I treasure the opportunity to make a positive difference for the students with a wide variety of backgrounds that I have the privilege of teaching. In designing my teaching, I am thus guided by two overarching objectives: maximizing learning and increasing the retention of underrepresented groups. To achieve both these objectives, I use a variety of techniques drawn from education research.
As much as possible, I teach using active learning, which is the method of having students apply the material in the classroom through, for instance, in-class exercises or clickers. I do this because a substantial body of research shows that active learning is beneficial in several ways:
– Students learn better. A recent meta-analysis of 225 STEM education studies found that active learning increases scores on standardized examinations by about 0.5 a standard deviation (equal to about half a letter grade), and reduces the number of students failing the class by about a third. Furthermore, a seminal 1998 paper (link here) shows more than a doubling of (standardized) student learning in physics classrooms using active learning.
– Improved retention of STEM majors, and especially of female and disadvantaged students. Studies have found that active learning produces a reduction of students switching out of the major (e.g, Watkins and Mazur, 2013), and substantial reductions in the achievement gap between male and female students (e.g., Lorenzo et al., 2006) and between advantaged and disadvantaged students (Haak et al., Science, 2011).
I have also integrated the use of so-called undergraduate Learning Assistants in some of my classes, which has many of the same benefits as active learning techniques (Otero et al., 2010; National Research Council, 2013).
I have taught the following classes at UCLA (I am happy to provide teaching materials upon request):
- AOS 90: Introduction to Undergraduate Research in the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (4 credit required sophomore-level class). This course provides students with a basic ability to understand, communicate, and conduct scientific research in the atmospheric and oceanic sciences. Students learn univariate and bivariate statistical data analysis, scientific computer programming, finding and reading scientific literature, basic experimental techniques, analyzing and visualizing Earth system data, and communication of scientific findings in oral and written form. All skills are taught in the context of projects drawn from the atmospheric and oceanic sciences.
- A&OS 101. Fundamentals of Atmospheric Dynamics and Thermodynamics (5 credit upper-level undergraduate course). Introduction to atmospheric environment, with emphasis on thermodynamics, dynamics, and structure of atmosphere. Laws of thermodynamics; work, heat, and cyclic processes. Adiabatic processes, moisture, and atmospheric stability. Hydrostatic balance. Fundamental equations of motion, with applications to atmospheric flow. Circulation and vorticity.
- A&OS C144 & C222. The Atmospheric Boundary Layer (4 credit joint undergraduate/graduate course). The atmospheric boundary layer is the lowest portion of the atmosphere, representing the interface between the Earth’s surface and the atmosphere. This region is strongly affected by turbulence and plays an important role in the exchange of heat, momentum, trace gases, and aerosols between the Earth’s surface and the free troposphere. This class investigates the properties of the atmospheric boundary layer, and the processes that determine them.
- A&OS 200A. Introduction to Atmospheric and Oceanic Fluids (4 credit graduate course). Thermodynamics of the atmosphere. Thermodynamic diagrams and stability. Saturation and moist processes. Hydrostatics. Equations of fluid motion in rotating coordinate systems. Scales of motion and dominant balances: geostrophic, gradient, and thermal wind. Circulation and vorticity. Boundary layers and turbulence.
My group has also developed and sustained an NSF-funded high school outreach project. This outreach project has the objective of increasing the pipeline of historically underrepresented students into the physical sciences and is thus targeted at schools with a high fraction of underrepresented students. We engage students by giving them an authentic research experience in a series of 3-4 classes taught using a variety of evidence-based techniques. These classes have been published as a “Teach the Earth” resource on the Science Education Resource Center (https://serc.carleton.edu/teachearth/activities/212028.html). This outreach module is integrated as an outreach option into my upper-division undergraduate class AOS 101.