University of Utah Block U

Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy reflects my experiences as both a student and teacher. It also folds into my belief that scientific curiosity is an innate human trait that can lead to life-long learning. In order to enhance a student’s curiosity and enrich their education, I follow three principles: 1) Promote active learning, 2) Acquire quantitative understanding and develop problem-solving skills, and 3) Cultivate critical thinking.

I believe that as a teacher I have a deep responsibility to my students to provide a positive atmosphere for learning through respect for both the student and the subject. By combining respect with curiosity and enthusiasm, I establish a classroom environment that promotes active learning. As an instructor of an introductory geology course for non-majors, I provided opportunities for active learning through in-class discussion groups. These small groups of two or three students would discuss the material that had just been presented and then collaborate together to write a short paper or abstract on the topic, usually with a ten or fifteen minute time limit. Similar exercises have been successful in my Structural Geology and Earth Materials classes. In further efforts to promote active learning, I set aside some traditional lectures in exchange for discussions, lab and homework activities to enrich the students educational experience. These types of exercises allowed students to be active in their education, taught collaborative skills, and provided rapid feedback for misconceptions or misunderstanding of the material.

Being able to solve problems is a skill that extends beyond education. Frequently in science one is faced with needing more than a qualitative answer to a question. Many students have or quickly obtain a qualitative knowledge of a subject but are unaware that they have the ability to solve problems quantitatively. Often this is due to not knowing where to start. Through exercises developed to estimate order of magnitude of quantities and effects, students can acquire the confidence to solve problems quantitatively. As both a teaching assistant and as a faculty member, I worked with students to acquire these skills by asking open-ended questions that required more than qualitative answer. By encouraging students to consider what they know, to be comfortable with making estimates, and to think through to the end, students learn that solving problems previously thought impossible or hard is possible.

Critical thinking is one of the most important elements in learning. A critical thinker will be able to discriminate between strong and weak arguments and come to reasonable and logical conclusions. Thinking in a critical way does not come naturally to most students, so cultivating critical thinking is a core part of my teaching philosophy. One valuable method of critical thinking is to analyze contrasting viewpoints. In my classes, I often have students read articles with different ideas that describe the same process. This compels students to think critically about the assumptions and observations, and provides an opportunity for enriching discussion.

Following these principles has helped me both as a student and as a teacher. It has deepened my love for teaching and learning. As I teach, I strive to enrich the curiosity of my students and follow the axiom stated by Clay P. Bedford: “You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.”