Tracy S. Feldman: Teaching Statement
When teaching biology to undergraduates, it is important to help students deal with the immense amounts of information associated with this field. For me, a conceptual framework has always helped me organize the information and make it seem less daunting. Therefore, in my teaching, I try to help my students to learn new concepts by building on their pre-existing knowledge. I think of undergraduate biology as a chance for students to understand not only how broader biological concepts can help explain biological phenomena in nature, but also how biological scientists use the scientific method to construct scientific knowledge in the first place. This emphasis helps students develop as informed citizens and as budding biologists. To accomplish these goals, I provide students with diverse learning tools to help them understand scientific concepts in the context of the scientific method. In addition, I frequently assess student learning in diverse ways, and I work to keep biology relevant to students.
In biology classes and laboratories, I provide diverse tools to help engage students in critical thinking about the ideas they are learning. For example, I incorporate discussion questions into my lectures (similar to think-pair-share), during which students work individually, in groups, and then as an entire class, to answer questions related to the broader concepts I am conveying. In addition, I frequently intersperse course content with additional relevant hands-on activities, such as case studies or independent group projects, to help students make connections between concepts. For example, in my ecology class for majors, students worked in teams to observe adaptations in desert plants and to answer a series of questions to help them understand how natural selection and environmental conditions can influence one another. In my ecology laboratory course, I compiled a lab manual and conduct lab exercises that give students background and practice in research design, data analysis, and scientific writing. Concurrently, students work in teams and as a class to develop their own research projects and carry out the methods they design. Then I work with the students to help them analyze their data and write reports in the form of scientific journal articles. I use similar pedagogical techniques in non-majors classes, in which students develop questions related to the material, conduct experiments, and interpret their results in writing. In addition, I use technologies such as student polling (e.g., clickers) or online activities (e.g., on websites or blackboard), yet I am careful to incorporate only the technologies that help me achieve my teaching goals effectively. By incorporating these activities and technologies into my classes, I hope to reach a range of students who may learn course material in diverse ways.
Whether students emerge from college on a path toward biological research or teaching, or as non-biologists who are informed citizens, it is important for them to understand concepts and develop critical thinking skills. Therefore, as a teacher, I feel that it is especially important for me to assess student understanding, frequently and in diverse ways. Through these assessments, I can also evaluate the effectiveness of my teaching. In classes, I give students practice explaining the concepts they are learning, either through written or oral answers to guided questions, or in more advanced courses, through synthetic papers (e.g. research proposals or laboratory reports) that demonstrate their understanding and their ability to contextualize their assertions with evidence from the broader literature. As part of these written assessments, I often ask students to revise their work. This allows them to respond to feedback and solidify their understanding of concepts. It also allows me to emphasize that revision is part of the scientific process. On exams, I ask students to use writing, graphs, or drawings to apply the concepts we have discussed to new situations, to explain the concept in their own words, to relate contrasting ideas, or to determine the hypothesis best supported by data I provide. Although the specifics of the assessments vary depending upon the backgrounds of the students and the content of each course, the basic pedagogical techniques I use are similar in all of the classes I currently teach. In all cases, I use these assessments to help modify my teaching strategies in the future.
Students engage most effectively with concepts they feel relate to their lives. In my courses, I strive to make course material relevant to student interests and experience, and to make connections to show how broader concepts like global warming will affect their lives. For example, in my non-majors class, I use a case study on antibiotic resistance, helping connect broader concepts of natural selection and bacterial biology while allowing students to explore the consequences of overusing antibiotics. In an upper-level ecology class, students are interested in invasive species. Therefore, I incorporate a student-guided laboratory and two case-studies that touch on these applied issues while simultaneously illustrating or exploring several different basic scientific concepts we are discussing as a class.
My goals as a teacher are reflected in the learning goals I set for my students, and in the assessments by which I evaluate their progress as students and my effectiveness as a teacher. My courses are interactive, engaging students in the scientific process while giving students tools to understand scientific phenomena, offering practice with critical thinking and giving them opportunities to use scientific information to form and express their views on important topics in biology.