PhD, Iowa State University
Office: 2528 Thomas Hall
Research Areas: Academic
Excellent teaching cannot be reduced to teaching style. The best teachers develop a personal relationship with the subject matter, and through that with the class.
When I was growing up, my school system introduced and used New Math. New Math was a teaching philosophy that attempted to teach basics in math through teaching mathematical structure, introducing set theory and arithmetic using different bases. By all accounts, it was a failure and quickly discarded. However, for me it was the reason I became interested in education. In a year's time, I went from a 'C' student to an 'A' stucent. While part of the reason is that the presentation resonated with me, this was reinforced (driven?) by the enthusiasm of the teachers I had and the acceptance of the material by my parents.
As a teacher, it is my responsibility to know my material. More importantly, it is essential for me to love the material. It doesn't take students very long to know when their instructor hates either the material or being forced to teach it. We can't expect to make students love genetics, but we also can't expect them to learn from a teacher who doesn't. In the same way, we can't expect students to learn well from a teacher who would rather be doing something else.
In the same manner, I am attracted to the concept of flow, as articulated by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. While I don't agree with all the proponents of flow, I do aspects of it. As applied to University education, it is important to control skill and challenge in such a way so to induce a sense of flow. Low challenge leads to boredom. Low skill leads to anxiety. Matching challenge to skill allows the best opportunity for learning. This creates tremendous challenges in large undergraduate classes. The most obvious is the diversity of skill level. By matching and testing a variety of skill levels allows students to learn in such classes.
Finally, hands-on or minds-on activities are essential in learning complex material. Laboratory classes allow for hands-on learning; I have the opportunity of using minds-on learning (usually called active learning or inquiry-based learning. Maria Montessori wrote, "What the hand does, the mind remembers," which is sometimes restated as "The hand is the teacher to the mind." While we don't have many traditional hands-on opportunities in large classes, that is no reason why we can't involve the hand in other ways. Homework gives such opportunities. The simple act of taking notes is also a way to involve the hand in learning. I believe that analogies are a nonphysical way to involve the mind that leads to many of the same benefits. While not perfect, they allow for a physical underpinning of concepts.