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Teaching Statement

I gained my first teaching experiences at Central College, a small liberal arts institution in tiny Pella, Iowa. There I realized the importance of the instructor-student alliance fostered through an intimate learning environment. Starting my sophomore year, I assumed several roles that allowed me to work side-by-side with my peers as an instructor in General Physics I and II: grader, laboratory assistant, teaching assistant (TA), and supplemental instructor (SI). The SI position (held for four semesters) was the most unique opportunity, for as an undergraduate student I organized and facilitated weekly sessions apart from the required lectures and labs. Student questions directed the majority of these review sessions where we worked together through lecture review, homework, and preparations for the next week’s material. Students shared and explored their problem solving strategies with one another in a communal environment as I supervised the discussion of the science, providing my own insight when needed. This early teaching experience shaped my perspective of the type of teacher that I hope to become. My goals as an educational facilitator are two-fold: to rear community-minded learners and to prepare those same people to be professionals capable of independent and active learning, teaching, thought, and communication.

Active learning in my teaching experience starts with the establishment of rapport and trust between the students and I under the auspice that someday the students will eventually be colleagues.  One of my primary methods for establishing rapport is through a feedback/evaluation mechanism called “one-minute essays,” a technique invented by University of California physics professor Charles Schwartz. As a graduate school TA in medical physics at Duke University, I asked students to take one minute at the end of each class period to recall, rehearse, reflect, remember, and record one or two sentences summarizing the lessons and conversations from the day. I often requested that students write about the most difficult topic of the day. This may have been a topic which was particularly challenging, poorly understood, or a topic which was inadequately covered by the instructor (see sample essays at URL). I responded to student questions and concerns in blog [NOT FINAL LINK] form. The blog provided a forum where students freely conversed and participated by reading, discussing and developing the published topics which they inspired through their essays. As seen in this blog example LINK, a series of posts and voluntary student work were submitted as students engaged their own education outside of the classroom. The blogs were frequently read and re-read as evidenced by the 50+ page views of a single blog entry (from a class of 17 students). Student evaluations of this process were highly positive.  

Also during my tenure as a graduate school TA for a course in advanced medical imaging physics, I led test review sessions for each of four medical imaging modalities. Review sessions were whiteboard-based as opposed to the PowerPoint format typical of most courses in medical physics. This whiteboard style of review permitted flexibility in the discussion but also allowed students to become the teachers. I would invite those students who understood the material to share their insights and learning methods with their peers. I hope to someday have students teach small sections of my courses in order to instill in them a sense of accountability to their peers. This keeps the teaching “fresh” but also emphasizes the fact that the students will someday be accountable for the same material in the professional world where many people will rely on their accurate and up-to-date knowledge. Through my oversight of this process, I will guide students toward more accurate and effective communication in the sciences as they learn to talk intelligently about such topics in a group of equally qualified peers.

In a continued effort to keep material fresh and interesting, I maintain a dynamic classroom with various forms of student participation and active learning opportunities. In addition to student-teaching opportunities, I have implemented “Think-Pair-Share” activities (McKeachie and Svinicki, 2006) interspersed between 20-minute periods of lecture. During these activities, students think about a problem or question for a minute, write for a minute, and share their thoughts and answers with a neighbor. I give feedback and answer student questions during this time. Think-Pair-Share activities help students to generate thought-provoking questions which enhance learning (King, 1990; Pressley et al., 1992). In addition to being a great learning tool, Think-Pair-Share is also a method for fostering a community-based learning environment where students are free to participate and share in general discussion and analysis of the material.

To further the importance of community-mindedness, I offer a variety of my personal resources to students and professionals alike. In addition to alternate texts and relevant journal articles, students may access my personal library of computer programming resources made publicly available on the MATLAB File Exchange. Much of the code relates directly to topics in medical imaging covered in the classes I teach. Regular assignments and projects require students to engage in some form of computer programming, an essential skill for any medical physicist.  Students are encouraged and sometimes required to work together on coding, but individual assignments must contain original work from every student. Uninitiated students benefit from the group dynamic where they learn essential programming skills from their peers. I believe that students also benefit greatly when they program for themselves since successful and efficient programming requires solid, in-depth understanding of the programming tasks and equations.

As I anticipate and assume future teaching roles, I continue to foster community-mindedness in my students as they grow into their roles as professionals. Valuable student questions, feedback, and evaluations have helped to create an efficient and effective learning environment both in and out of my classroom. Students have demonstrated independent thinking and improved skills in reasoning and communication through participation in Think-Pair-Share activities and presentations during regular class sessions. Ultimately, my hope is that students leave my courses in ownership of their education with a sense of responsibility not only to themselves, but also to their communities where they share in their experiences, knowledge, achievements, and advancements.

McKeachie, W. J., Svinicki, M.D., and Hofer, B. K. McKeachie's teaching tips : strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers, 12th ed. (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2006).

King, A. (1990) Enhancing peer interaction and learning in the classroom. American Educational Research Journal, 27, 664-687.

Pressley, M., et al. (1992). Encouraging mindful use of prior knowledge: Attempting to construct explanatory answers facilitates learning. Educaitonal Psychologist, 27(1), 91-109.