13 Oct 2014

Read any good books lately?

Submitted by Elizabeth Jamieson, Smith College

This is a question that has been asked and answered from time to time on VIPEr.  Back in 2008, Hilary Eppley stared a forum post to ask people for suggestions on fun science reading over the semester break.  This turned out to be a very popular thread that yielded many good titles for my reading list.  We’ve had people post in forums about books they’ve used to highlight the historical aspects of chemistry, and we even have a learning object by Joanne Stewart that describes how she’s used Oliver Sacks’ “Uncle Tungsten” in her inorganic class.

Each year at Smith, we have our incoming students read a book that is then discussed in small groups during orientation.  This year the summer reading book was Claude Steele’s “Whistling Vivaldi:  How Stereotypes Affect Us and What Can We Do,” which proved to be a very interesting read.  If you haven’t read this yet, I highly recommend it.  It describes research on stereotype threat and offers some ways that educators can reduce its effect in the classroom.  Given that I am currently teaching our first semester general chemistry class, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I might be able to do in my classroom to help alleviate stereotype threat for my students.

Anne Bentley told me about an article from Physics Today entitled “Psychological Insights for Improved Physics Teaching” that discussed many of the important points from “Whistling Vivaldi.”  In the article, the authors discuss a few common approaches that well-meaning faculty might use to help their students – and why these efforts will likely backfire.  I thought it might be fun to hear from the VIPEr community if you’ve come up with effective interventions to alleviate stereotype threat in your classrooms.  So, if you’ve tried something that worked – or read something that you think would be helpful - please leave a comment below.