I believe great teaching revolves around motivation and active learning. I think bringing biology to life and then giving an application for that knowledge is the key. I demonstrate my passion for biology (I can’t help it!) and show that the ordinary world is brim full of the excitement of biology. I think students turn more seriously toward biology when inspired with stories of scientific discovery, disappointment, and victory, and those that show the wonder, pleasure in the unknown, of science. Then the learning really begins.
I believe students need opportunities for diverse ways of learning and diverse ways of demonstrating their learning. This starts the very first day of class when I ask my students to discover themselves within the course content by asking “introduce-yourself” questions that center on nature. When I discover a student’s interests, I can bring that directly into our science topics and expand with reports of new research or current events. Whether in a Human Biology or General Biology class, I think they can literally put themselves into the course and feel motivated to find ways to use their newly found information outside the academic world. I deliver the Big Picture in enthusiastic ways, so students will want to fill in the details.
I think that when students are self-confident, they learn more, so I offer my students learning opportunities that give them confidence and new skills. For instance, I always start class with a review from the previous class and question session. However, I like to introduce novel topics with new vocabulary to add excitement. My students almost always work in lab groups on topics that develop ideas in detail, and they benefit from sharing information in a relaxed environment. Being relaxed and self confident with technology is also important. Now that the majority of my classes are delivered online or in a hybrid format, simplicity and clarity are more important than ever. I try to only use technology if it enhances student learning, and every semester I strive for more simplicity and clarity.
My teaching style and philosophy have changed over the years. As a product of early traditional learning, I needed to step back and listen more. Having loved science all my life, I learned the importance of appreciating and mentoring students who did not think they would like biology. What hasn’t changed is the importance I place on modeling the attributes I want my students to develop: professionalism, sense of humor, love of nature, compassion, involvement.
[After I composed a list of what I wanted to describe in my teaching philosophy, I consulted this Web site for guidelines on the format for such a document: Karen L. Smith Faculty Center University of Florida. Developing a Professional Portfolio. http://www.fctl.ucf.edu/FacultySuccess/ProfessionalPortfolios/index.php. Accessed 6 February 2011.]