October 29, 2019
Volume 4, Number 6
Imagine You're an Atom
If you walk into one of Stacey Lowery Bretz’s chemistry classes, you might find dozens of students flapping their arms like a bird. Or they could be climbing across a long row of chairs, hoping to find a mate on the other side of the aisle.

No need to worry. They’re just imagining what it’s like to be an atom.
The particle life, it turns out, is quite dynamic. There’s a whole lot of spinning, vibrating, shape-shifting and match-making going on at the atomic level. But you wouldn’t know if you stuck to memorizing equations.

That’s why Bretz, along with her Miami University colleague Ellen Yezierski, are committed to something called embodied cognition — or more specifically, chemistry theater — in undergraduate education. To understand what chemistry is and how it works, you have to connect the macroscopic, like water, to the molecular level. Too many chemistry teachers and students do this by defaulting to the symbolic, say Bretz and Yezierski. Let’s just say that water is two hydrogen atoms linked to one oxygen atom, or H2O, and move on.

That’s like asking students to learn the rules of a foreign language without providing any understanding of what that language represents, the professors say. “When they only experience it at that level,” says Bretz, “they think, why would anybody study this?”
But you can make chemistry exciting if you dive into some of the deeper questions it raises. How do atoms behave? How do molecules form? Is that a static experience? What happens if you have too many, or two few, different elements bouncing around?

Those concepts are inherently fascinating, say the two professors. But they require students to imagine what the world of molecules, atoms, and ions looks and feels like.
To do so, the professors have incorporated embodied cognition into introductory college chemistry classes, which are primarily taken by STEM majors. (Yezierski, who heads Miami’s Center for Teaching Excellence, no longer teaches intro classes but still uses these techniques in her other courses.) Although they have never taught a class together, Bretz and Yezierski are deeply involved in chemistry-education research and frequently collaborate and share materials.

While it’s just a slice of a larger teaching strategy, everything they do is geared toward encouraging students’ curiosity. When they ask students to stand up and demonstrate how a molecule rotates or vibrates, students might start to giggle and think the whole thing is a bit silly. That prompts the professors to say, “See, you’re having fun here,” and talk to them about how hands-on learning helps students grasp abstract ideas.

In one exercise, students come to class wearing different colored shirts to represent different kinds of atoms. Then they are asked to create certain molecules by finding a mate or mates with different colored shirts. Students move back and forth across the room as they try to pair up with the right combination of colors.

“Someone might say: Well, I couldn’t get to people in black and white shirts because they were too far away,” says Bretz. That presents an opportunity to talk about how elements need to collide before turning into another kind of matter.

The professors use other techniques as well. One is to hand out whiteboards where students can draw particle-level pictures. You can learn pretty quickly whether students understand what you’re trying to describe.

Another is to ask the kind of question where students often disagree on the answer. Once the results are in, the professors tell the students that they need to convince each other their answer is right. “It gets so noisy,” says Bretz. But that’s OK. “We haven’t lost control of the classroom. We give control to the students.”

After students have persuaded each other, or not, they are eager to hear whether they were right. “It’s such a cool climate,” says Yezierski. “You have students almost begging you to lecture them.”

These strategies have led to some pretty good results, the professors say. In a common national exam created by the American Chemical Society for undergraduate curricula, their students have performed well above the national average. The mean score is around the 80th percentile. (The national average would be the 50th.)

“But,” says Yezierski, “it also leads to day-to-day wins. We have a blast working with our students.”

Do you have an unconventional way of teaching, like asking your students to move around during one of your classes? Drop me a note at beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com and I might feature your story in a future newsletter.

– by Beth McMurtie, Teaching Newsletter: The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Thanks for reading Teaching. If you have suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email us at   dan.berrett@chronicle.combeth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com, or  beckie.supiano@chronicle.com. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to sign up to receive your own copy, you can do so here .
Trust: Gather & Share Event
The FCTL is offering "  Gather & Share  " events on the 1st Monday of each month, from 3:45pm - 4:45pm in ADUC 310. The objective is to have a "topic" area and share a couple of ideas and then have folks gather and share about the topic.

The Next Gather & Share Event:
Topic: Curiosity
When: Monday, November 4, 2019; 3:45pm – 4:45pm
Where: ADUC 310
Educator: FCTL
Synopsis: Join FCTL in exploring “Curiosity” at this “Gather & Share” event. Come ready to “chat it up” with your colleagues on this important topic. Refreshments will be served.
Blackboard Buzz
Grade Details
Do you want to check your student's score trend? Do you want to change the grade value of some specific assignments? Try Grade Details feature, a great tool for grading management.

It is very necessary to maintain the seriousness and consistency of course grading. From the Grade Center, instructors can view Grade Details to see attempts, assign grades, and view the grade history.

This YouTube tutorial demonstrates how to use Grade Center to review grade details. Email msuonline@moreheadstate.edu for additional information and on-campus support.
What I Love About Teaching Campaign
Hello Educators!

We are looking for your response to the question "What do you love about teaching?"

Click the link below to share your response:
Call for Proposals: The 2020 Pedagogicon
May 15th, EKU
Proposals Due: February 16th

The conference theme, “ Students as Partners in Teaching and Learning,” encourages us to examine and promote students-as-partners strategies for teaching and learning that encourage deep, transferable academic experiences.
Do you have an exceptional strategy to share? Do you have a new theory or practice that might enhance teaching and learning, faculty development, educational practices, or student engagement at your institution and beyond? Presenters are encouraged to engage their audience, so preference will be given to those submissions that specify how this engagement will be provided. The conference will host an opening session on transparency in learning and teaching.
Threads might include but are not limited to:
  • Use of technology to enhance students-as-partners in teaching and learning
  • Creative instructional techniques that engage students in partnership experiences
  • Faculty development initiatives, programs, and processes that promote students-as-partners in teaching and learning
  • New ways to use Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) to enhance student partnerships in teaching and learning
  • Strategies for incorporating diversity, culturally responsive pedagogy, and/or inclusive excellence into students-as-partners teaching and learning models and designs
  • High-Impact Educational Practices that enhance students as partners in teaching and learning
  • Student perspectives on partnerships in teaching and learning.

Presenters will also have the opportunity to submit their work for consideration in the annual Proceedings, to be published in late 2020. 

Submit proposals online at  https://studio.eku.edu/pedagogicon-proposal-form.
19th Annual  Posters-at-the-Capitol
March 5th, Frankfort

Posters-at-the-Capitol  an event hosted collaboratively by Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University, University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, and Western Kentucky University, is intended to help members of Kentucky’s legislature and the Governor better understand the importance of involving undergraduates in research, scholarly, and creative work. It provides undergraduates with the opportunity to engage in scholarship, research, and creative work that is important to their educational experience and professional development. We encourage faculty to have their students participate in  Posters-at-the-Capitol to help those in Kentucky who fund higher education understand why these experiences are so important. 
12th Annual Conference on

Higher Education Pedagogy

 February 5-7, 2020  

Virginia Tech / Blacksburg, Virginia, USA


For information about conference registration and associated fees, visit the conference website:  https://chep.teaching.vt.edu/

If you have an interest in attending this conference as part of an MSU cohort, send an email identifying your interest (why), what you hope to gain from the conference, and what you will be willing to share with the MSU community upon your return to fctl@moreheadstate.edu
Ambassadors for Excellence in Teaching
Morehead State University