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Teaching Seminar Series

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Thursday, November 17, 2011: Marci Fabbri (PSU Mathematics): “Biocalculus: A Cross-fertilization".  11:45-1 pm. Davey 538. Lunch provided (email by Tuesday 11/15 for lunch).

Calculus for the Life Sciences has undergone a significant change nationally.  In view of the increasingly important role played by mathematics in the biosciences, Penn State initiated a calculus sequence (Math 140B/141B) in 2006 with the hopes of better serving the mathematical needs of its students.  This talk overviews the challenges faced, the approach used, and the vision ahead for this interdisciplinary endeavor.


Thursday December 8, 2011: Noah Finkelstein (Physics Education Research, University of Colorado) will be visiting for the Physics Colloquium. There will be a couple events that day with Dr. Finkelstein – to be announced.

Physics Colloquium (4 pm in Osmond 117): “Physics Education Research:  the promise of scholarship in educational transformation.”

After decades of research into student learning, assessments, and curriculum design, physics is considered one of the leading fields engaged in discipline-based educational research (DBER). Simultaneously, unprecedented national attention is now being paid to the outcomes of and needs for DBER.  Within physics, the sub-discipline of physics education research (PER) is now well-established and boasts robust lines of research that range from investigations of student learning of specific topics (e.g. how students understand propagation of light), to implementing and studying the nature of educational reforms and what makes them work or not work.  This talk will provide a brief overview of the field of PER, and a survey of some of the Colorado's efforts in PER. Through efforts such as the nationally emulated Learning Assistant program, we demonstrate improved student performance (as much as three times that of non-transformed classes), identify and begin to address the gender gap, and study the conditions to sustain these reforms.

Thursday, November 10, 2011, 11:30 am – 1 pm. Using piazza to promote student-student & student-instructor communication. Nick LaVassar ( with Steve Van Hook. Davey 432.

Friday October 21, 2011, noon-1:30 pm (Davey 441): A conversation about STEM Teaching with Bruce Wellman (Presidential Teaching Award winner and Distinguish Alumni of Eberly College of Science).

Saturday October 22, 2011, 8 am-noon. “Introduction of POGIL” workshop run by Bruce Wellman. 301A Chemistry.

Writing Higher-Level Multiple Choice Items for STEM Tests (Crystal Ramsay, Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence). September 20, 2011, 11:30 am – 1 pm. Davey 339.

Do you ever find yourself wishing your multiple choice exams could test students’ higher-level thinking? They can! Join Crystal Ramsay, Instructional Consultant, for an interactive workshop on writing higher-level multiple choice items for STEM tests. We'll look at examples of higher level items in STEM disciplines, discuss templates for writing such higher-level items, and work together to write new or revised items for exams you will administer in your own courses. Bring exam questions with you—the great ones you’re willing to share and the ones you’d like to write at a higher-level.

Handout: Smith, Hakhleh & Bretz 2010

First STEM Teaching Group Summer Mini-Symposium! Monday, June 13th, 339 Davey Lab. 2-4:30 pm.

  • Suann Yang, Research Associate in Biology: "Clickers: Assessment and Beyond"
  • Omar Quintero, Professor of Cellular and Molecular Physicology: "Exposing students to modern research techniques in the teaching laboratory: a modular, affordable, approach for the YouTube generation"
  • Kate Amaral & Ike Shibley, Professors of Chemistry: "Using Technology to Improve Learning in Chemistry: Web-enhanced and Hybrid Design at Berks"

Tuesday, March 29, 2011, 3:00-4:30. 538 Davey. Neill Johnson (Penn State Learning) & Gerardo Giordano (Physics). "Grading that Motivates Students and Improves Learning."

Grading is the bane of many instructors' existence--painful, annoying, maddening. The word itself has been further tarnished of late by more learning-centered words like "assessment." We complain that our students care only about grades or about what will be on the test or about telling us only what they think we want to hear or about learning only that which they could have intuited anyway. Our professional lives would be a lot easier if we just accepted that many of our problems with grades and grading have more to do with ourselves than with our students. We are in charge of the courses we teach, so if these courses aren't having the effects we'd like to see, we can and should do something about it. This workshop draws helpful exercises and insights from a book that has had a huge impact on graduate students taking HI ED 546: College Teaching. The book is Effective Grading, by Walvoord and Anderson, and it presents grading from a course-design perspective. If you don't come to the workshop, please do at least take a look at the book, in either of its two editions. If you do come to the workshop, rest assured that we'll be doing exercises specific to STEM teaching and learning.

Grading to Motivate (PPTx Presentation)

Revised Feedback for Exercise 1.doc

Learning Activity Peer Review.doc

Coffee Physics Assignment.docx

Conclusion Rubric and Examples for Exercise 2.doc

PHYS 250 Objectives / Test Template (PDF)


Friday, February 25, 2011. “Interactive Engagement Strategies in Astronomy: Are you Really Teaching if No One is Learning?” Edward Prather (Director, Center for Astronomy Education, University of Arizona). 4-5 pm in 538 Davey.

When we think about how we were socialized into the world of teaching and learning as university science students, it is not surprising that we tend to practice traditional lecture methods with our students once we start teaching our own courses.  Acknowledging that traditional lecture-based instruction is ineffective at promoting significant conceptual gains for our students is only the first step.  Over the last 20 years researchers in physics and astronomy have been conducting systematic investigations to better understand the conceptual and reasoning difficulties students have with common topics taught in our introductory science courses.  The great majority of the instructional interventions that have been informed by this research have focused on creating active learning strategies for collaborative student-groups working in small enrollment recitation sessions or laboratory environments.  But what can we do in the traditional lecture setting that really works to help our students learn?


Thursday, February 17, 2011. “Rethinking the Design of Slides Used for Teaching and Learning in STEM Classrooms” by Michael Alley, Penn State University. 11:30 am, Davey 339.

Dr. Alley’s Handout from the Seminar (pdf)

Some of Dr. Alley’s PowerPoint templates (ppt)

Summary of the Seminar (to appear soon)


Wednesday, January 19, 2011. “Learning From and With Multiple Representation: Lessons from Science Classrooms” by Peggy Van Meter, Penn State University. 4 pm, Chambers 221. (Those interested in continuing the discussion may join us at Whiskers after the talk.)

Summary slide of instructional recommendations from Dr. Van Meter’s talk (pdf)

Dr. Van Meter’s complete slides (pptx)


Thursday, December 9, 2010. “Lessons Learned from Physics Education Research applicable to all STEM Disciplines” by Chandralekha Singh, University of Pittsburgh, 10:30 am in Wartik 108.

Dr. Singh’s PPT Slides


October 22, 2010. Gordon Uno (University of Oklahoma). Dr. Uno gave a talk geared towards faculty (“How to Teach the Perfect Science Class (And Why That Won’t Happen”) and two workshops (“Tricks of the Trade”) for teaching assistants. You can download the PowerPoints from his talks below:

How to Teach The Perfect Science Class (And Why That Won’t Happen)

Tricks of the Trade: How to Improve Interactions With Your Students