Teaching Philosophy

As a life-long learner who has always been fascinated with the physical world, I am dedicated to the study, learning, and teaching of geology. Unfortunately, I have found that by the time students enter my classes, many of them believe that science is hard, boring, and out of reach. Students often believe they are "not good at science" and that they "can't think scientifically" or they will ask, "How is this useful?" There is a gap in science education where students are not seeing the application of science in their lives. As someone who is dedicated to better teaching and learning of science in higher education, I see my role as helping make my students lifelong learners by teaching them critical thinking and reasoning skills.

The scientific process is a way of thinking logically and critically and involves careful observation, asking questions, making predictions, and creating tests for those predictions. This way of thinking is accessible to all people in all avenues of life and is important as we confront issues such as land use, overpopulation, disposal of nuclear waste, and natural hazards. Thinking scientifically allows people to make informed decisions about these kinds of issues. It is imperative that my students have a basic understanding of how the scientific process works and recognize their ability to use it in making scientific connections about the world in which they live.

To achieve these goals, I employ a two-pronged method. First, I present the students the fundamentals of the subject via a lecture that focuses on big-picture ideas and contains pertinent examples. Second, I present them with an active, hands-on assignment that forces them to apply those fundamentals to a real situation. The evaluation method can range from geological field mapping to examination and interpretation of remotely sensed planetary imagery to performing experiments with a stream table to evaluating data of an active volcano for hazard assessment. Once I present the fundamentals, I let the students begin the assignment on their own. The goals here are to have the students a) become familiar with the problem (assignment), b) identify questions, and then c) develop methods to answer those questions. When students begin to struggle, I am there to help guide them in the right direction. It is paramount when working with students to cultivate an open, supportive, environment that encourages the pursuit of scientific inquiry and is adaptable to students from diverse backgrounds and with different learning styles. To help foster this environment, I like to maintain an "open door" policy where students can feel free to approach me with questions and/or ideas. I try to model enthusiasm for the material covered by showing students the thought process that led to my own understanding.

Because I place a greater emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving rather than on memorizing, I design my evaluations of student performance accordingly. Some time after the course is finished my students may eventually forget the names of Mars' two moons. However, if they learn how to ask questions and problem solve, they will be able to critically approach scientific issues in the future. To me, developing that ability in students is the most important, and rewarding, part of teaching.

Teaching in action

Students mapping lacustrine and ash deposits in Rainbow Basin, CA

Teaching in action

Students mapping diabase dikes in Gettysburg, PA

Teaching in action

Students examining a small fold, Smoky Mountains Nat'l Park, TN

Courses Taught (and to be taught)

Links to resources for various courses are available on the Resources page