Teaching

(Note: These pages refer specifically to classroom teaching in an academic setting, primarily for undergraduates.  For informal education, outreach, and cooperative extension, see Outreach. For graduate seminars on interdisciplinarity, see Research:Interdisciplinarity and for the graduate training program in outreach and extension, see Outreach.)

Teaching Interests

I have two complementary teaching interests. First, I work to demystify complex quantitative methods (mathematics, statistics, computer programming) for people who often feel intimidated by them, either due to their disciplinary training (ecologists, social scientists) or their personal background (women, non-traditional students, people from underrepresented or disadvantaged groups, community members). Second, I am personally motivated by an insatiable curiosity about the natural world and how humans fit into it, and reciprocally motivated by endless enthusiasm to communicate what I learn to others. Therefore, my broad goals for student learning are to 1) provide diverse students with skills in a variety of quantitative modeling, mathematical, and statistical areas; 2) to shape their thinking about these skills as tools available to be matched to the task that presents itself to them; and 3) to achieve these goals in a disciplinary context of complex social-ecological systems, hoping that greater quantitative skill on the part of a more diverse group of people can lead to greater sustainability in these systems.

Teaching Philosophy

My core teaching philosophy is that anyone can learn complex skills if you create the right learning environment and find ways to meet them where they are intellectually rather than expecting them to come to you. This means finding out what the student already knows and building from it, as well as checking in frequently to make sure they are following you. I strive, wherever possible, to individualize my instruction to the student. The learning environment I work to create is characterized by respect, humility, and fun. Particularly important for respect and humility is teaching people to be open to other ways of thinking, whether this enables interdisciplinary work, or work with non-academics, or people from very different backgrounds and learning modalities. I deliberately choose an informal style to encourage peer learning and to be a more approachable authority figure (particularly when teaching highly quantitative skills). In my experience, lower formality and more direct, one-on-one interaction helps both teachers and fellow students to engage more effectively with students from diverse backgrounds who may experience challenges and barriers in the traditional hierarchical, formal classroom. Learning is fundamentally a social activity, as well as a multi-modal activity involving reading, writing, hearing, rephrasing, and explaining to each other. Though not all of these modes are most useful for all students, repetition (especially trying different delivery methods for the same information) is part of retention. The emphasis on mathematical and computational background is on understanding the basic mechanics of the models in order to be alert to how they fail and what to do about it when they do — not necessarily to teach people math for the sake of math. Central to my teaching is the use of practical examples tailored to my students’ experience and hands-on work that helps them to apply abstract concepts to concrete problems. I also seek to incorporate into my teaching the practical skills students will need: writing, programming, mathematics and statistics, giving presentations, and evaluating peer-reviewed research literature.

Teaching Experience

I have been teaching since I was an undergraduate.  (Actually, I tutored some friends in chemistry in high school, too.)  I taught Astronomy labs at UC Davis, including hands-on use of telescopes and location of deep-sky objects (globular clusters, nebulae, and the like) as well as in-class lectures.  My favorite lecture was on emission spectra.

I was a Learning Skills Counselor and Tutor for a year at UC Santa Barbara before beginning graduate study there.  I conducted group sessions for  students in the “Physics for biology majors” series as well as doing drop in tutoring for a variety of math and science classes.  I was then a teaching assistant for a further two years (including some summers) in geology classes ranging from upper division seismology and thermodynamics to lower division, general education courses  on dinosaurs, geological catastrophes, and physical geology.

At UC Berkeley, I was a “graduate student instructor” for courses on experimental design/analysis of ecological data and for the Environmental Studies senior thesis class.  I was privileged to teach fellow grads and advanced undergrads statistics in the former, and to assist and witness remarkable growth in graduating senior undergraduates in the latter.

I also completed a course on pedagogy at Berkeley and won an Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor award.

See a list of courses I’ve taught, read my statement of teaching philosophy from my pedagogy course, and my two essays on teaching problems I have encountered, how I solved them, and how I assessed the solutions: anonymous grading, and individualized instruction.