Winter 2013: Scientific Teaching by Jo Handelsman, Sarah Miller, and Christine Pfund

Week 1 – January 10 and 11

In our meetings this week we outlined our plans for the quarter, and then turned our attention to two papers that discuss how to transform an existing course from being primarily lecture-based to mostly using active learning activities to engage students. Please read:

Active Learning in a Non-Majors Biology Class: Lessons Learned – McClanahan, E. B.; McClanahan, L. L. College Teaching Summer 2002, 92-96. (The link in the last reference of this paper is no longer active, and has been replaced by

What to Do When You Stop Lecturing: Become a Guide and a Resource – Black, K. A. J. Chem. Educ. 70(2), 1993, 140-144.

We will be doing some activities that require a basic familiarity with the papers, so please have a look at them!

During week 1 of the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club, we created a list of factors that may influence an author’s voice in his/her writing.  We kept these in mind throughout the term as we tried to apply ideas from various authors to our own classroom teaching.

  • Age
  • Ego
  • Ethnicity
  • Confidence
  • Cultural background
  • Bias
  • Experience
  • Personality
  • Purpose
  • Funding sources
  • Familiarity with language
  • Field of study
  • Successes/failures
  • Target audience
  • Target audience
  • Target audience
  • Target publication
  • Perspective
  • Status
  • Gender
  • Home institution
  • Insider vs outsider
  • Intended audience
  • Native language
  • Tone
  • Verbosity
  • Work load
  • Political agenda
  • Scholarliness

Our brainstorming exercise was followed by an activity intended to demonstrate the use of active learning techniques in class and give the group an opportunity evaluate the active learning techniques described in McClanahan and McClanahan. For the activity, participants formed groups and created a “matrix” (McClanahan & McClanahan) to assess the active learning techniques described in Active Learning in a Non-Majors Biology Class.


We ended this week’s session with a plus/delta activity to solicit feedback from the group and gauge the enthusiasm for the new format.

Teaching take-away of the week:
Have the confidence to try new and unfamiliar techniques even if students seem skeptical at first. Practicing with a group of colleagues beforehand (like in journal club) can help identify potential pitfalls of any activity and may give you ideas for how to improve it.

Week 2 – January 17 and 18

This week in the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club we started our reading of Scientific Teaching, by Jo Handelsman, Sarah Miller, and Christine Pfund. We read Chapter 1: Scientific Teaching before our meetings this week.

In last week’s journal club sessions, we demonstrated the use of some of the active learning techniques we have been talking about for a while. Several people indicated, though, that they still have difficulty knowing exactly how to implement such techniques in their particular courses. To start to address this problem, this week got specific! To help us along, we asked participants to think of a topic or two they have had trouble teaching.

We began this week’s discussion by considering two definitions quoted in this week’s reading:

1. Scientific Teaching
– represents the nature of science as a dynamic investigative process based on evidence
– engages a diversity of people in a collaborative process
– has clear learning goals in mind, uses methods and instructional materials designed to improve student learning and evaluates the methods iteratively.

2. Constructivism – robust theory about learning that proposes people learn by constructing their own knowledge.

Participants seemed particularly interested in the idea of constructivism within the context of student learning. We agreed that instructors could help students to construct their own knowledge by introducing concepts as a process rather than a series of facts. Incorporating active-learning into the process goes even further and allows students to define the process in their own terms.

We continued the discussion by brainstorming a list of potential barriers to constructive active-learning environments:

  • trade-off between content students need for future and in-class activities
  • student expectations of what a “class” is or should be
  • diversity of student learning goals
  • diversity of learning styles
  • lack of student or instructor buy-in
  • classroom layout
  • instructor ability (lack of practice, poor delivery)
  • planning/creating activities

We ended the session with a brief discussion of possible solutions to these barriers.

Week 3 – January 24 and 25

We continued our reading of Scientific Teaching, by Handelsman, Miller, and Pfund. We read Chapter 2: Active Learning, skipping page 32 (and 136, if you’re reading ahead!) as it contains some material we wanted to uncover during our meetings.

This week’s journal club discussion focused on the challenging task of converting lecture material from passive to active. Using a version of table 2.1 from page 32 of Active Learning, we worked in small groups to brainstorm active versions of lecture material. Using examples from lectures in biology, chemistry, physics and geology, groups planned in-class activities that allow students immediately engage with the material. Groups wrote their ideas on a worksheet before sharing their suggestions with the rest of the group. Click on the link below to view an example of the worksheet:

Active Learning Worksheet

Week 4 – January 31 and February 1

This week in the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club we continued our discussion of Scientific Teaching’s Chapter 2: Active Learning.

We began the hour by considering a case about a frustrated biology instructor from p. 135 of Scientific Teaching.

Most students and instructors have experienced similar situations and sympathized with this instructor’s feeling of “being stuck.” We created a checklist that could help in this scenario:

  1. Remember that students already have ideas about many topics before starting a college course. It is just as important for you (the instructor) to understand these misconceptions as it is for the student. Once both student and instructor understand the misconceptions, the learning process becomes much easier.
  2. Remind students that Lamarck was no fool. He proposed his theory of evolution using what was known at the time. Students often forget that scientific knowledge is constantly evolving.
  3. Describe to students the history of thought as it pertains to evolution.
  4. A carefully designed thought experiment could be an effective active learning exercise for this case. Have students use Lamarckian evolutionary logic to solve a problem that can only be solved by using the logic of Darwin’s theory. Showing them how the shortcomings of Lamarckian evolution can be overcome with today’s modern theory will help them see the distinctions between the two.

Next, we discussed the final section of chapter 2 Management for the Active Classroom by breaking into small groups and spending a few minutes talking about each of the following suggestions.

  • Start early – Make expectations known on the first day of class. Plan an activity for the first day that will show students what to expect for the rest of the term.
  • Start simple – Asking open-ended questions at the beginning of class is a good way to solicit answers from several students before introducing a new topic.
  • Make it personal – Learn students’ names. Help students relate to the content being presented. For instance, relating topics in biology to human health can give context to otherwise unfamiliar ideas.
  • Take risks – Careful use of humor and willingness to try new techniques can help eliminate the gridlock when students don’t understand the question being asked or the material being presented.
  • Give positive feedback – Reward students who take risks and speak up in class with encouraging remarks. Other students will be more likely to participate.
  • Deal with wrong – Many agreed that responding to wrong answers can be particularly challenging. While it is important to address students’ misconceptions they should never feel personally attacked.
  • Maintain control and high standards – To keep in-class discussion on topic, have groups “click-in” when they are through talking about the assigned topic.
  • Ethics of group work – Assign distinct roles to each member of the group (i.e. recorder, speaker, leader, etc) so each participant is responsible for a unique component of the work.

Week 5 – February 7 and 8

This week, we continued our reading and discussion of Scientific Teaching, by Handelsman, Miller, and Pfund. We read Chapter 3: Assessment.

This was also Week 5 of the quarter, a great time to get some student feedback about how things are going in your course! TEP recommends asking a few simple questions, with perhaps a few others to address issues specific to your course. Consider asking these questions which are much like a plus/delta that we tried in journal club:

  • What’s working well in the course and helping you learn?
  • What constructive suggestions do you have for improving the course?

Once students have completed the survey, thank the students and talk about the results in class, even if you won’t be implementing any of their suggestions! This makes the students feel that you actually care what they think, making them more likely to evaluate you favorably in the future. The conversation also makes it more likely that you will follow through on any planned changes.

For details on how to implement the survey, please see the TEP website at:

We started this week’s journal club with an independent writing activity where participants spent about two minutes making a list comparing a “learner-centered” class with a “teacher-centered” class. We were then instructed to discuss our list in groups of 2-3, draw a line beneath the list we had created, and add the best ideas we learned from the small group discussion. Next, we reconvened the whole group to talk about the comparisons we had drawn. New ideas from other small groups were listed below a second line drawn to separate ideas from the independent writing, the small, and large group discussions.

One of the goals of the exercise was to demonstrate an active-learning activity that could be used to compare and contrast two concepts. At the end of the activity, students are left with a matrix of ideas and have a way to track where the idea originated. Below is an example of a matrix from this activity:


Next, we examined a case study about a frustrated microbiology from page 145 of Scientific Teaching. After reading the case out loud, we discussed as a group the feelings expressed by the student and addressed the following questions:

  • What is the instructor doing to contribute to this situation? What is the student doing?
  • What can the student and/or instructor do to fix the problem?
  • What resources might be available on campus to help students that are struggling with their classes?
  • At what point is a student simply not ready to meet the demands of a course?
  • Is it appropriate for an instructor to tell a student they are better off dropping the course rather than making an attempt to catch up?

The final activity of this week’s meeting was a compare and contrast exercise evaluating two approaches to assessment. We started in small groups listing pros and cons of the two assessment methods before sharing our lists with the whole group. Follow the link below to view a compilation of the group’s comments:
Assessment Comparison Activity

Week 6 – February 14 and 15

This week in the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club we continued our discussion of Scientific Teaching’s Chapter 3: Assessment.

This week’s journal club began with an assignment to create a concept map showing the relationship between the following ideas:

  • Evaluation
  • Active Learning exercise
  • Assessment Tool
  • Teaching Method
  • Diversity
  • EnGaugement
  • Grading

After working individually for several minutes we shared our sketches with the group. Interestingly, most participants had a unique way of organizing these ideas and we concluded that there are many ways to interpret these relationships. Below is an example of a concept map created for this activity:


We followed this exercise with a short brainstorming session to remind ourselves of the in-class active learning activities we have discussed so far this term. These include:

  • think-pair-share
  • clicker questions
  • case studies
  • fish bowl
  • gallery walk
  • group exam
  • concept map
  • jig saw
  • reading assessments
  • matrix
  • brainstorming
  • strip sequence
  • plus/delta
  • minute papers
  • group problem solving

Next we formed small groups and used the list to develop an “EnGaugement” activity designed to help students overcome a common misconception. We used this list of Bloom’s Taxonomy Action Verbs as a reference to gauge what level of understanding was required to complete the “EnGaugement” activity. Please follow this link to the EnGaugement Activity Worksheet or view the embedded document below to see examples from this activity.

Week 7 – February 21 and 22

This week in the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club we continued our reading of Handelsman, Miller, and Pfund’s Scientific Teaching, focusing our attention on Chapter 4: Diversity. We also read the attached short documents, which were created for “The International Classroom,” a recent UO workshop co-sponsored by the American English Institute, the College of Arts and Sciences, and TEP.  The workshop focused on the teaching implications of the increase in the UO’s international student population and provided strategies and advice for teaching an international cohort.  Very germane to this week’s journal club material!

International Classroom 1

International Classroom 2

This week in journal club we discussed the role diversity plays in improving the quality of science education and explored ways to take advantage of the broad range of student backgrounds to enhance the learning experience. We began with an independent writing exercise with instructions to reflect on our definition of diversity before discussing our thoughts as a group. We then looked at the case study of the “Bantering” students and professor from pg. 159 of Scientific Teaching. A volunteer read each perspective out loud before we discussed the following questions as a group:

  • How can the differing perspectives on the same class be explained?
  • What seems to be the professor’s definition of active learning?
  • What type of student benefits the most from this teaching style?
  • What are the unconscious biases of the professor/students?

We concluded with an exercise from pg. 160 of Scientific Teaching that asked us to consider from a student’s perspective common classroom situations that are potentially alienating to certain groups. Participants were asked to come up with ways to make these situations more inclusive. Follow this link to see an example of the Diversity Worksheet.

Week 8 – February 28 and March 1

This week in the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club we continued our study of Handelsman, Miller, and Pfund’s Scientific Teaching. We read Chapter 5:  A Framework for Constructing a Teachable Unit.

We began this week’s journal club with a strip-sequence activity where each participant was given 7 strips of paper. Each strip described a step in the process of course design and we worked individually to arrange the steps in an appropriate order. We then worked with a partner to compare our sequences and discussed the justification for our arrangements. Below is a list of the steps from the activity:

  • Determine what skills, knowledge, or understanding you want you students to gain.
  • Write specific learning objectives.
  • Design student-centered learning activities consistent with the learning objectives.
  • Determine how you will measure if your students have met the learning objectives.
  • Design assessments to measure if students have met the learning goals.
  • Assess student learning.
  • “Close the loop” by communicating with students about how they have or have not achieved the learning objectives.

We followed this activity with an exercise in revising course learning objectives from ambiguous statements to measurable achievements. Using an example from the UO Teaching Effectiveness Program handout on Writing Clear learning Objectives as a model, we formed small groups and wrote a learning objective for the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club. Each group revised their learning objective several times to make it more specific, measurable and clear before sharing it with the rest of the group.

Please view the links below for more resources on writing learning objectives:

Week 9 – March 7 and 8

This week in the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club we finished up our discussion of Handelsman, Miller and Pfund’s Scientific Teaching with Chapter 6:  Institutional Transformation.

Week 10 – March 14 and 15

Reading: The Interactive Media Group (IMG) presented the Graphicacy tool that they have been developing in collaboration with SLP faculty.  This team was working to design a tool for improving students’ graph-reading and interpretation skills.  A beta version of the Graphicacy tool is now ready for field-testing in several courses during the spring term. The upcoming field test will provide an opportunity to gauge the tool’s effectiveness and provide a basis for modifications to be made after this first implementation.