Observation – The Solid Earth

Yesterday I observed a class in EOSC 110 – The Solid Earth: A Dynamic Planet, offered through UBC’s Vantage College. EOSC 110 is normally offered in the Department of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences (EOAS) where it has an enrolment of up to around 300 students, whereas the Vantage College course is much smaller with just over 30 students. Since I’m used to observing high enrolment first year EOAS courses, such as 110, it was a good contrast to see a similar course in a small class setting.

One thing I noticed immediately when arriving for class was the unique setup of the classroom. It had a few tables, like most smaller classrooms do, but then there were bigger lounge chairs, couches along the back wall, and higher tables and chairs around the perimeter. It’s an interesting idea to make a classroom more comfortable and have a more relaxed feeling; on one hand it could put students in a better mood and being more comfortable could make it easier to pay attention but on the other the unique setting could be distracting, at least for the first few classes, or even make students feel sleepy. One big advantage of a classroom like this is, which was aided by the small class size compared to a room that could hold many more students, was that there was lots of space to spread out to do activities. There was enough room that the instructor could have two separate spaces: one for traditional lecture and another for participatory learning activities. Since I’m going to be teaching this class tomorrow, seeing the different classroom made me excited to try a new activity that I knew would require a fair bit of space.

The class itself was on natural resources. Even though the students hadn’t yet been introduced to natural resources, the instructor started off the lesson by getting them to brainstorm a list of natural resources in small groups. The instructor then compiled a list of the ~15 resources the students had come up with on the whiteboard, and then asked them to pick one and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using/extracting that resource. I thought starting the class like this was beneficial to the students because it showed them that they had the ability to define and assess natural resources on their own, before any instruction. Once the lesson shifted to more content delivery, students were likely more motivated to learn since they had already been engaged with the material and discovered some of the content on their own.

Another interesting thing that the instructor did in this class was with one of his clicker questions. One of the answers to the question was a common misconception. He didn’t reveal if many students had selected that answer but he made a point to explain why that answer was wrong and why it was often mistaken for the right answer, and then had a short discussion with the class about it. Clarifying misconceptions is important not only to ensure that students understand why the misconception is incorrect, but also to reinforce that if they chose that incorrect answer, they’re not the only ones who did and it’s a common mistake to make. The discussion with the students should help to ensure that they remember what the correct answer was and why the other answer is wrong.

A final thing I noticed about the instructor’s lecture slides was that throughout them there were links to YouTube videos that students were encouraged to watch later. YouTube videos are a fun tool that can be used to cover more content that may not have been intended to be part of the class, or to reinforce more challenging concepts. Plus, they’re far more interesting that reading an article on the topic so it’s much more likely that students will revisit them later.

This observation was really useful for me because it gave me the opportunity to meet some of the students that I’ll be teaching in my next practicum and it gave me an idea about how much prior knowledge they are coming into the lesson with. It was also helpful to see the classroom: I’m sure that will make my activity run more smoothly!

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