Learning is the process of being curious, asking questions, and acquiring knowledge through self-discovery which is a natural trait in humans from a young age. Science is an area that relies on scientists being curious, asking questions, and investigating the topics which leads to new questions and ideas to be considered. Teaching science courses should foster the idea of curiosity and self-discovery by allowing students to ask questions, and build ideas through critical thinking and investigation. With the diversity of students in the course, I believe in the idea of constructivism, or students coming with a foundation of knowledge, misconceptions, and what they may not know, and as the instructor, I need to provide a classroom that allows all students to learn, and investigate the different topics and concepts covered individually and through active inquiry based learning. Each student should be able to build, and construct their own passages, and connections between information. The students would use the information learned to continue to build on previous knowledge or challenge their thinking.
My role as the instructor would be to motivate the students to ask questions, and start forming their own ideas about topics covered or concepts learned. I would accomplish inquiry base learning by not just giving information to the students but allowing them to research the topic through textbooks, websites, and peer-reviewed articles, and I would offer guidance when the students considered they were at a dead end. From the information, I would have the students formulate their own ideas and answers to the questions. I would challenge my students to think outside their comfort zone, and explore ideas that they may not normally consider. After researching a challenging question, I would have students bring the answer, and the steps they took to come to the conclusion. In groups during active learning exercises, the students would discuss the steps as well as the answer which would show that not everyone thinks or researches the question the same way. By the end, the students would be able to understand what it takes to answer questions, and possibly see the questions or steps to processing the question in a different light. I would have the students read and critique peer-reviewed literature that was on the same topic but may have come to different or similar conclusions by different means. I want the students to understand that scientific investigation does not have right or wrong answers as long as the methods were thorough, and the scientist can justify the results with other research. I always tell my students in lab classes, that on lab reports the data collected is not right or wrong as long as you can justify the outcome.
As the motivator and challenger, I would design my classes using scientific and inquiry based teaching which encompasses using the scientific method and student directed investigation to teach science in the classroom. As scientists, we know that hands on experimentation and investigative work is the key to coming up with research ideas and publications. I would want my courses to be the same with each having a lecture and laboratory period to foster the ideas of what is considered the process of conducting science. I would flip the classroom, and have students define and read the general concepts before coming to class which would leave class time for discussion and more investigation of the topic. Throughout class time, clicker technology would be used to stimulate discussion on the topic for the day by polling the students to determine their thoughts and understanding of the concepts. Lecture would only be used when topics are more abstract or concepts hard to grasp. In introductory biology courses, I would spend time on genetics because students have a harder time grasping the broader concepts. I would start each course with broad objectives to help guide the students during the semester, and help me to organize general topics. On the first day of class, I would explain the broad objectives, and explain the topics being covered. Then the students would take an assessment to rank their interest in the topics, and to evaluate their view on certain science topics and about science in general. I would set up groups that consisted of students with different interests in the topics being covered. The student with the most interest would be considered the leader for that topic which would allow the student to show their fellow classmates the importance or the excitement for the topic. The groups would work through case studies to understand the topic more in depth, investigate the general concepts and apply the scientific method as individuals and in the group. Before a new topic, I would have the students independently investigate how the concepts or topics relate, and then have group discussion in class where students would construct concept maps throughout the semester connecting all the topics covered. The group discussions would help me to determine if students can connect topics before moving onto a new topic.
Since there are diverse learning styles, I would use different assessments throughout the semester to allow all students to use their strengths and improve in other areas. Writing is a key to being a scientist; I would have multiple writing assignments that had the students taking the broader concepts from class and applying the concepts to a question or statement. As an example, in a coastal ecology course, the students had to take the general ideas of the nutrient cycle and the importance of wetlands, and write a paper agreeing or disagreeing plus justification for a bumper sticker that said “No Wetlands, No Seafood”. A couple of the writing assignments would be graded by fellow students to teach the students the peer-review process. During class, I would ask multiple choice questions of the students using the clicker response system for me to gauge the understanding of the topic and help guide the groups if needed. The exams given would consist of multiple choice and essay questions. The essay questions would allow the students to connect concepts and ideas. In a fish ecology course, the students would use the different types of spawning to explain the benefits for the offspring. Most scientists collaborate on projects with people having diverse backgrounds and strengths. In the laboratory setting, students would work in groups to come up with a research question, write a short proposal, run an experiment, determine possible problems and fix those problems, and then write a scientific paper and give a presentation. The paper and presentation would be evaluated by fellow students to mimic the peer-review process. The students would learn from each other but also use their strength to help other members in the group learn and improve in areas of weakness. An example for a freshwater ecology course would be that students, after a couple of weeks of learning the different equipment used would come up with a research question and conduct the research with results by the end of the semester. These are all ways to determine if students are learning, but just observing the students in the class is also beneficial. When students faces light up after seeming disinterested in the topic because they can explain the concept to the group members when questions arise that helps me to see students are grasping the concepts. When students call me over to help answer a question, and I ask more questions, and they can answer them with confidence and understanding, that also is when learning is taking place in the classroom.
My goal in the classroom is to instill in the students critical thinking skill, making informed decisions, and use the vast amount of resources at their disposal in future courses and everyday life. If the students are science majors, then I want them to understand the importance of science and make it interesting so they continue on to become the next generation of scientists. If the students are not science majors, then I want them to understand how science is around us every day, and use what they learned in class in their everyday lives or in the major they are pursuing.