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Education Interests

I am a strong proponent of improving science teaching skills on the national level. As a student, most of my science classes were mostly "plug and chug" -- plug the numbers we give you into a simple formula, follow these detailed instructions to watch chemistry happen. These sorts of traditional assignments don't do much for making a student think about what's going on. For most students, you don't learn about science research (and how to do it) unless you go to grad school. It's becoming more clear that our nation (or at least many politicians and their supporters) is not very good at thinking through arguments or evaluating logic. To me, science classes are an excellent time to foster and practice those skills. This is critical even for those who don't go into science; but as an added bonus for us, these skills will enable our students to understand our material more fully and retain it longer.

I have spent three years working with the Institute for Scientist and Engineer Educators (ISEE) at UC Santa Cruz. This organization, which grew out of an NSF Science and Technology Center called the Center for Adaptive Optics (CfAO), tracks educational research on how people learn and provides evidence-based strategies for educators to improve student skills.

One major strategy that works is called inquiry-based learning. The general gist of it is that students ought to be able to direct their own learning: instead of a lab class where every student repeats the same set of instructions, students work in teams to design their own experiment that attacks the same material. This technique is not simple to implement -- the instructor(s) must keep an eye on each team and make sure they design an appropriate (and doable) experiment. At first, students usually find this idea particularly tricky, since many will not have had to think through exercises like this. It can be challenging to implement for large class sizes, and may require spending extra time on one topic. But -- it pays off!

I have designed and taught laboratory activities for many different levels of students on several different subjects. One of our most successful labs was designed in 2009 to teach Intro Astronomy students at Hartnell Community College about transiting extrasolar planets. My co-designers (Nicholas McConnell & Linda Strubbe) and I published an article to enable other courses to make use of our activity, and it has now been taught at at least five institutions. I have also designed and taught several labs for the Adaptive Optics Summer School (AOSS); in 2012 and 2013 I managed the lab section of the school in addition to teaching. At the ANU, I revamped and taught the Observational Techniques for Honours, Masters, and PhD students in 2014 and 2016.