Teaching Statement

At Trinity, I teach both semesters of Introductory Chemistry (Chem 111 and 112) and three advanced courses in my field, Analytical Chemistry (Chem 311L), Instrumental Methods of Chemical Analysis (Chem 312L), and Bioanalytical Chemistry (Chem 410). I have also taught a first-year seminar, $cience: Intersections of Money and Discovery (Fysm 153), and independent study courses on topics including wine chemistry and student-built spectrophotometers.

Combining Mathematical and Conceptual Understanding

Students often master the algorithmic side of chemistry without appreciating the practical implications of their calculations; however, chemistry is not reducible to math with units. I apply several strategies to help students integrate their mathematical and conceptual understanding. I use worksheets to scaffold content during class so that students spend less time transferring text from the board to their notes and have more time to focus on small-group and whole-class discussions. Many of my student evaluations mention the utility of these handouts/packets. I structure activities, assignments, and lab reports to emphasize the relationships between quantitative values and physical meaning and between theoretical frameworks and empirical results. Early in my teaching at Trinity, I received student feedback that homework questions drawn from the textbook or online homework system were not adequate preparation for exams, which require students to analyze authentic data sets and connect interrelated course concepts. Consequently, I focused on developing curricular materials to provide structured practice that relates broad theoretical frameworks and specific data-driven examples. I have developed a range of assignments based on interpreting the primary literature for my upper-division courses (described in publications in 2016 and 2022). In the introductory chemistry sequence (Chem 111 and 112), I have written case-based problem sets around real world examples that perform a similar function by engaging students with real-world problems. These assignments have helped to align the formative and summative assessments in my courses.

I also provide explicit opportunities for students to estimate answers before “plugging and chugging”, encourage them to evaluate the plausibility of their answers in context, and emphasize proportional reasoning skills. For example, students practice predicting how and why rates of reactions will change with variables such as reagent concentration and temperature without having specific values to plug into equations. For Chem 311, I designed a case study on the Flint Water crisis that pairs with an app written by Prof. Arianne Bazilio to simulate lead concentrations in drinking water. Similarly, in Chem 312, I prepared short homework assignments that include both a calculation and an associated explicatory writing assignment to ensure that students make conceptual connections to the physical meaning of their results. For longer calculations, I provide frequent opportunities for small-group practice as an immediate check for novice students, who may falsely equate superficial comprehension of an instructor-led example with the deeper understanding needed to solve problems independently. (I am a strong proponent of active learning and have co-edited a book on its use in analytical chemistry classrooms and teaching laboratories.) As problems become more complex, I also encourage my students to become proficient in using computer software to complete their calculations. Students in advanced courses often identify the in-depth use of Excel in homework and laboratory exercises as one of the most valuable and transferable aspects of the course.

Laboratory Instruction

The natural sciences are unique in their emphasis on laboratory instruction, which provides an opportunity for students to learn practical skills and see the basis of scientific knowledge firsthand. In both Chem 311L and 312L, the last 3-4 weeks of lab are spent on student-designed capstone projects. These projects give students the opportunity to conduct more realistic investigations, engage with the primary literature to design their own experiments, develop expertise on a specific instrument over several weeks of work, and troubleshoot on the fly. My students have proposed a wide variety of projects that are often far afield from my research experience, making the project labs both exciting and challenging for the students and myself.

The laboratory course for Chem 311L (Analytical Chemistry) is particularly challenging since this field emphasizes accuracy and precision while also involving lengthy sample-to-answer experiments. When I arrived at Trinity, I was impressed with the sophisticated experiments outlined in the laboratory manual, which was written in-house by my colleagues. However, I observed that students struggled to complete the experiments within the scheduled laboratory period and reported spending excessive periods of time working on laboratory reports. Additionally, Chem 311L is designated as the Writing Intensive Part II course for the chemistry and biochemistry majors, but I found it difficult to integrate writing instruction into an already busy schedule. Through four iterations of teaching the course, I have reduced the total number of laboratory experiments and revised the remaining experiments so that students spend 3-4 weeks each on three suites of related experiments. The greater continuity between weeks has improved the pacing of the course while providing richer data sets for writing assignments. To further improve the writing component of the course, I developed new guidelines and rubrics for lab reports that emphasize the use of experimental evidence and citation of published data to build scientific arguments. In 2017-2018, I participated in the inaugural Writing Fellows program, during which I adopted a writing-to-learn format for student lab notebooks and improved the scaffolding of the lab report writing assignments for Chem 311L.

To complement the writing focus in Chem311L, I focus on other methods of communicating science in the subsequent course, Chem 312L (Instrumental Methods of Chemical Analysis). Past iterations of Chem 312L have been taught as a community learning course. In this format, the students collaborated with sixth graders at HMTCA to analyze water or soil samples using colorimetric methods, after which they brought a subset of samples back to Trinity for more sophisticated analyses. Subsequently, the Chem 312L students prepared a video or infographic report for the sixth graders. For their final project lab report, the Chem 312L students give group oral presentations.

Professional Development and Ongoing Improvement

For my postdoctoral work at the University of North Carolina, I was a fellow in the NIH-funded SPIRE program, which emphasizes the integration of research and teaching. My participation in this program first sparked my interest in evidence-based teaching methods. I frequently refer to articles from the Journal of Chemical Education, the Analytical Sciences Digital Library, and the Education Resources Information Center database to inform my teaching. As noted above, I routinely engage students in active learning, including small group problem-solving, writing-to-learn exercises, and project-based laboratory instruction. I am particularly interested in using novel teaching methods for my subfield of analytical chemistry. In 2014, I was invited to join the Analytical Sciences Digital Library active learning group, which is funded by the NSF and led by Prof. Tom Wenzel of Bates College. With this group, I have developed novel curricular materials and served as a facilitator for three annual workshops that train faculty from across the country to implement active learning pedagogy in their analytical chemistry classrooms. In 2017 and 2019, I attended the Cottrell Scholar Conference, which brings together Research Corporation awardees to reflect upon our work as scholar-teachers in the classroom and research laboratory. In 2015-2016, I participated in the CTL Fellows program and developed pre-laboratory videos to provide tailored instruction for students as they rotate through the laboratory exercises during Chem 312L. These activities have contributed to my continued growth as a teacher.