San Francisco State University
1600 Holloway Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94132
Activity: Student Lead Discussions: Articles from the Literature and Final Writing Assignment
Background. By training I'm an atmospheric dynamicist, building idealized computer models to study flow past mountains. I've been teaching atmospheric dynamics, computer programming and other computer applications in meteorology, and some GE meteorology for about 20 years. However, by the late 1990s I become dissatisfied with my teaching and turned to the worlds of science education and teacher preparation for help. To bootstrap some professional development for myself, I got some grants to create courses that apply student-centered pedagogical strategies, meet national and state content and pedagogical standards (esp. for teacher prep), and integrate several geosciences disciplines (meteorology, geology, oceanography, astronomy), all in collaboration with colleagues in the geosciences and in science education. That helped a lot! In 2006 I became a faculty co-director for our campus Center for Science and Math Education. However, it seems clear to me that becoming a more effective teacher is a life-long process of development that's going to remain interesting all the way to the end, and this Cutting Edge workshop is one of many small steps toward that goal.
Existing activity on hurricanes and climate change. One of my grant-developed classes is "Planetary Climate Change", an upper-division course for science majors (including future high school teachers) that integrates the geosciences and employs an inquiry-based approach for much of the content instruction. (See <a>http://funnel.sfsu.edu/courses/gmo405</a>.) It enrolls up to two-dozen students. I co-teach it with an oceanography or geology colleague who might differ from one year to the next, though it's often a new faculty member for whom the course constitutes a low-pressure, mentored chance to experience non-traditional pedagogical approaches–a great professional development experience for them. The pair of coupled activities described in the link near the top of this page comes from this course. It's based not on the inquiry-based portion of the course but on what follows it–an immersion in the literature on climate change using student-led group discussions as the pedagogical format. In the literature, students see repeated integration and application of the concepts and content that they learn in the first (inquiry-based) 2/3 of the course. One of the topics that we added recently to the literature-based portion of the course happens to be hurricanes and climate change, a wonderful topic that helps us address many of our course learning objectives.
Improving that activity. I wouldn't mind finding ways to refine the coupled activities described in the link above. For example, we find that most students aren't as good at analyzing the key points in the assigned articles as we'd like, even though the articles seem to us relatively accessible (typically at the level of Scientific American). What can we do to help them prepare to lead a discussion about the articles that we aren't already doing? Also, as instructors we aren't very good at giving students feedback about their performance co-leading a discussion; a rubric for discussion leadership would be helpful. Finally, students write an 8-12 page paper on the same topic for which they led a discussion, but they only write only one draft and they get no feedback on it before it's due at the end of the semester. There isn't time to write and review two full drafts, but is there an intermediate assignment that might give them feedback? An written abstract or prospectus accompanied by a face-to-face discussion with an instructor, perhaps?
Prospective activity for a larger, GE course. A year from now I expect to teach an upper-division course for non-science majors, "The Violent Atmosphere and Ocean", which I haven't taught in 9 years. I'd love to create an extensive, inquiry-based exercise that teaches students not only about how hurricanes work but also how the science works (at least in the geosciences), using the question of how climate change might affect hurricanes as the context. Concepts and issues about correlation, causation, observational methods and shortcomings, modeling, uncertainty, and communication could all be addressed in this context–the opportunity just seems wonderful. The classroom would accommodate up to 45 students and contains 18 networked laptop computers at three tables arranged to make small-group collaboration or lecture equally easy.