Teaching Practicum Reflections – Urea Cycle

The classroom was alarmingly unpopulated when the clock struck noon, despite the quiz scheduled at the beginning of class; only half of the students were present. As I frantically adapted my planned learning activities for the lesson, the importance of clearly communicating the instructor’s high expectation on attendance and participation throughout the course hit home for me. How could one establish a safe, inclusive, and challenging environment that fosters empowerment, meaningful learning, and accountability?

The topic of the lesson was on the biochemical pathway of urea cycle. The learning objectives were – By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:
1.Describe the enzymatic conversion of ammonia to urea, with close attention to the compartment of these steps
2.Compare and contrast short- and long-term regulations of urea cycle
3.Identify and discuss the advantage of interconnection between the citric acid cycle and urea cycle

I thought that my animated PowerPoint presentation was a powerful teaching tool – it helped me to manage my pace and prevented overloading students with excessive contents. Given the nature of the topic, I found myself using guiding question and repetition to engage my learners as I explained the enzymatic reactions. I noticed that in allowing silences and additional time for the learners to answer my questions, they would turn to one another to discuss and arrive at an answer/consensus amongst themselves – perhaps I could include more structured peer discussions throughout my lesson, both as opportunities for the students to process the materials and as an formative assessments. However, I discovered that managing each student’s air-time was surprisingly challenging with this Q&A teaching technique. While using eye contact and open body language to encourage quiet students to contribute to the discussion proved somewhat effective, I think I could have invite different individuals to participate by posing specific questions to them or by acknowledging the active students’ contribution and requesting them to allow others an opportunity to speak.

With the small number of students, I invited them to join me at the whiteboard to add enzymes responsible for each step of the urea cycle as a detailed review, as a discussion platform for the energetic cost of nitrogen metabolism, as an aid for the brief discussion on relevant pathology mechanisms. While I thought the activity was engaging, challenging, and well-aligned with my learning objectives, I felt that the lesson fell flat for me as an instructor – I question whether the students would remember anything from this lesson after their exam in a few weeks. I’ll teach biochemical pathways to fulfill curriculum requirements and to prepare students for other advanced courses, but I wonder whether we could steer away from basic recall assessments and how might we make these contents to be more meaningful for the learners beyond the bounds of a classroom or an examination…

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