I believe that students learn best when they can engage with the material and connect it to their experiences. I believe that they retain more information when they are active participants in the learning process – when learning is more a process of discovery then being fed facts. I want my students to actively, and critically think about the underlying concepts and assumptions. This is what I try to achieve when I design my lessons.
Below are a couple of example lesson plans.
- Last semester (Spring 2015), I took a discussion section for my Intermediate Macro course and covered the history of the Great Recession. I connected each major event to a topic we covered in class and helped students both understand the material and connect it to well-known events with which they had personal experience. Isolated facts (just ‘dots’), such as the high unemployment in 2009 and the ISLM framework, came together to create a framework for understanding the world and their place in it, the ‘picture’, rather than simply remaining isolated examples pulled from a seemingly unrelated textbook. While it does not quite do my exposition justice, here are my lecture notes along with the slides.
- In the fall of 2015 I ran a workshop through Cornell’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) on how to deal with challenging classroom situations. The workshop was very well received with all the attendees either agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statements that it was valuable, and they would attend it again, and the learning objectives were achieved.
- In the fall of 2015 as part of Cornell’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) university wide teaching conference I taught a workshop on holding effective office hours. The workshop was very well received with all the attendees either agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statements that it was valuable, and they would attend it again.
I have taken and TAed for so many courses that were just on autopilot: the topics and structure was chosen because that is what had been done before. Little thought was given to how students can learn, and what parts of the course material would be applicable and useful for life. I strive to have well defined, strong learning objectives and well designed student assessments that align well with those objectives.
I want to design my courses with the end goal in mind, thinking about how students are likely to use the material after graduation, and what concepts are really the most important. I want to students to engage with the material and use it to inform their experiences with the world around them. I want them to be able to apply what they are learning in ways that are unique to their experiences – creating knowledge, not just memorizing information.
This fall I proposed, and had the opportunity to teach a brand new course: a first-year writing seminar on the US healthcare system (syllabus here). This course is very different from other classes I have helped teach and almost all economics classes. While covering a lot of content, it is a writing class that is discussion based. The goal is to get the students to engage with and consider pertinent policy issues in our healthcare system. While most of the students in the class are not majoring in economics, I have been able to introduce them to economic principles and we have used those ideas to inform our thinking and discussions.
While I have not yet taught Intermediate Microeconomics, as a teaching assistant I have thought a lot about things I will do differently when I have my own class. I constructed an example syllabus which captures some of those thoughts.
I desire to be continually learning and growing as a teacher, by reflecting on my teaching and educational experiences, participating in conferences and seminars focused on pedagogy and educational theory, and cultivating relationships with seasoned educators.
Today’s performance and metric-driven society pushes students to memorize for the test. The questions “Will this be on the exam?” and “Will this be graded?” have been heard by every professor. This mentality inhibits students’ ability to strive for a deep level of understanding and perceive these connections. Instead, students often simply memorize where the ‘dots’ are and neglect to consider how the material impacts their view of and relationship with the world – the ‘picture’.
My goal for grades is that they assess students’ attainment of the learning objectives I set out for them. Grades should inform students of their progress, and help inform me of my effectiveness (see more on my effectiveness as a teacher here). Grades also serve as a strong motivator for students. They implicitly believe that the grade weights of different aspect of the course reflect their relative importance, so I keep that in mind when setting up my course rubrics.
I desire to help my students reach higher level thinking. I believe different methods of assessment are best used for different purposes. For each of the following, I describe my thoughts. The links will take you to more discussion as well as some examples:
- Quizzes usually test the most basic level of knowledge. Therefore, I mainly use them to ensure that students do work required for group discussions – when their preparedness (or lack thereof) impacts the rest of the class.
- Exams should not include twist and difficulties that students have not seen before. Those should be left for problem sets (see below). I strive to have my exams test concepts, and serve mainly as a knowledge check point for my students.
- Problem Sets: The (relatively) untimed and open book nature of problem sets gives students the opportunity to really grapple with the material. I put a lot of effort to ensure that my problem sets take students on a journey of that leads to understanding, and are not rote exercises of regurgitation.
- Essays: [forthcoming]
- Other: [forthcoming]
I seek to be continual questioning and evaluating my teaching. Here are some ways that I have evaluated my effectiveness:
- I constantly use my interactions with students in class and office hours to assess whether they are connecting the material in the ways I desire.
- In the same way, carefully crafted exams can help me assess myself as an instructor.
- Student evaluations both at the end of the semester and in the middle of the semester are a good source of direct feedback.
I can remember being a freshman in college and thinking about ways my economics courses could be taught differently, and in my opinion in a more engaging and effective manor. That was twelve years ago and I still have a strong interest in designing courses and planning out learning opportunities for students.
I believe strongly in the importance of an integrated learning experience. For me, learning has everything to do with connections and the ability to contextualize and apply knowledge (however abstract). While I have yet to own a course myself, I designed a syllabus for a hypothetical intermediate micro economics course that I hope to have the opportunity to use.
In my classroom teaching plans, I seek to get students engaged with the material and involved in the process of education and (re)discovery.