Automatic sample changer designed by Joe Kirschvink (Caltech) for paleomagnetic measurements (snapshot of the 2G superconducting magnetometer at MIT in action)

Teaching philosophy

My motivation to teach stems form my innate desire to learn about the natural world and share that knowledge with others. My principal goal as a university educator is to help prepare young people take charge of their own destinies and navigate the meanders of life as engaged and thoughtful members of society. Research has shown that experiential learning is most effective for achieving this goal. Through their own discoveries students develop a better understanding of the fundamental concepts of a discipline, become more engaged in their own learning, and begin to think and reason as scientists do. Scientific-like reasoning leads to the development of an understanding of big ideas, and helps students with diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds become scientifically literate citizens that are adequately equipped to make good, rational choices about future societal challenges. My additional general goals for learning are that students master the basic tenets of the scientific method, understand in depth a core of a few major concepts and fundamental ideas, retain the knowledge acquired in the long run and use it as a foundation for future learning, and develop critical thinking skills that help them make informed decisions.

My core ideas about instruction are:
1) Education should not serve only in a chosen profession, but prepare young people to be responsible and informed citizens in a global society;
2) Deep learning is the foundation for true knowledge and leads to the understanding of the underlying principles of a subject;
3) Learning goals and outcomes provided at the beginning of instruction, aligned with instructional strategies and assessment methods, are key to effective student learning student learning;
4) The educator should teach in a way that motivates, engages and facilitates the learning of all students, using methodologies that are compatible with diverse individual learning styles.

I use inquiry-based teaching methods because they encourage critical thinking, and foster learning and assimilating information based on logical deduction. Students want to know how certain processes and phenomena work, and to be able to explain them in turn. Sometimes they view learning as a transformative, life-altering experience. As such, my teaching approach is based on learning how to solve problems using rational thinking and Socratic inquiry, and relies on techniques that stimulate deep learning. In developing teaching methods I am mindful to how students actually learn: they draw upon their own experience through reflection, formation of concepts, and testing of those concepts in order to gain more experience from which to learn. I use this progression to devise learning activities that will motivate the students to assimilate knowledge at each step. This type of cycle is at the core of constructive learning, whereby the steps in the cycle are recast as an upward spiral of accumulating knowledge. Therefore, my job as an educator is to facilitate this build-up of knowledge using the scaffolding of what students already know. This is very much akin to the scientific method. The learner-focused approach that I adopt fits a scheme that aligns the learning outcomes with teaching activities and assessment tools. Setting clear learning outcomes, developing appropriate learning activities, and devising adequate assessment exercises measuring how the outcomes have been achieved creates a roadmap that can be easily followed by instructor and students throughout the learning process. In class I interweave traditional lecturing with active and cooperative learning strategies. Active learning engages students in answering and asking questions, thinking about how to solve problems, and explaining and reflecting on what they are learning. In active-learning activities I encourage students to formulate hypotheses, devise problem-solving strategies, and predict outcomes. I employ cooperative learning for semester-long projects on current environmental topics, capped by group presentations. Students work in groups of 4-5 and take charge of devising their projects, setting goals, dividing tasks, and putting together a short paper and a class presentation. This strategy offers them the opportunity to work independently and interdependently, manage their temporal resources, hone their teamwork abilities, and develop their writing and presenting skills. It also gives them the chance to reflect on their position as agents of change in the global environment, to realize they are an intrinsic part of the natural order, and that humans have the capacity to shift the delicate balances that exist in nature.


Past Courses Taught

University of Cambridge

NST II Geological Sciences Mineralogy Core (Autumn 2014)

  • Thermodynamics and kinetics of processes in minerals – Magnetic ordering processes

University of Minnesota

PsTL 1171 Earth Systems and Environments (Fall 2011- Spring 2013)

This course engages students to learn about the field of Environmental Geology by scientific inquiry and hands-on activities.  Students learn about the processes that have shaped the Earth, and the effects of the interactions between Earth systems and human civilization. Through direct observation during laboratory activities, students learn how to identify minerals and rocks, the building blocks of all the materials they find at the Earth’s surface. Much like geologists do in the field, students learn how to interpret the clues found in rock formations in order to decipher aspects of Earth’s history, such as mountain building, volcanism, or glaciation. Through scientific inquiry and discussions, students discover how humans have interacted with Earth systems, and assess the anthropogenic impacts on the environment, climate, and natural resources.  Through readings and documentary viewing students are encouraged to think about how we should develop practices for exploiting natural resources in a sustainable manner. In a capstone project, students investigate ways in which our society should make the transition from non-renewable energy sources, such as fossil fuels, to using renewable, clean sources of energy.

Normandale Community College (Spring 2012)

GEOL 1101 Physical Geology with Laboratory (web enhanced)
GEOL 1110 Environmental Geology
GEOL 1111 Environmental Geology Laboratory
GEOL 1110 Environmental Geology (online only)
course outlines