This is a Draft Teaching Statement from November 2014. This document will morph as I establish more teaching experience, and look at other pedagogical techniques. I know that I am starting to apply for jobs now, and I hope my enthusiasm comes through in my materials.
The tropic sun was beating down onto the fresh red soil and contorted wood beams that remained after a landslide tore apart many of the homes in the village. The soil was drying out the liquefaction from the rains that generated a slope failure, and the people who lived in the village were rebuilding. Earth’s forces, change, and the future are inevitable, and the largest part of learning comes from taking risks and learning from mistakes. The villagers learned from their mistakes, and placed a baleful of rocks in twine behind their homes to stabilize the hillslope. As a teacher, I cannot hope to capture the complexities associated with life’s tribulations; however, I can emulate the challenges faced by scientists and try to equip my students with the creativity and character to deal with them. I hold my students to high standards, and seek to push to make connection and apply knowledge that may get lost in the recesses of their minds after an exam.
We are in a world that is in need of scientists, and our teachers are the people who inspire passion. A recent article in the Atlantic (November 2014) stated that students quit science because they don’t think they are smart enough. However, praising students for being intelligent and smart often leads to students that are petrified of making mistakes, causing them to not want to try. A majority of the pre-service teachers are in this generation too: hesitant to run experiential, hands on experiments unless the outcomes are 100% guaranteed and explainable. However, scientific experiments rarely go as planned, and teachers need to feel comfortable using their analytical skills to explain the reasons why the results were not as anticipated. To encourage risk and innovation, I have instituted a “failure policy”: 5% of the grade in my introductory to soils lab is based on the quality of in class participation and the explanation of experimental mistakes. Because of this policy, my labs are an interactive forum for new ideas and questions. Students are unafraid to make mistakes, or speculate reasons why their work is less than successful. They are also allowed to correct problem statements to regain partial credit. This teaches my students the process of science.
Students are more likely to remember science if they can relate to it. I made my introduction to soil science students generate short soils “ethnologies”: capturing a soil from their home region, and how that impacts human management. In my graduate level soil physics lab, I redesigned the technical skills the students need into different international development case studies, and reformatted the one topic lab report into a mini publication. These assignments do not have stated objectives, nor required length; this can frustrate students; however, their creativity exceeds what any of my objectives would have constrained them to. These real-life problem solving students can relate to and put on their resumes have the potential to transform the way students interact with soil science.
Students need to have the skills and creativity to innovate solutions to be employed in a difficult world. The challenges are interdisciplinary, steeped in social issues, politics, and environmental limitations. Using technology, it is possible to have students create student led classroom and debates, providing videos and interactive content for other students. For my Girl Scout Citizen Science programs, youth create videos or debates of environmental topics they are passionate about, and these videos are edited and placed online with references for other youth to use. I have also incorporated technology into my intro to soils laboratories, with elements of a flipped classroom. I created videos and animations on basic important soils calculations. Students could go back and reference these videos in preparation for exams. I have also contributed several pages that relate food, housing, art, literature, and politics to soil science for the Soil Science Society of America website for teachers (www.soils4teachers.org).
I pride myself in my ingenuity, confidence and character that led me to several citizen science programs. I have taken several teaching professional development activities offered by North Carolina State University, and incorporated regular feedback from my students. This feedback teaches me a lot about how I teach. I learn as much from them as they do from me. Embarking in scientific research to solve the world’s problems is fraught with failure. I want my students to embrace this failure so they are prepared to teach about it. From these ashes of dreams, rise the creativity, innovation, and persistence that creates success. Though my experience with students in the traditional classroom setting cannot provide the raw experiences and stings that life can provide, when my students are faced with their own landslides, be they real or metaphorical, I have taught them some of the lasting skills to rebuild again.