Bioluminescence: Teaching STEM to First Generation College Students

Jolie Stepaniak presented today on how to teach STEM to first generation college students. Jolie did indicate that while some of the specifics in the presentation were just about the sciences, the strategies presented could generalize to any discipline. The talk could have been titled “How to Teach [Insert Discipline] to first generation college students,” she quipped. Her presentation was based on the similarly titled book by Gail Horowitz.

Only 10% of first generation college students complete a bachelors degree withing 6 years of starting their higher education. While many of the reasons for this are beyond the control of a classroom teacher acting alone there is one effective set of interventions a classroom teacher can use. They can help students learn to study using skills appropriate to that discipline. Rather than have a College 101-like course, have teachers give appropriate learning strategies in the discipline. A metaphor given was that if you needed to read a knitting diagram you would more likely ask a knitter than a reading teacher.

A series of over 20 specific strategies followed. For instance teachers could tell students how to study in a particular course. Diagramming relationships between biological systems might be a better strategy in one class, while using flashcards to learn names of parts might be a better strategy in some lab classes. Teachers could explicitly tell students which topics are most important in the field and for subsequent courses. Teachers should give students frequent feedback and give opportunities for low stakes participation. Dr. Stepaniak noted that we probably all did most of this. I think that all of us probably could find something new in the list.

A core takeaway from this is that the Horowitz book is worth reading. Full-time teachers who purchase the book would be able to receive reimbursement through the Professional Improvement Fund at the end of the academic year. The PowerPoint from today’s session is attached.


Bioluminescence: Using HFC Online to Save Trees and Support Students

The Biology department presented a session Wednesday about how to use various resources in HFC Online (Moodle) to support students. Professor Michelle Wilson showed all the features she uses to cut down on paper usage and to make it easier for students to find documents and find answers to common questions. This has the happy side effect of cutting down on her work load so she can focus on creating and researching even more resources to support the students.

Her portion of the the session was recorded (Thanks to Zac Polzin!). You can view it at: with password  HFC-CTEI.

Professor Charlie Jacobs then told how he gives students a quiz to complete after each class and before the next class to help reinforce key concepts in line with brain research that supports this kind of review to maintain concept retention. Although there has been some variance in teachers and cohorts and hence no control, the early results seem promising.

The professional development was excellent and the homemade baked goods were (in one case literally) the icing on the session. Thanks to Professors Jolie Stepaniak and Carla Serfas for organizing the session. The next Bioluminescence sessionon active learning is  is October 3 at 12:40 in G-007. You should attend if you can.


“firefly 7618”by art farmer is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0