Laurel Goodell: Teaching Living on the Edge
Teaching Living on the Edge in Natural Hazards at Princeton University
About this course
This is an introductory course primarily taken by non-science majors.
Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 78kB Aug11 14)
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
Living on the Edge materials were used for three of the eleven laboratory sessions, in the middle part of the course. Having the 3-hour lab period plus the ability to assign prework and post-work (assessments) was a great luxury. Among other things I was able to get through the materials more completely than Rachel or Peter were, because I had that extra time—we clearly underestimated how long some of our components would take! For example, I had time to respond to what was giving problems by stopping the class for explanations when it seemed necessary. And since there were five lab sections each week, we essentially had five piloting opportunities for each part of the module! This enabled us to refine things as the week went on, and strengthened our development team's ability to revise the module components.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate MaterialsStudents are well set up for the module materials. Before they get to Living on the Edge, students have had lectures on the concept of risk and plate tectonics, have made extensive use of Google Earth to explore plate tectonic data sets, and have done a seismology lab in which they interpret seismograms. They are used to working in small groups, and theLiving on the Edge labs are timed to coordinate with lectures on the same topics. Units 1 and 2 were combined to be Lab 4 on transform plate boundaries, Units 3 and 4 combined to be Lab 5 on divergent plate boundaries, and Unit 5 and 6 combined to be Lab 6 on convergent plate boundaries. I taught (at least) the first lab section each week, and was present during most of the other lab sessions taught by graduate student TAs, observing and lending help as needed.
Assessments were imbedded in group discussions at the end of activities, and also incorporated into post-lab reports designed for students to process and articulate what they had learned in each unit. A probability calculation was given as a question on the mid-term exam, and students did rather poorly on it. We revisited the issue during the post-exam review, and students performed much better on a similar final exam question related to recurrence intervals of flood events. I believe that the way the unit was revised as a result of the piloting experience addresses the issue; participants in the teachers workshop (my second piloting experience), working with the revised version, had much less trouble with the calculations. The summative assessment was included in the final exam and students performed well on that question.
The Living on the Edge materials are a perfect fit for the Natural Hazards course. We not only want students to understand the processes behind natural hazards, but also to understand the concept of risk. In most cases of natural hazards, we cannot mitigate risk by reducing the hazard itself—we cannot control earthquakes and volcanoes, for example. And people and property will always be present in risky areas and thus subject to natural hazards. But much can be done to reduce the vulnerability of people and property, and it is there that strategies for risk mitigation are most effective. These strategies, however, are not always straightforward, without controversy, or easy to achieve. Living on the Edge has students wrestle with these complexities. A final strength of the Living on the Edge module is that it exposes students to authentic data and ways in which scientists, engineers, policy makers and communities actually deal with natural hazards—and helps students develop into better-informed citizens of the world.
Teaching Living on the Edge in a QUEST professional development workshop
About this course
A professional development workshop for 3rd-12th grade teachers.
Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 61kB Sep27 14)
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
As has been the case with all of my QUEST workshops, working with teachers is a wonderful experience. The Living on the Edge module and related activities were accomplished Monday-Friday for a week in July, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.—with breaks for lunch and snacks, of course!
Notable aspects were:
- I had the teachers' more-or-less undivided attention for the week, and they did not have the extra curricular activities and, indeed, other courses, that distract undergraduates from our courses!
- I was teaching the whole curriculum in sequence every day, and had the luxury of time, especially for tangents and brief mini-lectures, as circumstances warranted.
- The teachers were committed, involved, motivated, enthusiastic and good-natured. Game for just about anything! They did not have the pressure of grades, but took the curriculum very seriously.
- They were especially committed to the InTeGrate piloting aspect. They were thrilled to be part of developing this innovative project (I included InTeGrate and SERC explanatory materials in their binders) and, especially, understood the importance of developing effective assessment instruments. Teachers, of course, have their own assessment issues to deal with in their own working lives!
- Critical to the success of the workshop was my "lead teacher," an experienced teacher selected from previous QUEST participants, who led "Teacher Talk" sessions throughout the week on classroom applications of Living on the Edge content, and on aligning science instruction with the Common Core & Next Generation Science Standards. This allowed me to concentrate on teaching Living on the Edge content, while giving teachers opportunities to discuss pedagogical issues of direct interest to them.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate MaterialsThere was no work required outside of the workshop, thus all unit activities, including prework assignments and assessments, were adapted and fit into the workshop daily schedule. Unit materials were covered on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the week. Monday was devoted to preliminaries and exploring the basics of plate tectonics, and on Friday teachers worked on and presented small-group plate boundary projects that they have been working on throughout the week.
We covered most of the formative assessment aspects in the course of post-activity discussions. Although I know time issues are always present, especially in typical undergraduate course settings, instructors should try to give students time for those all-important, end-of-unit discussion questions. During these discussions, I could "see" the QUEST participants really process and understand relevant issues—some of which I did not realize they had been struggling with. I did assign a few as an informal written "midterm" exam at the end of Wednesday (after Unit 4), and on the final day (Friday), teachers completed the written summative assessment (as well as the other InTeGrate piloting pre- and post- instruments). But by far the most interesting and, perhaps, effective assessment was the final project presentation. Teachers had an opportunity to concentrate on a particular site, but then had to find common ground with those with similar sites and prepare a group presentation that related those sites. The vocabulary, organization and analysis used in the presentations demonstrated participants' mastery of Living on the Edge content and ability to apply it to different situations. I will consider how to incorporate a project like this into the undergraduate course in the future.
For the goals and outcomes of the QUEST workshop, I would start by repeating those for the undergraduate Natural Hazards course described above. But the impact of the workshop has the potential to be much broader as teachers return to their schools, instruct their own students, and interact with colleagues and administrators. Comments on the teachers' evaluations of the program were indeed enthusiastic; they expressed confidence in new content knowledge for themselves personally, and in being able to implement strategies for effective science teaching. Additionally, many teachers are apprehensive and insecure about dealing with the Common Core Curriculum and Next Generation Science Standards, and they appreciated seeing how these can be explicitly addressed and embedded in a set of instructional activities. I look forward to a particularly important set of outcomes this spring, when participants return to Princeton for a spring symposium and give presentations illustrating how QUEST has affected what they do in their own classrooms.