"Any person who has begun to think, places some portion of the world in jeopardy." - John Dewey
I have considerable experience teaching students at a diversity of levels. As a public high school teacher (www.hallbio.weebly.com), I taught students of diverse capabilities (advanced students and those with learning disabilities) , ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Additionally, I have taught college students as an adjunct faculty member (Anatomy and Physiology), lecturer (Vertebrate Biodiversity), graduate teaching assistant (Vertebrate Development), and once taught a biology course in a prison (Survey of Life). My philosophy of education has been shaped by years of professional experience and is based on humanistic constructivist theory. Below I describe my core beliefs about education.
Instructor, Tennessee Tech University
Instructor, Auburn University
Teaching Assistant, Auburn University
Adjunct Faculty, Union University
High School Science Teacher, Tennessee (2010- 2015)
- The foundation of education is mutual trust and respect between teacher and student. Trust is the foundation for a safe learning environment. First, students must trust that their teacher is competent; thus, I strive to ensure my content knowledge is magnitudes deeper than what is required for students. I encourage students to ask questions that are ‘beyond the scope of the course’ and, if I am unable to answer questions, I research the answers. Second, students must trust that their teacher is compassionate. One function of a university is to expose students to concepts that may challenge their core beliefs (e.g. religious, political, ideological beliefs); however, the classroom should be a safe and caring environment. Students should be able to express themselves without fear of jeering, ridicule, or enduring criticism that’s purpose is to hurt rather than help. I model this behavior for students during class and discussions.
- The two primary functions of education are to foster within students a desire to learn and provide them with the skills and resources necessary to learn. My objective is to produce life-long learners who crave knowledge; thus, I view science education as a tool for teaching students how to learn. As a high school teacher, I taught every student how learning works at the level of the neuron. By explaining the connection between their own behavior (e.g. sleep, exercise, and eating habits) and learning, I provided useful strategies to improve their learning.
- Students are most motivated to learn when they have a say in what they learn. I utilize project-based learning. This allows students to select topics that interest them and use diverse methods and skills to accomplish a goal. This can be as simple as a writing assignment where students select a topic that falls under an umbrella of a grander learning objective. I also employ inquiry-based learning strategies in lab that allow students to follow their own curiosity (see “Inquiry-based labs” below).
- Teaching strategies that unify the cognitive and affective domains are most successful. When teaching controversial topics (e.g. genetic engineering, human cloning), I encourage students to discuss how they feel about these topics in addition to what they think. The process of science should be objective, but human beings are subjective, and our feelings shape the way we interact with the world and influence our thoughts. Students learn best when they are taught by a positive, engaging teacher because emotions often serve as the basis for our motivation to learn.
- Self-evaluation is the most meaningful measure of success. Growing up, I was indoctrinated with the gospel of success. Middle school teachers told me I must succeed in high school. High school teachers told me I must succeed in college. College professors told me I must succeed in life. No person ever taught me how to define success. In my early 30’s I learned, through self-reflection, that the most meaningful measure of success is a deep, personal satisfaction with one’s own life. Unlike most humanistic thinkers, I do find value in objective tests and grades; however, traditional tests should be used as part of a grander strategy to encourage self-evaluation and reflection. My objective is not to ensure a student gets accepted to medical school, but rather, to ensure they carve out a life for themselves that they are proud to call their own. Thus, I (like John Dewey, the founder of constructivist theory) believe that the goal of education is not to prepare students for some fixed objective but rather to prepare them for an uncertain future.
- Knowledge is not a body of cold facts scattered through the universe. It is something that each of us creates, and this act of creation is necessarily entangled with all our current knowledge and past experiences. One of the challenges we face in STEM education is that the historical structures of our society have subliminally convinced many students that they don’t belong in science due to their gender, race, or ethnicity. Interactions with society during the formative years of a child’s education can color their understanding of science and their attitudes toward it. Increasing the recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups in STEM must be an act of will and cannot be a passive endeavor. To broaden participation in science, I developed and taught a course at Elmore Correctional Facility through the Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project (link), I have mentored 5 undergraduate students from underrepresented groups, and I have served as a mentor for an NSF-funded REU program that targets underrepresented students from universities with few or no opportunities to conduct original research. I intend to continue similar efforts in the future.
- All learning is an active process. Students must be engaged if they are to learn. I utilize a variety of strategies to engage all students. I utilize active lecturing (link) to teach concepts that students struggle to learn on their own, as well as a diversity of student-centered activities for less complex ideas (e.g. concept maps, small group discussion, jigsaw learning, student presentations, constructing models, individual and group projects, inquiry-based lab activities, guided reading, drawing, flowcharts). One of my essential classroom tools is a large case of Play-Doh. A simple activity I use involves students building something with Play-Doh, taking a photo with a smart-phone, and adding labels on their model with a notation app (see example; Lac Operon).