My teaching style focuses on inquiry-based and active learning, with lesson plans designed to promote students understanding and their sense of ownership over their own learning process. In inquiry-based learning, students simultaneously learn science content and the practices or ways of thinking that scientists use in our research (NRC 2000). This approach shows students how scientists really think, a critical concept in our era of clickbait news and political attacks on science. Just as importantly, however, an inquiry-based approach allows students to investigate and unpack complex ideas for themselves. Active learning enhances students’ understanding and helps them retain the information in the long term (e.g., Kvam 2000; Prather et al. 2008).
Physics & astronomy courses teach fundamental critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are equally important for majors and non-majors alike. Introductory astronomy or physics is often the last formal science class that students will ever take. Such distribution courses therefore offer an opportunity—perhaps even a mandate—to improve students’ scientific literacy and help them become more informed citizens. Physics majors and pre-health students also gain valuable problem-solving skills through physics classes (AMHC & HHMI 2009). Active learning and inquiry-style lesson plans directly support the development of problem-solving skills, and I will continue to integrate these methods into my classes.
I also believe that every student has a right to fully access all course materials and concepts, and to be assessed in a way that allows them to demonstrate their true understanding. To this end, I use backwards design to plan my lessons and focus on content that serves the goals of a given lecture, unit, and course (Wiggins & McTighe 2005). In future, I plan to make my course materials flexible, so that students can select the format that works best for their needs and abilities (Womack et al. 2015), e.g., providing electronic materials that can be accessed by a screen-reader or incorporating audio and tactile materials to include blind and visually impaired people in astronomy. I am committed to continually improving my teaching and making my classes fully inclusive and accessible.
American Association of Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2009. Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians
Kvam, P.H., 2000, The Effect of Active Learning Methods on Student Retention in Engineering Statistics, The American Statistician, 54:136
National Research Council, Olson, S., and Loucks-Horsley, S., eds., Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning, National Academies Press.
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. 2005 Understanding by Design, 2nd Ed., Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development
Womack, A. M., et al. 2005 Accessible Syllabus https://www.accessiblesyllabus.com/