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Teaching as a scientific activity

While there is certainly a degree to which teaching is a creative endeavor and good teachers have a “knack” for understanding how design instruction and manage a classroom in productive ways, any scientist interested in teaching can greatly improve student learning if they view teaching as a scientific activity: what works, what doesn't, and why. Discipline-based educational researchers have developed teaching strategies which have been tested time and again under different circumstances with different instructors and have been systematically shown to improve student learning.

See, J. Handelsman et al., “Scientific Teaching”, Science 304(5670), 521-522 (2004)
C. Wieman, “Why not take a scientific approach to science education”, Change 39:5, 9-15 (2007).

In this section we provide resources for science faculty who are interested in learning more about teaching strategies which have been shown to be effective, student difficulties and alternate conceptions (i.e., conceptions inconsistent with scientifically accepted concepts), and, whenever possible, links to free teaching resources and information about teaching materials developed through years of hard work by discipline-based educational researchers.

Anyone interested in transforming the way they teach a course to include more student centered approaches is encouraged to consult the “Course Transformation Guide” prepared by researchers at the University of British Columbia and University of Colorado Science Education Initiatives.
Active engagement
Many of the strategies which improve student learning in science classes involve significant degrees of student active engagement. More information about what constitutes active engagement, scientific evidence of the effectiveness of active engagement teaching strategies and practical strategies and tips on how to increase student engagement is provided in the above link.

Framing a transformed course

An educational transformation should always be framed properly in order to increase student buy in (which inevitably contributes positively to their learning). More information on practical strategies to frame a transformed course can be found by following the link above.
Discipline-based educational strategies for improving student learning
  • Below we provide more information about some instructional strategies which have been developed and assessed in physics (the flipped classroom model being an exception).
  • The strategies listed here are those that could be easily translatable to other natural science disciplines (i.e., are not discipline-specific) and if any of seem attractive to someone, they could be adapted and used in designing a course transformation to improve student learning.
  • One could even select different aspects that resonate with them from various strategies and integrate them into a novel instructional approach.
    • For example, one could use ideas from Clickers and Peer Instruction in lecture and use Cooperative Group Problem solving in recitation sections.
  • We do not want to give the impression that these strategies are the ones we prefer or that they are the ones that ‘work best’. One of the main criterion for selecting them was adaptability.
  • Before delving into each of these strategies, it is important to read about some common practices which could provide guidance on how evidence-based instructional strategies can be adapted and used effectively.
  • Faculty and researchers at University of British Columbia, from the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (link below) have compiled an expansive list of tips on how to manage and design an interactive classroom. Examples include:
    • How to get buy in from students.
    • How to frame a novel instructional strategy so that students understand why they are good for them.
    • What things to avoid in a classroom.
    • How to write effective clicker questions.
    • How to design appropriate assessments.
    • Effective approaches to keeping students engaged in their own learning and many more.
Examples of discipline-based educational strategies designed to improve student learning: