'What do you think?’ I ask my students. ‘Does that interpretation make sense, given your analysis of the data?’
I push my students to think for themselves, apply concepts and test hypotheses. I employ an inquiry-based pedagogy that invites students to explore the class topic, outcrop, or data set through hands-on, problem based learning. In earth and environmental science, I believe it is important for students to engage in the learning process—to get muddy while making stream flow measurements or overcome frustrations while building systems models of the carbon cycle. These experiences give students ownership of their education and lead to ‘aha’ moments that cannot come without a certain level of direct engagement and challenge. Through this approach, students discover that earth science is not about finding one correct answer, but rather, using the available evidence to arrive at a logical interpretation. The earth and environmental sciences are a field rich with difficult problems. An inquiry-based approach trains our students to think critically and creatively, cultivating skills that can be applied broadly in their lives and careers beyond college.
My teaching philosophy stems from my undergraduate experience at Carleton College, an institution renowned for its approach to geoscience education. Carleton’s approach emphasizes fieldwork, wherein students of varying levels work together to address open-ended questions and develop interpretations. Professors often serve more as learning facilitators than as knowledgeable experts. This manner of teaching keeps students challenged and engaged, learning by doing rather than simply taking notes for future applications of knowledge.
In addition to my academic teaching experiences, I have a background in outdoor education, where a hardwood forest, salt marsh, or mangrove swamp serves as the classroom. From my years at Outward Bound and similar organizations, I learned to teach scientific concepts in the field, such as the tides, the role of wetlands in buffering storms, and glacial geology and geomorphology. While I am comfortable lecturing in a more traditional setting, I believe the hands-on, collaborative approach fostered by my years in experiential education is a strength I bring to the classroom.