Close reading, PBL, and tensions

A tension that has arisen often in conversations between my co-instructor and myself as we prepared for an upcoming course in life science, gender, and race, texts… – by tension I don’t mean something that is a disagreement or even something that has to be resolved, indeed perhaps the essence of co-teaching is that there are tensions to be played out in real time. The tension is that she understands that we cannot assign hundreds of pages to be read each week and still follow the project-based learning (PBL) process of the course, yet she knows how much her scholarship and her teaching revolves around very close reading of texts. Read more of this post

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On mentalities of arithmetic

It is a challenge for math teachers to understand the different ways students make sense (or not) of arithmetic. Read more of this post

Multiple intelligences – virtues and confusions

The idea that there are multiple intelligences, or many dimensions to intelligence, has virtues but also opens up confusions. Read more of this post

Compilation of links distributed to Thinktank on Science and Social Justice education

“…Bringing critical analysis of science to bear on the practice and applications of science has not been well developed or supported institutionally. Given this, I have contributed actively to the development of society-at-a-small-scale, through new collaborations, programs, and other activities, new directions for existing programs, and collegial interactions across disciplines and regions…” (from Intersecting Processes: complexity and change in environment, biomedicine and society) Read more of this post

What should a syllabus consist of?

What should a syllabus consist of? One answer, which we are all familiar with, is that it should provide information about the course in a summary form that can fit in 3 to 5 pages. Why this length? Answer: Because students do not read a longer syllabus. But let us think more about this convention of limited-length syllabi. Read more of this post

What leads us to change our teaching so it departs from how we were taught?

A feedback slip at a recent faculty teaching workshop I ran asked the title question of me personally. Some thoughts:
1. A colleague who shifted during graduate school from ecology to science education studied science faculty who made a big change in their teaching (towards being more interactive, activity-based, etc.). He concluded, as I recall it, that each person had their own biographical reasons–there were no generalizations.
2. I have often found myself saying that I haven’t systematically looked at my own development as a teacher. I don’t have a coherent narrative to offer anyone else.
3. It is the case that I have tried to articulate my guiding themes ever since I had to prepare material for reappointment/promotion reviews. Doing this made me, in turn, more conscious of what I was doing (see http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/portfolio05.html and precursors).
4. But being reviewed may not be the explanation — indeed, colleagues advised me to focus on publications because teaching doesn’t really count. At about the same time, I had stumbled into being the advisor for graduate students teaching writing-intensive seminars (because I had started such teaching for extra $$ one summer). In that role, I observed their classes and had to invent ways of reflecting back what I saw — some of my themes about teaching arose from doing that. From that experience I convened a “teaching co-op,” in which faculty and grad. students observed each other’s classes.
5. But commenting on the teaching of colleagues may not be the explanation, given that I had already instituted a practice some years earlier of having students take turns to stay after class and give feedback.
…and so on.
6. I think a key connecting strand here is that my research has always been about problematic boundaries of complex situations and I have sought and made use of opportunities to teach interdisciplinary courses about life and environmental sciences in their social contexts. This teaching gave me the chance — or made it a necessity — to formulate my own distinctive interdisciplinary themes. In short, reflection on my teaching practice was less some virtuous approach to teaching and more something I had to do intellectually.
(More thinking, remembering, reflecting is needed here…)

On writing support

This 17-minute video is an introduction to a set of materials linked to http://bit.ly/WrSupport, which convey the evolution of writing support practices in my courses and graduate program. At the end, two thoughts are left to chew on:

  • It might be investigated, not assumed, that what poor writers need is more teaching of good writing.
  • In this spirit, writing coaches might be drawn from within and across a wide range of programs.
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