Developing Discipline-Related Teaching Strategies

THE CERTIFICATION IN COLLEGE TEACHING OFFERED AT MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY, seeks to build teaching competency in five areas. personal reflections follow.

While many instructional techniques transcend disciplinary bounds, more specific strategies also exist to engage students with disciplinary skills and knowledge. Within the categorization of scientific teaching techniques such as experiential learning through laboratory coursework, further specialization can be found in chemistry. Often identified by students as a notoriously difficult subject, obstacles to teaching and learning chemistry may begin before students enter the classroom or laboratory. Transitioning from observing and knowing the world on a macroscopic level to studying the molecular level is complex for students. A successful instructor will have the communication, engagement, and assessment skills to recognize and address students’ prior knowledge. Many instructors use digital depictions of molecules and molecular modeling kits to assist students in understanding molecular geometry and space-filling models, as well as animated videos and presentations to show molecular vibrations or transformations. Clear learning objectives and proficiency in backward design can assist an instructor in focusing on these challenging concepts and adequately assessing students on them.


I completed two massive open online courses (MOOCs) facilitated by the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL): An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching (completed Fall 2016) and Advancing Learning Through Evidence-Based STEM Teaching (completed Summer 2016).

Additionally, I participated in two ISE 870 teaching workshops in Spring 2018, the instructor was Dr. Joyce Parker.

I attended and presented at the 25th Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE) at the University of Notre Dame (Summer 2018).

Summer 2017 Certification in College Teaching Institute

Artifacts and Rationales
  • CIRTL Courses
    • An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching
      • Peer Graded Assignment 1 involved content development: writing learning goals and specific objectives correlating to Bloom’s Taxonomy, and identifying common misconceptions for a discipline-specific lesson; I chose Chemical Reactions and Rates. Assessments addressing each of these learning objectives were planned, making this peer graded assignment a thorough practice in backward design.
      • Peer Graded Assignment 2 focused on an instructor’s role in an active learning classroom. Since chemistry laboratory is a quintessential example of an active learning environment, I designed a lesson where students would study the effects of various chemical modifications to an organic reaction, ring-closing metathesis (RCM), based on peer-reviewed literature.
      • Peer Graded Assignment 3 brought together the foci of the previous two peer graded assignments, requiring a lesson plan, learning objectives, and activities for accomplishing those objectives. I built on the RCM lesson developed in the previous assignment, elaborating on the activities students will complete in each class meeting. In planning this lesson, I used Bloom’s Taxonomy to focus the learning objectives to the areas of understand, apply, and analyze in order to gradually build students’ knowledge of the topic from the ground up.
      • Completion Letter from CIRTL certifies that I successfully completed the course with distinction.
    • Advancing Learning Through Evidence-Based STEM Teaching
      • The Teaching as Research Project focuses on developing and studying a  research question in one’s classroom. I planned an experiment to study student-led inquiry-based laboratory experiments in a laboratory setting, with the research question: “Does exchanging common prepared experiments for student-led, literature-based inquiry-based lab experiments enhance students’ conceptual knowledge and understanding of the subject matter?” I use backward-faded scaffolding to guide students in the construction of their own experiments and procedures, with initial class periods focusing on developing skills they will use later in the semester. I focus on building teamwork, literature searching, and analysis skills over the course of the semester. The assessments I planned for this teaching as research project include laboratory reports, pre-lab quizzes, and exams, the latter two providing a significant amount of data for the research component of the teaching as research project. After gaining more knowledge and experience in teaching as research and assessment, I would likely modify the assessments from what I planned when completing the assignment initially. I think constructing detailed rubrics and conducting interviews or obtaining student-written reflections would better represent student learning than quizzes and exams. 
      • Completion Letter from CIRTL certifies that I successfully completed the course with distinction.
  • ISE 870 Workshops
    • First Teaching Demonstration
      • The Mole Lesson Plan These workshops provided the opportunity to teach one idea to peers and obtain feedback. Each person prepared a 10 minute lesson, the first focusing on information transmission. My first lesson was presenting the concept of the mole, a common unit in chemistry, to students. I used backward design to establish the learning objectives, assessments, and content I presented.
      • The Mole Slides show the information I shared with students in this lesson. I began by recognizing students’ prior knowledge – first, what might come to mind when they first hear the word “mole,” and second what they already know about chemistry and how the mole concept builds on that. I used analogies to explain the concept initially, and included several examples, as students should gain proficiency in using the mole.
      • The Peer and Instructor Feedback I received from the first teaching demonstration were encouraging. Many participants found my presentation of the material engaging, though the broader relevance of the mole may not have been as clear as intended. Additionally, several participants noted that the numerous examples were tedious, which leads me to an internal conflict. The calculations I went through are extremely important for students to master, as they are used throughout the chemistry curriculum. Additionally, many assessments in general chemistry coursework involve completing mathematical problems such as these; though it’s important to analyze whether these assessments adequately determine students’ mastery of the curriculum.
    • Second Teaching Demonstration
      • Lesson Plan – Cahn Ingold Prelog Rules The second workshop focused on creating an active learning lesson plan where students must engage in discovery to learn rather than listening. I used molecular model kits, a common teaching tool in organic chemistry, to familiarize students with the three-dimensional geometry of organic molecules. Again, backward design was used to consider prior knowledge, establish learning objectives, and plan content and assessment.
      • Cahn Ingold Prelog Rules Slides reviews content from previous lessons, and presents an example to set the stage for the activity. After giving students time to work in groups on the activity, the entire class reassembles to review and explain their results.
      • The Peer and Instructor Feedback I received from the second teaching demonstration again indicated that my instruction was effective. Some participants wanted more information, “How is one enantiomer synthesized vs. another?,” which would be covered in a future lesson. Something I plan to work on is my communication of why the information is important, something noted by several participants. I did use some examples, but perhaps a more detailed description of the “why” (i.e. showing chiral drug binding to an active site vs. the opposite enantiomer) would better communicate the information. Another suggestion was to include a 3D version of the molecules drawn to help students transition from the drawing on the screen to the models in their hands. With a range of modeling software available, this would be an excellent implementation of technology in the classroom.
  • Mentored Teaching Project
    • The main modification I made to the Syllabus and Experiment Manual was the addition of pre-lab reading assignments and post-lab guiding questions. My intention for the post-lab questions was to give students a guide in writing a discussion section and applying their knowledge from organic chemistry lecture in the context of their laboratory results.
    • I modeled the rubrics on those used in the CEM415 laboratory at Michigan State University, splitting the distribution of points in order to assess both the products of the laboratory, which is how CEM355 had been graded, and the guiding questions. As the semester progressed, I gained appreciation for more detailed rubrics and would modify these if the project would be implemented in the future.
  • BCCE
    • My experiences earning the Certification in College Teaching and lifelong interest in self-improvement inspired me to investigate career and professional development resources available to graduate students and the responsibilities of chemistry graduate programs in preparing students to engage in their education and career beyond the bench. My my oral presentation sparked an in-depth discussion in the symposium “Finalizing Education of Chemistry Majors: How do we better prepare chemistry graduates for careers in industry and graduate school?”
    • I’ve included here my Twitter “Moment” from #BCCE2018 of ideas, presentations, and interactions that inspire me. I am happy to have participated in the conference both in person and on Twitter, as I now have this collection of resources I can go back to, as well as many new professional connections I interact with on a regular basis.

While I have been interested in a career in teaching for a long time, I didn’t know where to begin to learn to be an effective instructor. The CIRTL courses and Certification in College Teaching Institute were excellent introductions to evidence-based teaching practices. Having never taken a course with explicit learning objectives, the experience of writing them for my own students was more complex than I had expected. I found the structured peer feedback in the CIRTL courses helpful in creating effective instructional materials with learning objectives in mind.

Nevertheless, the CIRTL courses did not offer opportunities to practice instructional techniques, so the inclusion of the ISE 870 workshops is a wise one. After completing the ISE 870 Workshops, I appreciated the traditional format of the course compared with the online format of the two CIRTL courses. After my experiences with the CIRTL courses, I felt confident in preparing the materials for my teaching demonstrations, but when it came time to presenting them I was nervous despite my experience as a teaching assistant. The feedback I received from the class was thoughtful and valuable, and certainly helped me improve as an instructor. I also appreciated being a “student” in other teaching demonstrations, along with observing others’ teaching techniques, I also experienced how much teaching may vary between different disciplines.

Since a chemistry teaching course was not available at the time I was completing this certification, I am very thankful for the opportunity to learn about education research conducted in the chemistry community, as well as the multitude of tools and techniques used by chemistry instructors at the 25th Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE) in Summer 2018. A vibrant community of chemistry instructors committed to student learning exists, and I learned from and met many of them at BCCE.  Many attendees, myself included, were very active on Twitter during the conference, and I have included here a collection of tweets that I found interesting and inspiring. In particular, several presentations highlighted some issues with formal written lab reports, which I had previously hoped would enhance my students’ understanding of laboratory concepts compared to informal reports in the context of my mentored teaching project. What I learned from CIRTL courses, the Teaching Institute, and the ISE 870 workshops enabled me to complete my mentored teaching project, but my participation in BCCE will enable me to improve the work I began during Summer 2018 and become a more effective educator.

OMC Fall 2018