Teaching is about engaging learners in real-world problems, using evidence and modeling to understand phenomena and encouraging the sharing of ideas to collectively make sense of the world. Strategies that can be used to encourage active, participatory learning include 1) integrating technology in learning environments, 2) situating learning as a social process, and 3) supporting learners through encouraging and accepting the integration of personal stories and backgrounds. I practice these strategies by:
- Integrating technology and learning: computers, cell phones, and other devices are powerful tools that can be used to catalyze learning. Technology enhances learning environments, as it connects people, places, and ideas, regardless of time or place. As a strong advocate for citizen science initiatives, especially initiatives that integrate technology, such as iNaturalist and the myFOSSIL app, I aim to teach science education courses that emphasize immersing learners in scientific data and using that data to make sense of phenomena through and with the use of technology. These apps can be used as classroom tools that encourage online and face-to-face interactions concerning science learning in the world.
Additionally, by integrating social media sites such as Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat in my teaching, I encourage learners to make their science learning accessible and meaningful to others. While working on a museum-centric grant in 2016, my colleague and I created instances for learners in an informal environment, including a Science Café and a museum exhibit, to interact with others about the topic of public health and climate change. In future courses, I anticipate modifying this strategy by asking students to create social media posts to engage audiences. In addition, I foresee integrating current informal learning spaces’ social media into course work by asking students to critique, develop, and produce their own social media plans, then present these plans to local informal institutions.
- Situating learning as a social process: teaching is not imparting knowledge but rather co-constructing knowledge and meaning through questioning how STEM processes and practices work and what they mean for the people partaking in them. In the Undergraduate Educational Research course I taught in Spring 2018, students worked with STEM Education research faculty. Six professors worked with students in groups of 2-3 throughout the semester. All students submitted field notebooks, held discussions in class and online, and conducted peer review sessions in which they critiqued one another’s work. The course culminated in students presenting their semester’s work at the College of Education Research symposium, where the two of the three awards for best research poster were awarded to students enrolled in my course. This course emphasized the collaborative nature of learning, in which researchers and learners can be critical and supportive, inquiring and curious, and learn together as opposed to in isolation.
- Making space for personal backgrounds: Students and educators all bring their personal histories with them, we should not assume they shed their past experiences to put on the mantle of an attentive, docile tabula rasa. The ways in which each person experiences the world nuances the practices of teaching and learning. When I teach, I encourage learners to share their viewpoints because their past experiences might highlight other learners’ points of view and can challenge my own world view. In my Informal STEM Practice course, students, who were all in a pre-service teaching training program, created Pecha Kucha presentations that highlighted their experiences with museums or other informal learning environments. Feedback from students indicated that this assignment allowed them to consider their learning in informal spaces, something they had never done before. Following the course, many students wrote in their evaluations that the course helped them to consider new funds of knowledge that they could take into their classrooms. By sharing their past experiences and reflecting on their experiences during the semester, students gained a new perspective, which is one of my main goals as an educator.