Teaching is a core part of how I interact with science and where my passion for science is rooted. While I love to do original research, I think that even at the introductory level we can teach science in a way that equips students to experience the joy of original and expansive thinking as applied when exploring and solving problems. Through this they can build awareness of their own beliefs and inherited assumptions that might otherwise limit them as they tackle hard problems. In the classroom, I strive to teach beyond the material so that each student becomes a better learner more equipped as they leave my classroom than they were when they entered to problem solve, to learn, and to understand their own learning.
I am especially passionate about creating innovative introductory astronomy education materials that build investigative skills in inquiry based learning exercises measured through formative assessment. Many students get to the university level thinking that they hate math or can't do science and while I treasure upper division astronomy and physics for the skills I gained through those courses, the introductory level of astronomy and physics are rich in opportunity to undermine detrimental and deeply held beliefs that math and science are just too hard for some people, which is so accepted in our society.
Instructor of Record for Astronomy 103 at UW-Madison
Served as the instructor of record of Astronomy 103 The Evolving Universe: Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology as offered through the Summer Collegiate Experience program for incoming first-year undergraduate students who are marginalized in some axis of their identity. Revamping the course from the ground up was important to me to curate the most impactful learning experience for these students, especially given that this program targets students who I am most interested in supporting.
The course structure I used was to break up the content into three conceptual modules that each had a couple skill goals and content goals. This was covered through weekly online content quizzes that they were encouraged to complete as they did the assigned readings, a couple days of lecture per week, pre-tutorial assignments that began to build intuition and explore course content, group-work in-class tutorials that directly expanded on the pre-tutorial assignments, post-tutorial reflections that were more qualitative long-answer extensions of the concepts from tutorial, and finally a solo-tutorial-extension. The solo-tutorial-extension was the first of these assignment that was to be completed completely on their own without outside resources and peer-discussion. It was completed at the end of each course content module that was 60-75% questions from the tutorial materials of the module with the remaining questions as extensions and applications of the overall module content. It also was an open-ended format to facilitate continued learning throughout the solo-extension process so the students could return and make further progress on the solo-tutorial-extension over the following course days after further content review on their own. This was the most extreme implementation of formative assessment as the students build self-awareness of their content comprehension and have the opportunity to continue learning as they are assessed. The tutorial process builds self-efficacy as the students have low-risk, high-reward engagement in a qualitative exploration of the physics and mathematical concepts underlying the content to build to the quantitative descriptions through carefully scaffolded structures. The final assignment was an open-ended science communication project where instead of giving strict project guidelines, I provide a very robust rubric divided between Narrative, Structure, Correctness, Robustness, and Clarity & Creativity. Feedback is solicited throughout the course through the curation of their Self-Summary packets where each day students write, in their own words, a three-sentence summary of the content from the day and provide key terms. This is also a direct line to ask lingering questions about content or raise other concerns.
The first summer I taught this course, I started with the course goals and content described in the university level course description and built out entirely new materials, lectures, and tutorial style learning opportunities to better facilitate learning of the content and the skills. In this first summer, I also mentored another astronomy graduate student as my Teaching Assistant, Michael Nicadro Rosenthal. He learned to lead the weekly group work tutorial in-class sessions and even helped to develop a tutorial and post-tutorial activity on measuring the mass of a black hole. In the second summer as the instructor, I was able to revisit and update the materials from the year before and incorporate student feedback from the first summer about what was most (and least) effective at facilitating learning.
Below are the pre-tutorial and group-work tutorial activities for my course. For access to my content lectures, post-tutorial activities, or solo-tutorial-extensions, please reach out! I'm more than happy to share anything I just want to have a record of who has access.
TA and Course Content Developer for Astronomy 170
Wrote weekly synchronous group activities for large non-majors class covering cosmology, dark matter, and dark energy. Collaborated with Prof. Christy Tremonti to develop new course group projects in Fall 2019 while engaged as the course grader. Was then hired as the course TA for Fall 2020 due to my experience and interest in course design to make substantial structural changes and facilitate group-work within a semi-asynchronous structure during the 2020 COVID-19 crisis. I designed activities each week with long- and short-term learning goals to supplement and build on the lecture and reading content as group-work tutorials in Google Docs that each group would synchronously complete. I took this as a unique opportunity to utilize online tools to scaffold their learning such as Physics Education Tools (PhET) simulations and structured discussion and reflection activities that facilitated identification adn addressing of the students' comprehension gaps despite the isolation and limited interaction with instructors.
For my work as the TA of this course, I won a highly selective Early Excellence in Teaching university-wide award as nominated by the Astronomy Department.
Education Research on Planetarium Utilization in Introductory Astronomy
In 2017, I worked with the education director of Fiske Planetarium Briana Ingermann and Prof. Ben Brown on a ASSETT grant supported education research project implementing novel integration of technology into undergraduate lessons. Existing physics education research demonstrated importance and difficulty of effectively teaching spatial awareness and comprehension on astronomical scales. I wrote lesson plans and accompanying tutorials to develop their terminology for describing off-earth geometry with the goal of better teaching the skill of translating geometries. Through scaffolding following a "What I See", "What it Means", and "What it's Called" approach to have students orient themselves and monitor changes in the celestial sphere to discover what features anchor us as astronomical observers and people on earth. Our second activity focused on building a stronger intuition of solar system and galactic scales by simulating the real-travel time at the top-speed of any man made object (Juno) to help build a baseline-intuition for the separation of objects in space, and then scaling up in speed as we travel through the universe in Fiske Planetarium. We measured an improvement in the desired learning outcomes of the students from these lesson plans compared to previous years of the same course. This work is still utilized in current iterations of these courses and in other planetarium activities.