Teaching Philosophy

I love talking science. While studying science is enjoyable in and of itself, there's nothing more satisfying than sharing it with others – be it teaching in the classroom, working with others in the lab, or thinking out loud together. It's very rewarding to spark fascination in others on a topic that you find so interesting yourself. I see the foremost role of an instructor as teaching students how to think critically, analytically, independently, and creatively. While this last one is perhaps less frequently associated with the sciences than the first three, I think science provides a great opportunity to develop creative thinking by showing how it springs from attention to detail and exploring connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. From this larger perspective, the course material can provide a vehicle to achieving these various intellectual ends. On a more concrete level though, the earth sciences are worthwhile because they are so relevant - e.g., energy and climate are two of the biggest issues in the 21st century, one below the ground, the other above.

 

In my view, the most critical element to good teaching and communicating is making the subject matter relatable – if you can help someone understand how a topic is relevant to them and why they should care, interest and understanding tend to follow. I try to do this by providing a holistic perspective that links the detailed techniques and problems in earth science to the big-picture issues surrounding global change. Real-world examples, photos, videos, anecdotes, and tie-ins to other fields such as economics, history, media, and politics can all help to do this. For instance, while the Big Five extinctions in earth history are intrinsically interesting, discussing them in reference to the current extinction rate or explaining how we as mammals may owe our existence to a random asteroid collision 65 Mya can give students something much more tangible to grasp on to. Climate change and energy in particular provide ample, hot-off-the-press material, such as the 2012 record low in Arctic sea ice, or the Midwest drought, and the natural gas boom. These topics are ideal for demonstrating the interconnectedness of a complex human and natural world – vanishing sea ice will reroute commerce from the Panama Canal to the Arctic Ocean in coming decades, Midwest crop failures can boost global food prices, and fracking has created an explosion of jobs in South Dakota in the midst of a recession.


I think it is also critical to highlight recent studies relevant to the topic at hand to emphasize the evolving nature of scientific knowledge – if there is a single goal to education, surely it is to learn how to question and think about information rather than just absorb it. For instance, are recent extreme weather events related to global warming, or better yet, how would we even know if they were? In the same vein, we’re fortunate in the earth sciences to often have field and lab components in courses, and there’s no substitute for hands-on learning. Tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; involve me and I understand.

 

Classes Taught

Environmental Systems: Climate Change
Climate Change and Society
Climate Seminar
Exploring the Earth
Earth System Seminar
The Future of Earth's Climate as Revealed by Its Past
Dynamic Earth
Sedimentology and Stratigraphy

 

Links

I taught a winter term course at MIddlebury College in January 2013. Middlebury Magazine: When Alumni Come Back to Teach

I contributed to a climate change exercise for high school students by PBS Learning Media. Ancience Ice and Future Climate