Teachers Assistant for 200-level undergraduate Biology course, “Organisms, Evolution, and Ecology”
Founder, organizer, and mentor of citizen-science water monitoring organization; led water-conservation presentations, and co-led water-monitoring workshops
"Belowground Distinctions" - art representation of my research at local community Allurement Salon exhibition, November 2019 Mixed-media with switchgrass roots, soil, beads, and paint. Plants simultaneously engage with one another and diverse soil communities, each shaping one anothers' unique interactions.
I once read a quote by Josef Albers, saying that “good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.” My teaching philosophy stems from this concept. Growing up, I was always the “question-kid” in class, as I raised my hand almost incessantly to inquire about the lesson, or to ask about a curious musing that happened to cross my mind. Although I’ve always been a question-asker, this personality trait is not the reason why I value question-asking as a teaching method.
In today’s world, people are inundated with information – it’s not an uncommon site to see someone pull out their phone and ask Google or Siri to answer their most recent question. They are seeking answers. A podcast on “Ted Radio Hour” titled “From Curiosity to Discovery” reflects on curiosity as a vital component in our lives that is being quickly lost in our education systems. With rigorous testing-requirements, students are fed answers and expected to regurgitate them on the next exam. In this system, students are not encouraged to innovate or question their learning and, rather, expect the teacher to be "all knowing." It would be shocking for a teacher to ever reply to a student's question with “I don’t know, what do you think?". This fast-paced, information-overloaded world renders the need for slower information-seeking methods tedious and unpopular. But, if we remember the findings of some of the greatest scientists before the age of instantaneous-information, perhaps we can again find value in the process of thinking.
In my teaching, I like to have students reflect on the lesson’s discussion, ask questions, and draw diagrams that may help them parse-apart and understand complex relationships. This method functions well in interdisciplinary thinking and feeds on my personal desire to better understand how biological and social sciences can be integrated and used to better understand the forces contributing to worldwide issues. For instance, in having a student consider what forces, both ecological and social, contribute to a loss of biodiversity, they may untangle a more inclusive understanding of the question. Not only does this method force the students outside of their comfort zone, but these are questions that cannot be easily googled and, thus, require time to slow-down, sit, think, and question.
In another mentoring experience, I helped a student develop and articulate a research proposal. I began by asking them to explain their interests and what they found intriguing about the current literature they'd been reviewing. This was their first time using scientific literature to develop a scientific question and, as one could imagine, they were a bit intimidated by the task. As they started reflecting on their readings, I took notes on everything they mentioned. Then, when their thoughts would peter out, I would probe them to explain more about some of the things I had written down. In the end, the student was surprised by all the notes I had recorded and, more importantly, on all of the things that they knew! We then visually mapped their research ideas -- drawing circles, arrows, and question marks on the paper to identify their question. This practice of questioning and recording a student’s knowledge aids in building self-worth and recognition that they can do it!
Teaching cannot be a “one-size fits all” approach and, thus, flexibility is critical to maintaining a healthy educational atmosphere. As a teacher, I strive, to create an atmosphere that is open for question asking – both of me and of the students. In this way, I hope to support the flow of ideas and creativity in the classroom. Regardless of discipline, developing a “curiosity to discover” is critical in the pursuit of knowledge.