Positive Learning Environment
I create safe and motivational learning environments that encourage all students to become actively involved.
Many students feel uncomfortable asking questions in a science class, yet student questions are one of the most essential aspects of formative assessment and student-centered learning. I thus make it safe to ask questions by not only positively responding to all questions, but by encouraging students to speculate and ask about things they feel uncertain about. Techniques for fostering questions will vary in every class, but I find ways for a student to recognize that part of their participation is based not on how frequently they are right, but how frequently they ask a question.
To foster a positive environment during student teaching, I conducted a google doc survey of my students, asking them about their backgrounds, their interests and how they preferred to learn, and then integrated this into a lesson introduction to electrostatics. I also noticed one classroom of eight students divided into three groups that relentlessly ridiculed one another, and thus regrouped them in ways that didn’t place arch-enemies with one another but helped separate cliques intermingle; two students that were clearly not looking forward to interacting ended up having great conversations about the think-pair-share questions presented to them. Finally, I held two review sessions at a nearby coffeeshop, where students could ask for help in a much less formal setting and thus start to feel more comfortable with me as a teacher.
I strive to make my classroom welcoming and engaging to all students. There are many environments where a person can feel unsafe, none of which are conducive to learning according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I thus aim for my students to walk into my class feeling safe, ready to be respected and act respectfully, and excited to learn. To help foster respect and learning, I make broad use of peer learning during class-time and even during portions of the exams.
Examples of Fostering a Positive Learning Environment
"Shanna has a great teaching personality. She is respectful of the students and knows how and when to get tough. The environment she established made it easy for students to move from one academic approach to another.”
Jim Overhiser, mentor teacher
Categorizing student interests by type of force
To introduce high school students to electrostatics, I wanted to both review and assess their knowledge of gravity, electricity and magnetism, seeing how well they could distinguish these forces. So I gave each student an example related to their own personal interests (based on an introductory survey), and had them place their example on the board under the appropriate force. After seeing that the honors class had some trouble with this, I adjusted the plan in the subsequent classes to have each student come up one at a time and have a class discussion on where they thought each example should go. This activity helped students see their own and the class’s misconceptions, while seeing how their interests were relevant to physics. And since some examples were very challenging or had multiple answers, students did not appear embarrassed when unsure where to place their example.
Java physics to review for high school physics test
Based on the example set by my mentor teacher, I held two test review sessions at a downtown coffeeshop, where students could go after school to work together on review problems and ask me questions. Although this review session was harder to attend for students who worked or did sports, students did not need to purchase any drinks, and the coffeeshop was located near the school. I found students to be much more comfortable and relaxed while interacting with me at these sessions, since we were all outside the typical classroom. I look forward to finding similar locations wherever I teach.
Picture taken by Peter Boldt.
"Homework Parties" instead of office hours
Based on a model at Cornell University, I turn many of my office hours into "homework parties", where I encourage students to work on problems together while I circulate to help. This encourages peer instruction and active engagement. Many students who don't know others in the class connect with one another during this time. I often find that by the time I make it to a certain group, they have already worked together to solve the problem without my help!