A Personal Account of Becoming a Member of My Community
Martino; Santiago Canyon College
This Month's Teaching Strategy comes to us by one of our very own CAE community members. Danielle Martino—or Danny, as we know her—first became involved in our community about three years ago when she attended one of Teaching Excellence Workshops. Since then, she has transformed her class, shared her knowledge with her colleagues at her own institution, become a frequent contributor to Astrolrner@CAE, helped plan Cosmos in the Classroom 2007, and has begun doing her own astronomy education research. We may not all be able to become the powerhouse that Danny has, but her story of becoming involved is worth the read. One of our primary goals at CAE is to help build a national community of practitioners all working together to help our students learn the most they can in the most enjoyable way possible. So, take Danny's story to heart—become involved in our community, reach a hand out to ask for help, and lend your expertise to others. We are strong!
It seems we community college instructors often feel a sense of isolation from the global field of astronomy. We often teach 5, 6, sometimes 7 or more classes each semester. This leaves very little, if any, time for collaboration on a research project where telescope time is often required. Locally, there is sometimes a free exchange of ideas and teaching techniques amongst colleagues at our own institutions. And this may even extend to neighboring campuses and local universities. However, we are also often the only astronomy instructor at our institution. But astronomy education reaches far beyond our local community, and connecting with the broader community has its own rewards.
I became involved in our community nearly three years ago when I attended a winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). It was there that I was introduced to work being done by the good people of the NASA Center for Astronomy Education. Our familiar friends Ed, Gina & Tim presented one of the CAE Teaching Excellence Workshops with research results for their Lecture-Tutorials and Ranking Tasks . They also debuted this CAE website. Appealing to my instincts as a scientist, their data convinced me to try these techniques in my courses. Since then I have found myself fairly immersed in my community, and ultimately challenged me to find large-scale involvement with astronomy education research.
It was not until I began attending the Teaching Excellence Workshops that I was able to learn proper implementation of learner-centered teaching techniques, how to overcome challenges with my implementation, and how important it was for me to continue the dialogue about improvements in astronomy education with other instructors across the country. While attending several CAE workshops (as well as ASP, AAS and NSTA conferences) it became increasingly clear to me that involvement in astronomy education should not be limited to attending conferences and participating in workshops. We as instructors challenge our students everyday, why should we hold our selves to a lower standard? We need to challenge our philosophies and seek out new ways to improve our techniques and share our ideas, all the while remembering we are scientists, and that data is important. For me, it began with perhaps an "over-involvement" with CAE workshops. Attending more than one Tier I and the new Tier II workshops allowed me to thoroughly communicate and network with instructors from all over the country.
After attending a workshop I became part of the CAE ongoing exchange of ideas that continues with the online discussion group, Astrolrner@CAE. Isolated instructors, just like me, were asking each other for ideas on how to teach different topics, about implementation problems they had been experiencing in the classroom, and on, and on. And other instructors gladly offered up their expertise and ideas. They even asked each other for help on astronomy education research projects. I was not alone!
My recent involvement as a member of the CAE community has presented many more opportunities for involvement and advancement in the astronomy education community. I have opened up my classroom for education researchers for projects on learner-center techniques and implementation challenges. Being part of this community presented the opportunity for me to be on the program organizing committee for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's recent very successful Cosmos in the Classroom. During the development of the Cosmos program, I accepted a facilitator position for one of the meeting's special interest group discussion on the challenges part-time instructors face. I also participated in a discussion with the Plank Mission about cosmology education in community colleges. Cosmos also offered me the opportunity to present my first astronomy education poster on implementing learner-centered teaching techniques and the challenges faced with this implementation. I was fortunate to work with Ed and Gina on this poster and with Morrie Barembaum on a second poster about developing student learning outcomes.
Being an active participant in my community--continuing the dialogue to improve and develop astronomy education in our classes--has been rewarding on a personal, and professional, level. My students are much happier in the classroom, my student evaluations reveal an enthusiasm for the class, and I feel I am teaching them at a deeper level of understanding of our wonderful science. Professionally, I am extremely excited to help bring a CAE Teaching Excellence Tier II Workshop to Santiago Canyon College next spring.
Reinventing our classes, and changing how we teach, can be overwhelming if one does not know what to do. But, becoming more involved with our community can make these challenges just a bit easier. I'd like to leave you with a few words Ed said to me before my first CAE workshop. He said, "Be engaged, you will only get out of this what you put into it, and don't be afraid to offer a thought." I would like to echo his point. Our wonderful field of astronomy, more importantly astronomy education, will only thrive and improve as long as we "put into it." We need to continue to meet with each other and support each other, we need to become involved in research, to say yes to committees, to offer our thoughts on why a technique works or fails, and to begin conducting studies ourselves and presenting our results to the community. We all need to be part of Our Community!