A Practical Guide To College Science Teaching

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I’ve occasionally seen photos of new authors unboxing the shipment of their first book, and I thought, wow, that must be exciting.

And, hey, look!

It was kind of exciting. Also, it was very imposter syndrome-y.

Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I wrote the book that I wish I was handed when I started teaching in grad school, and that I could reference as I became an instructor of record.

I’m used to seeing this as a file on my computer, but now, it’s an actual bound book from an actual awesome press, graced on the back cover with humbling pieces of actual praise from two of the best writers who I am privileged to know. How can one not feel imposter-y?

In the early days of this site, once I saw how folks engaged with posts about teaching, it became clear that scientists really needed a highly practical guide to teaching — a field guide to the classroom. This guide needed to take into account that we have many competing demands for our attention, and provide straightforward suggestions about how all of the pragmatic parts of teaching affect student learning. Most important, it needed to explain how mutual respect with our students is at the heart of it all.

When we first start to teach as grad students or later, it’s usually a sink-or-swim prospect. This is unfair to everybody. This book should help folks how to tread water and also learn a few strokes. For scientists more experienced with teaching, there’s no clear entry point into the scholarship of teaching and learning. I wanted to write the book that would provide a bridge to evidence-based practices for scientists who are working to stay fresh. I think this book manages to do both.

(Also, if you’re a regular reader here, then you must obviously have figured out that I could use a copy editor. Let me assure you, this book had a very busy copy editor, and no small amount of peer review!)

The book — it’s called The Chicago Guide to College Science Teaching — is a quick read. You could give it scrutiny and still be done within a few hours. This is by design. I want it to be so accessible that every graduate coordinator will want to order a tall stack to hand out to every new grad student, and faculty development offices to hand out to new faculty members.

There is also a chapter about teaching online. I imagine that now that the pandemic has driven all of us to online instruction, it’s going to be featuring more prominently for the long-term. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Hopefully I can convince you of this, too.

If you’ve already ordered it from from the publisher, then it’s already on its way. If you’ve ordered it from anybody else, then it will ship in a week.

The timeline of this book’s gestation roughly parallels the past four years of disintegration and hell that we’ve been experiencing in the United States. I started working on the book as things unraveled in late 2016. So I think it’s not unfitting that the book is being released in the week of this most consequential election. I have no damn idea what Wednesday will bring, and I don’t think anybody does, though a lot of the possible outcomes are really scary.

Four years ago, after the election and before the inauguration, I wrote about being a scholar during Trumpian Times. Some folks accused me of being hyperbolic at the time, but I think it holds up and has a fair dose of prescience. I said it was important to emphasize critical thinking in our teaching, and advocate for evidence-based decision-making. No matter what the next four years hold, our students are going to be needing us to teach them the tools that they need to build a better world. Effective science teaching is as consequential as ever.

Before I go for a run, I know that I’m supposed to stretch. It prevents injury and speeds recovery, and it lubricates the run. Admittedly, I’m not always great about stretching, especially when I’m in a hurry. That’s usually something I regret. Before we step into teaching a new course, I think it’s just as important to stretch ourselves, to figure out how to create a better learning environment for our students. No matter how well trained an athlete you are, no matter how seasoned you are in the classroom, we’ve all got to keep stretching. Perhaps my book might be just the right stretch before the next semester?

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