Reflection – FRST 386 (2011) – lab exam

Today was the final lab exam for FRST386. Another year of TAing in the bag. I’m really curious to see how students fair on the exam, I really feel that this year, more then the past 3 years I’ve been with this course, the students were given every resource possible to prepare. All the lecture PDFs were put on-line. The majority of labs involved time for review of the previous labs material. The review session was thorough and they were given pretty much all of the exam layout and structure, so nothing should be a surprise to them. We restructured the exam this year – no more PPT slides and 1min time restrictions to ID the fish. I made color exam booklets for each student, so they have the added bonus of being able to spend as long as they need on each fish. My biggest concern is actually that they will do “too well” on the exam. Is it bad if all your students get an “A” on an exam, or, does that just reflect the nature of this lab, that it is not particularly challenging as long as you are willing to put the time in to study your fish ID. My other concern about the exam was that I did not put enough material from the fieldtrip activity and the forest cutblock site-plan activity. The material for these sessions is a bit trickier to examine, and for the most part, the learning was achieved in the execution of the exercise, no being able to recall nitty-gritty details. So we shall see. I’m sure that getting exams tailored to best present a balance of challenge/fairness takes time and experience. If you teach a course in multiple years, you have that time to play with material presentation and the assessment strategy. Overall however, I feel happy with the way the lab went this year. Again, I put a huge amount of time into it, but I think the student’s appreciated it, and most of all I felt like I did a good job (and learned some more along the way).

Reflection – FRST 386 (2011) – weeks 4-5

Last lab session – the review. Things that went well: 1) I took more time to really explain the whole layout of the exam, which students seemed to appreciate. 2) I redid the powerpoint slides to include different photos from those in other lectures and made sure that the grammer/spelling was correct and congruent through all the slides. 3) After the presentation, there remained 20min of time, so we put out the photos and encouraged the students to use the time to review their fish identification and ask questions. Many of them did, and commented after on how they appreciated the in-class time for revision. Things that could have gone better: 1) Again, Wednesday’s review session was more thorough then Monday’s, simply after having gone through it all once. I’d still like to work on really trying to make my teaching more consistent between sessions. 2) In Wednesday’s class, while going over exam format and material, I was challenged by quite a few, somewhat aggressive questions such as, “why does the exam have to be this way?” “Why can’t the fish pictures be made available for review like we have plant specimens available for review in our other courses?”. My answers to these is more-or-less, “…because that’s the way it’s always been done,” which sounds silly. Anyway, in the moment I felt like my usual calm collected instructor personally was all of a sudden washed away and I felt non-confident in my answers and a bit of a nervous fool. In the end, I did the best I could do. I told the students I’d inquire into their requests (with course coordinator) and see if it was possible to make more review time available. In my head however I just wanted to say, “you guys already have SO many resources for review, I’ve gone over this material so many times, I’ve put everything on the web, I have office hours available….so that should be sufficient (it’s way more review resources that were ever available previously!).” Overall, it was good experience to have. I pride myself on being approachable, easy-going, and a good communicator, but I am aware that I could work on my ability to remain confident and collected in confrontational situations.

Reflection – FRST 386 (2011) – week 3

Lab number 3, come and gone.  Things that went well: much higher confidence levels compared to last year.  Amount of information I was able to give students for all of the fish species was WAY more. Use of the FWfish text has been soooo useful for really having a solid background on all the fish family taxa info. I also feel like when students ask questions, I have a good reference to go to in order to seek answers. The salmon ID game works great. Good group work dynamics, fun to facilitate. Things could have done better: I decided to add in “fish jokes” this year to add some cheesy humor between all the lecturing. Hard to tell if they were well received or if students really just felt like they were terrible cheesy jokes (which they kind of are). One thing I notice, is a tendency for me to want the students to view me as ‘one of them’. I want them to like me and feel like I am approachable. However, perhaps this comes at a cost, where occasionally I have a hard time getting their attention, or having sufficient seriousness when telling them about exam details…etc. I think there is a good balance between presenting myself as a professional instructor, yet one who is approachable and amicable.  Something to be more aware of in future lectures…

FRST 386, Feb.6 2011 – Week 1 of labs!!

So here we go again, this is year 2 TAing the FRST386 lab.  I’ve just finished the first week of lab#1.  Similar to my experience TAing CONS451 for a second time, I did feel less nervous overall going into this weeks labs.  However, for the first lab group on Monday, I was more nervous then I thought I should be.  I was prepared, I had done this before, I had made improvements to the lecture AND had even taken extra time this year to do more background learning myself in areas I knew I was weak in last year.  As it turns out, just like giving a presentation, my nerves calmed down as soon as I started teaching and the lecture/lab time flew by smoothly.  Wednesday’s lab was (as usual) even better.  I wasn’t nervous at all, I knew how everything needed to be timed, I explained things slightly better, and all of this was helped by a student group on Wednesday that was a bit more interactive.

What went well? – I think the introduction of the BC rivers and BC aquatic ecosystems to this lab went well.  It is new content that I decided to throw in, because it seems strange to learn all about BC’s fish and have little knowledge about the geographical layout of their distributions and habitat.  Hopefully the students feel the same.

What could have been improved? It would be nice to have a greater consistency between Monday and Wednesday labs.  I’m sure Wed will always be a bit smoother on account of having done it once already.  One thing I struggle with in this course, is worrying that the content is too basic.  Is it?  It’s a 300 level lab that accompanies an introduction to riparian and fisheries ecology.  It’s hard to know.  I can tell many student are familiar with some of the content, and view it as overly simple and boring, while others may know absolutely nothing about fish and probably enjoy the introductory nature of the labs.  I guess the challenge then lies in trying to appeal to both groups.  I will think about this for future upcoming labs.

FRST 386 2010 – Overall/final reflection

Overall I have really enjoyed my experience teaching the FRST386 labs.  It is my biggest teaching responsibility (at this level) so far, assuming the role of primary instructor for 6 weeks of teaching.  I have really enjoyed the freedom to ‘do whatever’ in these labs.  Obviously I have not changed them fundamentally from previous years, but I do think that all the time I put into improving the powerpoints and making new activities and interludes to the lecturing improved the course substantially.  I got really good feedback from the students, which feels good, as well as indications of what aspects of my teaching or the lab itself were weak or could use improvement.  Bottom line is, I’m sure this lab could be continuously improved upon (especially the lab 4 activity on re-vamping the forestry plans), but I felt that this years contributions were significant and well received.  So yay.  Hopefully, if I get to teach this next year, there will be all sorts of new ways to keep on making this better.

March 16 2010 – Week 5 labs (Fieldtrip to Musqueam Creek)

Pre-lab thoughts: I did a lot of thinking about this fieldtrip week before it actually happened.  Mike (my lab co-instructor) suggested that we submit an article to “fisheries” journal for their new section on “educational case studies”.  This suggestion then caused me to think a lot about how we were going to run the lab and how we needed to think about enhancing it from last year’s ‘guided tour’ model.  I actually didn’t find the fieldtrip last year was an especially great learning experience.  It was fun to be out in the field rather than in the class, but I’m not sure what the objectives of the lab were and what the students (myself included) took away.  This year I wanted that to be more evident.  We went and checked out the stream beforehand and brainstormed some ways to make the session more student-involved.  Mike and I drafted a worksheet where the students would have to work in small groups and at each stop point, do an activity and fill in some information.  They had to do 3 stream observations, noting morphology characteristics, sketch the stream reaches labeling habitat features, and some guiding questions were on the last page regarding stream restoration.  I hoped this would engage students a bit more.

What went well:  The lab definitely ran smoother than last year.  I feel like the worksheets acted as a good guide and gave students a bit of a ‘sense of purpose’ to their self-guided discovery.  This year we did a better job of tying together a theme that ran through all of the observation stops: the important role of complexity in stream habitats and how that impacts fish populations and restoration efforts.  Our ‘in field lectures’ definitely improved by the 4th session, which goes to show how repeat teaching can really help you improve your effectiveness.

Could have been improved upon: I still think this field trip could be improved greatly! The trouble is that there is a trade off between only running a trip/activity in a 1h time slot – which restricts our ability to make the lab more complex or project oriented – and running a more involved, more skill-building fieldtrip.  Students have a heavy workload with other classes, so they may not wish that this lab is a lot more work loaded…however, many of them would have appreciated learning more applied skills to stream assessment.  I think the lab could either run longer, having students actually engage in a formal stream assessment process (maybe would even take 2 lab sessions!) …. or maybe we could just get some actual formal stream assessment sheets, and while not actually having students do a stream assessment, allow them to see more of what is involved in the formal process.  There is more discussion that could happen around this lab for next year – for sure!

March. 10 2010 – Week 4 labs

General comments: I am pleased with myself after teaching this lab this week.  I was nervous about the lab because it touches on logging practices and forestry regulations – a field in itself that I have virtually no background in.  Also, many student are in the forest operations stream or have worked for logging companies in the summer and know far more about this than I.  However, the nature of way that lab was run was key – group work case study!  With very little intro, and enough resources and background information provided to them in handouts, in small groups of 5-6, students really worked together well to pool their creative ideas and knowledge to ‘solve’ the problem and complete the activity.  Putting a large role on the students to do the teaching and learning within the groups put the instructors (Mike and I) in more of a facilitating position – which took the pressure on us to know all the ins and outs of the material.  We learnt things too.

What went well:  Again, at the beginning of the lab, the “ID game” seemed to be well received by students. The ‘game’ or ‘race’ aspect of it seemed effective as a good incentive to work together and stay engaged.  One issue could be that they are so accustomed to group work that when they have to demonstrate their individual knowledge on the exam, they will find it hard.  I will remember to stress this in the review lab.

– The timing was good for this lab  with ample time for group work and group presentations at the end.  Having the groups present is nice too, as it helps again as an incentive to do a good job as a group as they will be judged by their peers.

Could be improved upon:  Having a better explanation of the history of logging practices would be nice.  Maybe some actual photos of the cable-hauling processes for those not familiar with it.  Ie. Give a bit of a better “logggin practices” intro for those students that may be completely unfamiliar with them.

Feb. 10 2010 – Week 3 labs

General comments: I was under time (1/2h) on Monday and was able to adjust timing, go slower on Wednesday which I think was beneficial.  Teaching this information is a challenge at times as it is an area of knowledge that I am fairly new to, so occasionally I feel challenged when students ask questions that I’m not sure how to answer.  I always confess and say I don’t know, and try to find the answer for next class to report to them…but it makes me feel like teaching a topic that you know really well must be far easier.  They seem to be pleased with my “reporting back” with answers approach, so that’s good.

What went well: The identification activity went really well.  It is very interactive and gives students a chance to work together and pool common knowledge.  They appeared engaged.  It also helps students to realize what they know and don’t know, and gauge the scope of information that they are expected to know.  Having the physical layout of the tree and the photos will aide students who are more visual learners, or learn by ‘doing’.  Both Monday and Wednesday’s classes went well.

Could be improved upon:  Somehow finding a way to connect the taxonomy concepts that are taught in the class.  At times it feels like we move family to family, with little understanding of the evolutionary or taxonomy theory that underlies how each family came about.  That said, this is a short 6 session lab that is not designed to cover that information.  I think the broad goal is to help students in their visual ID of fishes and get them thinking about taxanomic concepts and general techniques used for identifying.  Now however we will make a big shift in the material to more forestry practice related information (again, rather outside my knowledge base, so we’ll see how this goes…)

Feb. 1 2010 – Week 2 labs

Week two of lab.  Went well again.

What I was happy with:  slide show improved and more clear than last year.  Student homework to find a few ‘facts’ about the fish they signed up for seemed well received – some students didn’t speak up, but others happily volunteered their information, so it was a nice balance (and I don’t think anyone spent a very long time on it)

What went well: the juvenile salmonid key activity went well.  I would do a better job of outlining the activity next time (not all students familiar with the concept of creating a key).  I’ll throw an extra slide in for Wed.  The “science in action” went well again.  Students seemed interested in the issue.

To improve: Timing.  There was ½ hour left after I had finished today.  I thought I was going to be pressed for time – but I guess not.  I like having the lesson plan to refer to for time, but I ended up going through the lecture material reasonably fast (although I don’t think I rushed it).  Next class I will give them more time for the juvenile salmonid key.  This lab could maybe add one more component to it for next year: maybe another activity, another participation thing, a jeopardy at the end?  We’ll see how timing goes on Wednesday.  Also, some of the pictures for the species were not amazing (ie. did not align up 100% with some of the features we were using to describe them – perhaps look at this more closely next year to improve consistency in ID features and presented pictures.

Jan 27, 2010 – First Week of labs

This week was the first two sections of the lab component of FRST 386 (Aquatic Ecosystems and Fish in Forested Watersheds).  I’m teaching the labs with Mike, but he has pretty much left most of the instructional work up to me (which I like).  I’m pretty happy with how this weeks labs went.  I put a lot of time into re-vamping the powerpoint presentations to make the slides and concepts more clear.  I put examples of the types of exam questions they’d see, clearer pictures and overall just more interactive practice built into the lesson.  I was especially happy with the way we decided to re-format the class activity on fish assessment techniques.  I found this activity last year to be pretty un-engaging, with most students not really participating and it not being very clear as to why we were teaching them this material.  This year, rather then call them fish aging techniques (which they are, but really they are lots more then that), we framed it in terms of “Techniques to use for the assessment of fish populations” – this framework appears to place the information in an applicable context.  Students can see why it is useful to know techniques for assessing fish pops.  After introducing them to the techniques, we got them to work in groups and try to think of a way to design a scenario/investigation that would apply these techniques in a ‘true’ assessment situation.  This went over pretty well.  As always there were some students less engaged then others, but I was happy to see most people participating and a general conversation occurring.

Also, the introduction of “Science in Action” breaks between the lectures was successful.  These are short little, 5min presentations of current fish research that is taking place at UBC.  The students are told the material is not on the exam, but just for their general benefit and introduction to fish science currently on the go.  We did two “science in action” moments which were well received. Students asked questions and appeared generally engaged.

Things to improve: My general knowledge of some of the content.  Obviously some of this stuff is new to me (having learnt it only last year).  So I wouldn’t say I feel like an ‘expert’ in the field of my instruction.  But I feel like that would improve with time and each year that I taught this.  Also, I wrote down the questions that students asked, so I can find the answers and tell them next lab.