The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.
-Jean Piaget (1896-1980)
The goal of education is not just to produce students who know course content; it is to produce students who understand the content and have the creativity, confidence, and ambition to venture beyond what is known to develop new interpretations of and discoveries about their worlds.
I have always loved reading and learning about the work of Piaget, largely because I agree with his philosophies on teaching and learning. Piaget, like many great scientists, had an insatiable curiosity and consciously used his life experiences as opportunities for learning and discovery. Piaget’s diligent study of the growth and development of his three children is one of the most fruitful examples of this because it resulted in the theories of cognitive development for which he is now famous. Piaget both modeled and promulgated that providing students with information on a topic is only the first step in teaching. The second step is enabling students to apply that information to relevant and varied life experiences. The third step is to motivate students to challenge, add to, and improve upon our current understanding based on their own experiences and interpretations. My goal during any teaching experience is to successfully implement these steps, which I conceptualize within the framework of Bloom’s Taxonomy:
Knowledge and Understanding
My primary duty as a teacher is to provide my students with the most relevant information in a form they can understand. I accomplish this by using multimodal approaches during class meetings, including lectures, visual aids, reading materials, and class discussions. An example of this is my approach to teaching students about the impact of parenting styles and practices on children’s development: (1) I begin with a brief lecture about theories of parenting practices and styles and the current research on how these practices and styles influence child outcomes, (2) I provide an illustration of these theories and research findings through a viewing of an episode of “Super Nanny,” a reality TV show in which a parenting expert helps parents of unruly children improve their parenting strategies, and (3) I then lead a class discussion about how the parent-child interactions during the TV show illustrated the concepts I presented at the beginning of class. I employ these types of multimodal approaches to accommodate both visual and auditory learners and I typically find that the interpretations and insights students express during class discussions show they have developed a solid classroom-based mastery of the theories and concepts I teach.
Application and Analysis
The majority of students in the behavioral sciences will pursue careers in which they directly interact with, and strive to improve the quality of life of, others on a daily basis. Thus, my role as a teacher of the behavioral sciences is to enable my students to apply course concepts in a wide variety of situations with a diverse array of people.
I encourage students to explore their own worlds through the lens of the solid knowledge-base gleaned during class sessions and, like Piaget, to use their life experiences as opportunities for learning and discovery. I largely use class activities and assignments to do this, as I find these are an effective way to guide students through an application of course concepts in a variety of settings both within and outside of the classroom. An example of this is the final assignment for the “Infant and Child Development” course I co-taught: we asked students to venture into a toy store and select a toy to analyze for developmental appropriateness. We instructed students to consider the target age-range specified by the manufacturer and the features of the toy and integrate this information with what they learned during the course about developmental milestones. Students responded positively to this assignment, indicating that they enjoyed engaging in a practical application of the course material and that this experience influenced how they viewed these toys and toy manufacturers. Additionally, this assignment allowed us as instructors to see that students had acquired the ability to move beyond knowledge and understanding into higher-level thinking. This type of field work helped students to bridge connections between course materials and real-world personal experiences, which I believe is one of the most effective ways to promote students’ abilities to apply and analyze course information.
Synthesis and Evaluation
I achieve the third step of the teaching process (motivating students to use their own experiences and interpretations to challenge, add to, and improve upon our current understanding) by building students’ confidence in their ability to think critically about their worlds. One of the main objectives of the research methods course I co-taught was to show students that they could use the tools they acquired in the classroom to be skeptical and critical of information they encountered outside of the classroom. My co-instructor and I built students’ confidence in their ability to do this by leading them through examinations of research briefs in the popular press or empirical manuscripts. As a class, we critiqued how the authors analyzed and interpreted their findings. We explored other plausible interpretations based on the type of data collected, types of analyses chosen, possible internal and external threats to validity, and other course concepts. The final assignment for this course was a review of the literature on a selected topic and related research proposal. Students’ performance on this assignment indicated they had gained both the ability and confidence to effectively reflect upon their own and other’s judgments. I believe this is one of the most valuable skills a student can possess and is something I foster in every course I teach, regardless of the discipline or focus.
I teach because I was fortunate enough to have teachers who also shared Piaget’s philosophy that education should impart more than just knowledge; these teachers provided me with information, but also enabled me to apply that information to life experiences and motivated me to challenge and improve the world based on my own experiences and interpretations. These teachers showed me that effective educators prepare their students to critically and creatively understand their worlds so they can then contribute back to it. My experiences with these teachers inspired me to become a scientist, but also taught me that one of my most important duties as a scientist is to train the next generation of practitioners and investigators. I value being an expert on a topic and being able to share that information with my students, but above all, I value the process of motivating students to be competent and inquisitive both in and beyond the classroom.
As follows from these values, my goals for my future teaching endeavors as an assistant professor are to integrate classroom-, research-, and community-based teaching opportunities. I currently, and will continue to, incorporate both my own and my colleagues’ current research projects and findings into my curriculum. This integration is integral in providing students with the most current information in the field, as well as giving them an appreciation of the process of empirical inquiry and the methods through which we obtain empirical knowledge. To this same end, I will teach undergraduate- and graduate-level students through university courses and also through opportunities for undergraduate and graduate research within my own program of research. I will also encourage students to participate in on-going research studies at our university, or in community-based volunteer and internship programs related to their own interests. I believe these hands-on experiences in both laboratory and community settings are important to further reinforce students’ classroom-based learning and guiding them towards becoming creative, confident, and ambitious adults, ready to discover and improve upon their worlds.