Rationale for Teaching Philosophy

As a Science and Engineering educator, I believe that transformative learning occurs when students are actively involved in the learning process, and are conscious about the physical and mental effort that it constitutes. People learn via multiple channels, i.e. auditory, visual, and kinesthetic, and I am convinced that the most beneficial instructional strategies are the ones equivalently exploiting the three of them. It is my philosophy to operate a learner-centered classroom, where students learn through active discovery aided by an efficacious combination of audiovisual and kinesthetic activities, and continuous challenge by the instructor.

I aim for students understanding of complex physical concepts by actively confronting their previous beliefs about the subject. These preconceptions are often erroneous, tenacious, and difficult to overcome. To assess students’ misconceptions towards a strong physical understanding and subsequent transfer across domains, I propose to implement the elicit-confront-resolve approach borrowed from the Physics literature, where the instructor elicits a known to be difficult question, confronts the students’ responses, and guides the students towards the correct resolution. I am confident that this method will motivate the students’ intellectual curiosity, and therefore enhance the learning process.

To implement my teaching and learning philosophies in the classroom, I will integrate visualizations, narrations, and demonstrations, not to cater students’ learning styles but to exploit multiple learning channels. The following outlines the general procedure I plan to follow when teaching a new unit in any of my courses:

  • Motivation – Each unit will start with a picture, demonstration or video presenting a real-world problem or issue that exposes the applicability of the subject to be learned. This will improve students’ motivation and provide with a broader picture regarding the subject. At this time, the goals and objectives of the unit will be organized, explained and jointly discussed.
  • Concept-change and concept-learning – The instruction of each individual concept will be based on the elicit-confront-resolve approach. With this model, students will verbalize their predictions regarding a given physical situation; be confronted about the logic they followed to arrive to their predictions; and ultimately resolve the problem through dialog and guided reasoning.
  • Mathematical reasoning – Once the concept has been learned, the math will be introduced. As a group, we will arrive to the equations governing a physical situation, once again, following the elicit-confront-resolve approach. This method could be significantly beneficial as it aids in the development of a mathematical formula by attaching it to its physical meaning, while discouraging its memorization.

I will also incorporate a strong informal writing component in my courses. By describing their thoughts through writing, students will find links between abstract concepts and the real-world, while providing me with a bulk idea of their level of understanding of the material. Informal writing will also be implemented in quizzes and exams, as it provides with an opportunity for students, who struggle with numerical exercises, to prove their conceptual understanding of the topic. A significant portion of the exam score will be assigned to these type of questions to further encourage student conceptual understanding.

With the combination of the above-mentioned methods I aim to educate my students in all levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. By following the elicit-confront-resolve approach I aim for the lower level of Bloom’s taxonomy including knowledge, comprehension, application, and analysis. With the writing activities I intend to achieve the upper two levels: synthesis and evaluation. Ultimately, as a Science and Engineering educator I strive for students to think critically and be capable of transferring concepts and skills across domains.

Rationale for Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy was inspired by my own learning experience as an engineering student, and a modest review of the literature in cognitive psychology. The rationale for my teaching philosophy is founded on three major pillars: active learning replacing passive learning; achievement of all levels of Bloom’s taxonomy aiming for critical thinking; and alternative student and teacher assessment techniques.

As expressed by the first principle in Angelo’s (1993) Teacher’s Dozen, students learn more when they become actively involved in their learning process. Bonwell and Eison (1991) summarize the strategies for active learning as those in which students are involved in more than listening, such as higher order thinking activities, and those that emphasize on developing student skills and exploration of their own attitudes and values. Unfortunately, Bonwell and Eison (1991) (citing Thielens, 1987), indicate that 89% of the physical sciences educators teach in a lecture mode. As an engineering student myself, I have witnessed how passive learning (in the form of lectures) hinders my learning, and have therefore built my goals toward a more active teaching style.

I am especially interested in the students conceptual understanding of the subject matter, aiming for a successful transferring across domains. I plan to assess the students’ conceptual understanding (and sometimes misunderstanding) with the elicit-confront-resolve approach (McDermott, 1991). This is a failure-driven approach (McGonigal, 2005) that helps motivate students’ curiosity by aiding in the realization that new skills and knowledge are needed to solve a specific problem or situation. By actively challenging students’ misconceptions, this method fosters intellectual openness toward transformative learning, as recommended by McGonigal (2005).

I am a supporter of the Cognitive Model of learning, as reviewed by Svinicki (1999), aiming for a learner-centered environment, where the learner is driving the learning process by setting goals, strategically using the available resources, and consciously evaluating not only the outcomes, but the entire learning process. As articulated by Brown (1978) (in Svinicki, 1999), when “thinking about thinking” the learner is incurring in a metacognitive activity by being aware of his/her own learning process. Ultimately, evaluation and judgement of oneself, one’s methods, resources, and strategies that lead to a particular conclusion is the highest skill in the hierarchy of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Halpern and Hakel (2003) express that the purpose of formal education is transfer. I believe that students achieve a successful transferring of skills and knowledge when they reach the highest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy and are able to think critically about the subject matter and their surroundings. McGonigal (2005) encourages critical reflection as a strong part of transformative learning, and suggests writing exercises as a powerful way for its fostering.

Informal writing activities are an essential part of my teaching philosophy, as they will serve a dual purpose: student learning and assessment. Student learning will be enhanced by the incorporation of writing tasks such as: verbalizing a physical or mathematical concept; verbalizing problem-solving methodologies; finding examples of the application of a conceptual problem to real-world engineering problems; comparing a contrasting analysis procedures; synthesizing a group of concepts; and verbalizing flaws in a problem-solving methodologies. With these six activities I aim to expose students to all levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, as encouraged by Hammons and Barnsley (1992).

Assessment will consist of two parts: student assessment and teaching assessment. Inspired by the need described in Anderson (1998) to shift from traditional to alternative assessment methods, I plan to use the informal writing activities described above to verify students’ conceptual knowledge. These will be carefully designed to detect common conceptual misunderstandings and properly assess them during subsequent lectures. My goal is to have these be counted as quizzes, part of the homework grade, and a significant portion of the exams. Bonwell and Eison (1991) suggest that the mere fact of scheduling an exam stimulates students to study, and the anticipated type of exam influences the way they do it. Therefore, I believe that by being clear about the type of questions students should expect in the exam, and the type of response I expect, I am encouraging a strong conceptual understanding as the basis for a good grade.

With teaching assessments, I aim to evaluate the effectiveness of my teaching methods by a direct subjective input from my students. I plan to use Classroom Assessment Techniques to serve as both, a student self-monitoring mechanism, and an evaluation of my own teaching. As Steadman and Svinicki (1998) review, when students are asked to provide frequent feedback to the instructor, they develop the habit of monitoring their own learning, which is a crucial part in the development of metacognitive skills. Additionally, I intend to frequently perform self-assessments by referring to my Statement of Teaching Philosophy and completing teacher’s self-inventories, like the one provided by Chickering (1991). Ultimately, as Seldin (1989) reflects, no matter how effective I (or my students) think my teaching methods are, there will always be room for improvement.