The same commitment to the study of climate change and climate impacts that propels my research also inspires my teaching. My aim as a teacher is to prepare and inspire students to be ethical environmental scientists who combine scientific research with policy analysis to provide integrative assessments of the impacts of climate change and inform decision-making on global environmental challenges. I believe in establishing clear intended learning outcomes throughout courses, active learning through real life examples and class participation, student assessment in support of intended learning outcomes, destigmatizing mistakes and failures, and running an inclusive classroom. My teaching philosophy as been strongly shaped by the MIT Kaufman Teaching Certificate Program, and through my experience teaching and mentoring students and researchers.
Intended learning outcomes – I believe in clearly defining learning goals and expectations with students, to engage them in the learning process. When students understand that each component of a course is designed with their success in mind, it establishes trust and motivation. When I mentored community college transfer students at UC Davis, I always started sessions with well-defined intended learning outcomes, reinforcing them session after session. I shared with the students how the material, assignments and discussions are developed with a backward design, always starting with the intended learning outcome, in order to meet each individual and the broader learning goals. I applied such approach as a teaching assistant for Severe and Unusual Weather. My students generally appreciate this approach, especially the increased capacity for self-assessment and tracking their progress with respect to the intended learning outcomes.
Active teaching – Students learn best when they experience a phenomenon firsthand and construct their own explanation while they are introduced to core concepts. My teaching involves conceptualization, demonstration, and application. I have been involved in a large number of outreach activities where I have applied that active teaching philosophy. For example, as a graduate student, I developed an educational show for the university’s annual open house event (UC Davis Picnic Day). This show, entitled “The Amazing Atmosphere”, includes various weather experiments, such as creating a cloud in a bottle and air pressure crushing cans to introduce undergraduate students to concepts like pressure gradient force or basic principles behind cloud formation. The diverse audience is engaged through active questions and discussions about the fundamental mechanisms demonstrated in each experiment. By allowing students to formulate their own understanding of key concepts, they develop, examine and assess their mental models, providing a deeper level of learning. I also believe that effective teaching involves engaging students with concrete practical applications of concepts they have learned, intertwined with lectures, questions, quizzes, and group discussions.
Student assessment – I believe that the main goal of student assessment is to evaluate their progress toward meeting their intended learning outcomes. I develop quizzes, homework and exams following Bloom’s taxonomy to assess different levels of complexity and specificity of learning objectives (remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create). To prevent any bias in the assessment and to provide transparency to the students, I follow a consistent set of rules including the use of clear rubrics, anonymous grading by teaching assistants, teaching assistants grading the same sections for all students. I also like to use surveys or multiple-choice questions during class sessions (for example, via Socrative.com) to assess how students are able to understand core concepts and whether they are on track toward their intended learning outcomes. I find that these simple activities make the class more fun and enjoyable by creating a more inclusive environment, while providing valuable student assessment.
Destigmatizing mistakes and failures – I am very sensitive to the stress students experience in class and the difficulty in communicating their struggles. I am very keen to destigmatize mistakes and failures, and creating an environment where mistakes are understood to be part of the learning process, and not to be frowned upon. At the end of each session, I give participatory short quizzes on basic concepts and ask students to write down questions they may have about previous material. These quizzes are not graded, which provides more freedom to express their potential struggle and helps me to identify how students are progressing toward their intended learning outcomes. I also like to share my own mistakes and failures, like my struggles with my first introductory class to atmospheric science during my undergraduate studies in France, or the rejection of my first dissertation paper. I make it clear mistakes can be a positive aspect of learning if they are used for self-assessment and to identify where efforts need to be focused.
Teaching inclusively – It is well established that students traditionally underrepresented face stereotype threat. I strongly believe in clearly stating to my students that they can all succeed through motivation, dedication and efforts, and with my support. I articulate clearly that my purpose is to facilitate the successful learning of each and every student, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, or academic background. I will always remember my experience as a foreign graduate student as a wonderful and enriching experience, through friendships with students of diverse backgrounds, always tolerant and willing to share their culture. Being married to a woman of color working in academia and research, I am painfully aware of the struggles that minorities and women face in the workplace, and I am committed to being a force to promote equity, inclusion, and diversity in academia.
Teaching for research – As a teacher and an adviser, I aim to empower my students to develop the analytical skills useful for research, including the ability to think, to solve problems and to express themselves logically. I have acquired these skills and use them everyday in my own research. By connecting my teaching and my research, I try to provide my students with the opportunities to learn, practice and develop such research methods. Higher education is the main incubator for research and innovation. Students can benefit greatly when principles they are exposed to are carefully matched to a real-world issue, in the context of significant social, political, economic, and ethical issues. I believe that climate science is particularly suited to this teaching philosophy in light of the major global changes that society is facing and their social and environmental implications.
Advising and mentoring – As an adviser, I believe it is important to provide graduate students with the fundamental tools to develop, conduct, synthesize and communicate their research project as well as to educate them about research integrity. At the same time, graduate students must learn to work independently without the constant supervision of their adviser. I understand the difficult balance a research adviser must achieve in mentoring high school and undergraduate interns, graduate students, and early career researchers. My general approach has been to involve graduate students in research projects and in the drafting of journal articles early on, teaming with more senior graduate students or postdoctoral researchers. I believe this approach allows them to gain confidence early on and to build important experience that can greatly facilitate the completion of their own research project. I have also encouraged graduate students to present their research in professional meetings and to write grants as long as it does not conflict with the timely completion of their degree requirements. Similarly, I often team up high school and undergraduate research interns with graduate students, providing mentoring opportunities to graduate students and a more collegial training environment to the interns.
In conclusion, all of my pedagogical strategies are dedicated to developing an interdisciplinary and hands-on approach to connect theory and practice, to improving the communication skills of my students and to teaching my students the principles of research that will remain with them long after they leave my classroom. I also believe that a curriculum and a teaching philosophy is never perfected or finalized and that student engagement and feedback is key to always improve upon my teaching.