Teaching Statement

The interdisciplinary nature of Geobiology requires an understanding of the dynamic interactions between the biosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere through Earths’ history.  This provides an ideal opportunity to frame coursework in ways that are directly relevant to important societal issues, and for students to integrate concepts and knowledge from a variety of disciplines.  In addition to wrestling with topics such as past climate change and natural resources students will also learn about ecosystem functioning and recovery, habitat loss, and mass extinction. 

 I find that in-depth case studies are a useful way to link complex concepts, and to make them both accessible and relevant to students (coral reefs, global oil reserves, snowball earth, Cambrian explosion, K/T extinction).  For example, coral reefs have a long and important history, and detailed examination of reefs can be used in a variety of courses to cover foundation material and integrate broad concepts: evolutionary history and significance of coral reefs; lithification, sequence stratigraphy, and environmental interpretations;  ocean chemistry and relation to biosphere; past climate and climate change; core ecological concepts; quantitative analyses in Paleobiology (diversity metrics, etc.); mass extinction; and applicability of the fossil record to modern ecosystem management (e.g., measuring baseline).  I find that the challenge is to teach the fundamental principles and vocabulary while simultaneously establishing broad applicability so that students can integrate concepts and knowledge into their own disciplines and in their daily lives.

 My courses are designed with the aim of developing (1) critical, independent thinkers and learners, (2) collaboration and effective communication, and (3) quantitative and analytical skills.  This is accomplished in the classroom through building a learning community and actively engaging with students.  I typically use lectures and directed readings to introduce new concepts, in conjunction with group and class discussion to explore the material.  Students are often asked to complete readings or activities prior to class, and are then provided with a set of questions to discuss in small groups (this encourages critical thinking, develops analytical skills, identifies knowledge gaps, and can be achieved in large classes by using student response systems, also known as “clickers”).  Whenever possible lectures are supplemented with fieldtrips to examine outcrops, look at samples, or visit museums (this is dependent on class size, course work, available resources, and learning outcomes) so that students gain experience in making observations and interpreting geologic and paleontologic data.  Field based projects are typically done in groups to build peer learning, interaction/communication, and results in a scientific style final paper where students must integrate data and concepts. 

 I tailor each course to the diverse needs and interests of the students by using real world examples that are relevant to students’ careers and lives whenever possible.  In addition, providing students with frequent feedback and assessment during the semester allow me to adjust lesson plans “just in time” to better address concepts and terminology students may be wrestling with.  Assessments come in a variety of forms, and include a combination of surveys, quizzes, written tests, group projects, oral presentations, and scientific style papers.  Group projects and in class discussions allow students to interact with classmates of different backgrounds (race, ethnicity, gender, knowledge, learning style, etc.) and to take on different roles when working in teams (leader, note taker, writer, etc.).  My ideal classroom is a safe and comfortable environment where students of diverse backgrounds and experiences are encouraged to explore course content, discuss their thought process, take intellectual risks, and to evaluate their assumptions.  My hope is that the coursework enriches the lives of both students and instructor, such that we broaden our intellectual horizons and can critically reflect upon our cultural assumptions and beliefs.

 My research focus on marine invertebrate paleoecology qualifies me to teach a broad range of courses, and I hope to continue teaching undergraduate courses in Historical Geology, Paleontology, and Oceanography.  In addition, as faculty I would like to offer courses to graduate students and senior majors on Quantitative Methods in Geobiology, Paleoecology, Morphometrics, Functional Morphology, Paleontology, Predation, Evolution, and Advanced Historical Geology.