I accepted the invitation to participate as VIPEr Fellow because I wanted to be a more dynamic teacher. After the first year I developed this massive plan to become an extremely active teacher in the classroom and increase the student-teacher and student-student dialogue in the classroom from essentially zero. A year passes and I teach the class again and come back to see that my classroom looks identical to the first year! Nothing changed or did it and I needed to look more closely? I believe that changes did occur they just were not what I expected and upon reflection I am okay with that and quite pleased with the change in student learning that did happen.
Going from Year 1 (teaching Foundations Inorganic as I have in the past) to Year 2 (teaching a “VIPErized” Foundation Inorganic) as a Fellow I became more deliberate in my teaching. While I was still lecture heavy, I did succeed in being more purposeful in my teaching. For example, taking my learning objectives from Year 1 and going one step further asking myself how do I want to “present” that material and how do I want to assess the student learning for Year 2. Prior to this, when we did group work in the classroom it was almost like an afterthought. For example, in Year 1 and previous years, based on COPUS data and time to reflect during the first summer cohort meeting, a typically group work day would look something like this:
Okay, we have 15-20 minutes left in class hurry and get in groups and consider this problem set, oh we are out of time I hope you finish it on your own, and then come back to class and we will move on to the next topic.
In particular the reflection time, while not my typical inclination, I allowed myself to get out of my comfort zone and truly observe what was working and not working based on my lofty goal. In Year 2, I had a pre-determined plan for what I would present, what and when students would work in class, and how I would assess what they did. This plan resulted in increased student learning as observed in two specific instances I provide. First, in literature discussions I was able (through a colleague in this cohort) find a way to remove myself from the discussion and simultaneously assess their participation (see comments in Energetics and Mechanisms of Reductive Elimination from Pt(IV) Literature Discussion). This resulted in students challenging each other in their groups on questions they had beyond the prompts. Secondly, I used pre-class reflections on what we call “Element of the Day” videos. I saw in these reflections (recommended through another colleague who led our cohort) students not just watching a video but asking themselves questions about the video. Prior, in Year 1 and before I would spend most of the time talking during literature discussions and for the Element of the Day we would watch a video before class with no objective tied to it.
So, in summary after participating in this project I ask myself about my original goal. Did I become a more a dynamic teacher? The answer is no. Well, is that okay? Absolutely yes because I found my strengths working with my colleagues and used those strengths to design what I think of as an adaptive classroom for a well-planned semester. I observed students taking ownership of the material that I had not seen before in prior semesters, and I am pleased to say that I was nominated by two different student committees for an Alumni Association teaching award in both years of participation as a VIPEr Fellow. While I did not receive the award either year, the nomination alone gave me inspiration that I was doing something right. I believe what I did right (and will continue to refine) is due to my participation as VIPEr Fellow, having discussions with my colleagues in the cohort, and using VIPEr Learning Objects in a well-planned and deliberate manner. In addition, the leaders of this project who pushed me to reflect on what I want to do as a teacher. For future cohorts, don’t forget to look at the trees (what happened) while looking for your forest (original goal).