimental design would succeed; this approach increased both her confidence and her ability to generate ideas and conduct careful research. Over the last three field seasons, I have also hired and supervised four undergraduates and recent graduates. I have been conscious of my joint roles as employer and mentor at a critical stage in these employees’ careers, and I have made a point of discussing research ideas, exploring hypotheses, and evaluating preliminary results together with my employees. These former employees now hold positions as teachers, technicians, and doctoral students.

Looking Forward: Professional Development

                Like my research program, my teaching approach is an ever-evolving set of tools and ideas. As a graduate student I built a pedagogical foundation by attending teaching workshops, taking two courses on pedagogy, helping to develop a college course, exploring teaching careers through the Preparing Future Faculty program, and observing and being observed as part of Duke’s Certificate in College Teaching. As a faculty member, I intend to provide high-quality instruction by maintaining scientific breadth and currency – a practice that will also strengthen my research – and seeking teaching ideas and feedback throughout my career. Some of the best feedback will come from observing my students during each class session: by punctuating lectures with in-class activities and classroom assessment techniques, I not only promote higher-level thinking but also open a window for myself onto students’ thought processes and current science literacy. My students’ demonstrated understanding during such activities will tell me how well I’m teaching and where I need to focus my efforts next. These classroom observations, combined with occasional pedagogy workshops, teaching collaborations, and formal feedback, will enable me to do my ever-improving best in teaching ecological concepts and fostering science literacy.