Douglas Petrick
Douglas Petrick
Physics Teacher, Pittsburgh, PA

In this week’s podcast, I delve into five tips to increase class participation and facilitate student dialogue by taking cues from social studies class. Whether you are a secondary education teacher or a college-level instructor, these tips are time-tested and suitable for many classroom settings.



Feel free to share your tips for increasing classroom participation in the comments below.GettyImages-519588486.jpg

One Educator's Letter to Students

Posted Sep 22, 2017
    Amanda Rosenzweig
Amanda Rosenzweig
Instructor, Delgado Community College

At the beginning of the semester, I find it useful to write my students a letter. Not only does this help students get to know me better personally, it helps me to set expectations and the overall tone for the course.


Below is an example of one of my letters to students. Feel free to share your own letters or messages to students in the comments below.


Hi Class,


RosenzweigLetter_Eugenio Marongiu_shutterstock_147979856.jpgMy name is Amanda Rosenzweig and I will be your instructor for your lecture course this semester. Most students call me “Dr. R”.


Many times students enter classrooms with the fear their teacher may not be approachable. I want to minimize these worries so you can have a successful semester both academically and internally. To do this, I want you to know about me as a person


I received my B.S. in Biology, with an art minor, from William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri; my M.S. in Biology with an emphasis on herpetology (amphibians and reptiles) from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, in Monroe, Louisiana; and I have my Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.


My interests include the teacher’s influence on students, and specifically the difference in student attrition and grade distributions between online and face-to-face biology courses.


I am currently a Full Professor in Biology at Delgado Community College in New Orleans where I teach a variety of biological courses. I also serve as the Canvas Administrator for the College.


I love exploring different educational theories that may help me improve the retention in my classroom and help my students develop better learning styles. I have an academic crush on John Dewey and Howard Gardner. If you are ever interested in either theorist-GOOGLE.


So, that’s enough about my academic interests, let’s get to the interesting stuff. I am the “crazy dog” lady. I am so passionate about animals that until recently five animals lived with me. In May and in September, two of my fur-babies passed away. I still have three lovable babies, though: Phareaux (a Miniature Pinscher), Osiris (a Doberman), and Squeaks (a Chihuahua). I love fostering Dobermans until they can find a forever home. I also lease a horse that I ride and jump with almost every day. His name is Dandy and he is a beautiful Appaloosa Gelding.


I am very active. I love to hike, kayak, and play most sports. I never miss a Saints game. Since art was my minor in college, I paint when I have time and have even sold a few. I am a devout believer in giving back to others. I participate in many charitable functions, from cancer walks to pet adoptions.


I am a firm believer in work hard/play hard; however, to reward yourself you have to dedicate yourself to your studies. I am available to help you every day during my office hours or by appointment. If you are having difficulties, do not wait until the end of the semester. Grab the bull by the horns early on and we can start addressing your concerns as soon as you have them. I can only open the door, but it is up to you to enter the room. Since we are all different, I attempt to present the material in a variety of ways. Hopefully this mosaic approach will help you grasp the concepts and even promote critical and application thinking.


Never assume I know if you think something is wrong, and never be afraid to ask if you have a question. Since I am human, I do make mistakes and I do not know everything. But, I do know how to help you find the answers.


Any course that is computer-based (hybrid or online) is time consuming and you MUST commit time daily to be successful. This is not a course that you can cram for or be successful in without trying. Biology is a notoriously difficult course and you are choosing to take an online version, which makes it even more challenging. Please set yourself up for success and be realistic on your time management and the personal commitment needed. Never forget, I am here to help you if you need help.


I hope this letter helps ease your concerns about myself and the course. I wish you luck, but luck is only part of the equation--tenacity and dedication are more valuable. Secrets to success do not work unless you do!


Image Credit: Eugenio Marongiu/Shutterstock

Ten Ways to Grow As an Educator

Posted Sep 14, 2017
    Douglas Petrick
Douglas Petrick
Physics Teacher, Pittsburgh, PA

My experience as an educator, paired with discussion with my colleagues, has led to several revelations as to how I can evolve my teaching over time. Below are my top 10.


Petrick_Top10_157188651_Oleg PrikhodkoGettyimages.jpg1. Evolution, Not Revolution

The way you teach today should not be the way you teach five, ten, or fifteen years from now. Look for small ways you can continue to improve. Rapid change can be disruptive and may fail if you move too fast, so take it slow. At the end of the term, think about what you did well and where you can grow. Student feedback can be helpful in this regard. If there are consistent themes (“I wish Professor X made labs more exciting” or “The lab experience needs more hands-on time”) start there and consider small changes in how you set-up your labs.


2. Continuing Education for the Educator

Growth is not always organic and, as the saying goes, none of us are as smart as all of us. Participating in workshops, seminars, and hands-on idea sharing whereyou get together with other educators can spur new ideas. A business friend of mine related that he often dislikes the thought of attending workshops, and he’s honest about the reason: “I already know what will be discussed. My ego gets in the way.” But he’s learned to let some of that go because even though he might be well-versed in what he does, there’s always a good takeaway that, in the end, is meaningful and impacts his work for the better.


3. Self-Evaluation

Student evaluations can hurt. Anonymity allows students to unload their gripes, and they can sometimes be less than kind. Harsh comments can leave some scars, create doubt in your abilities, and hinder your desire to try something new in fear that students will savage you once more. Self-evaluation means you reflect on your strengths and park the student negativity outside your head. Look at your student evaluations and find the positive. Notice the small clues if you have trouble identifying your strengths. If students do not harp on your inability to communicate, that shows you have good communication skills. Reading between the lines can enable you to find strengths. Sometimes strengths pop out as you sit back and reflect on your classroom experience. “Hmm, I seem to be able to make students laugh” (not at you, but with you). Humor, then, is a strength. Go with it. Use it more and watch to see how it impacts student engagement.


4. Connect the Dots

Is there a theme that runs through your teaching? Look at your course objectives and think about how each objective might tie into an overall theme rather than be discrete parts that seem disconnected from one another. Think about popular media, television series, movies, and novels. While each episode, scene, or chapter is unique, they are all pieces of a puzzle that fit together to form the whole. Labs, lectures, group work, and homework can all be pointing towards one overarching idea. The theme need not be grand. Here’s an example: “Class, Algebra is more than about solving for X. Algebra is the foundation for understanding very interesting things involving higher order mathematics such as space travel, engineering, and innovative technology. Over the months ahead, we’ll explore why solving for X is crucial for understanding our world through the language of math.”


5. Timing Is Everything

Timing relates back to the first point discussed earlier. Wholesale change in the middle of the term can be jarring to students and you may want to wait until the next term to try out new ideas. That’s okay. Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Maybe the timing for a slight change is right if things aren’t going quite as well as you planned, you recognize what the issue is, and you can fix it by acknowledging to the class that you understand the problem. In that case, tell them how you’re going to alter the course to improve their experience. If students know you see the problem and recognize that you are part of the problem--not just them--the result will be less disruptive for the students.


6. Anticipate Potential Student Struggles

As you get to know your class, try to identify potential student struggles before they happen. You may see patterns arise through homework, or when students have difficulty grasping more complex concepts. Knowing is half the battle. Thinking ahead allows you to capitalize on teachable moments and more readily value the struggle as a growth opportunity rather than a pitfall. You may be able to create a “glue” for difficult material that allows concepts to stick, an idea that relates to the thematic approach to teaching discussed earlier.


7. Know the Difference Between Interference and Interjection

Ultimately, you want to teach towards independence. Anticipating student pain points as mentioned above doesn’t mean you want to interfere with a student’s natural learning process, but you do want to be prepared to interject and help move them in the right direction when this is helpful. This way, you are putting them on the path towards independence where they are not relying on you to swoop in and save them, but they still know they can look to you for guidance and encouragement. This approach allows students to become more comfortable with developing their problem-solving skills.


8. Build Power in Numbers

Working like a lone wolf isn’t the ideal situation in education. There is power in the pack.   Sure you’ve got your content covered, but thinking about how to deliver your instruction can be a daunting task. Create your pack by seeking out a few teachers who are open to sharing what they do. Then observe one or two classes, even if they don’t teach your content area. Learn what resonates with students from a delivery standpoint. Focus on teacher-student interaction and find out what pulls the class into the lesson. Use these performances, for better or worse, to reflect on your own teaching. Utilizing a pack of peers to observe can be an effective way to improve your craft.


9. Read for Inspiration

I’ve done more reading for pleasure than I have for content since I’ve become a teacher. This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s not. Reading books about business, running, and the Navy Seal mindset will help you brainstorm about how to infuse those best practices into your classroom. As a physics teacher, trying to find classroom connections between Newton’s Laws and Psychology Principles may be tricky, but it flexes my creative muscles.  Pushing your boundaries and stepping outside of your comfort zone as an educator will keep your ideas fresh. Identifying commonalities in non-related areas stimulates and feeds the creative process.


10. Be the Positive Solution

In the era of trolling and click bait, it’s always easier to find fault than find solutions. Negativity can get you down, but focusing on the silver lining of each dark cloud can keep you in a positive mindset. This can be as simple as avoiding the teacher lounge when the prevailing topic is “kids these days.” Instead, opt for a solo lunch and watch a TedTalk. If the weather is cooperative, walk and talk (in person or on the phone) with someone about a positive event. Turn class problems into class solutions. If phones are a distraction, find a way to incorporate them into a lesson. If students talk too much in class, devise an activity that forces them to talk and share with each other and you. Be the sunshine in the room and believe it or not, your students will begin to feed off your energy.


Do these growth tactics resonate with you? Let me know in the comments below.


Image Credit: Oleg Prikhodko


    Christopher Ruel
Christopher Ruel
Community and Social Marketing, Wiley

Student engagement can be challenging enough, but how do you maintain student interest for required courses? We put the question to educators and these are some of the top strategies they use to get students active and invested.


Cruel_090417_shutterstock_85522312_wavebreakmediaShutterstock.jpg1. Establish Future Relevance

Don’t be afraid to remind students how the concepts and skills taught in introductory courses are relevant and necessary for success in the major, their future careers, and life in general.


2. Pique Student Interests

Discover student interests by asking questions such as: What is one thing you want to understand when this course is complete? What interests you the most about the subject? If students respond that they just want a good grade, affirm that such an interest is valid, but the best way to a good grade is to put in the work and actively participate in class.


3. Discuss job marketability

Suppose you teach a Business Writing course and it is required for all business students. You might hear complaints from students that they’re "numbers people." Explain that "numbers people" who have excellent written communication skills have an advantage over those who do not.


4. Steer Students in the Right Direction

Ask students about their goals. Those who wish to pursue a medical profession, but are disinterested in that complex Anatomy and Physiology course, may not be pursuing the best career. You can help steer students in finding their real passion.


5. Get Students Moving

Activity is an excellent way to keep students’ eyes from the clock and engaged in the course. Group work and discussions are good starting points.


6. Invite Guest Speakers

True life stories told by those who are working in the field provide concrete examples of course relevance. Students may not believe you when you say: “This course is essential for career success;” but when guests visit, the learning gets real.


7. Explain the Big Picture

The why can be just as important as the how when it comes to student engagement. If students understand the big picture, whether it relates to being better world citizens or better professionals, they are more likely to see the value of the course.


8. Content Is Not Always King

Students want to understand why the content is relevant. Content cannot be jettisoned, but adding in a healthy dose of skill building ups the value proposition of doing the work and staying engaged.


9. Teach in Real Time

Our world moves fast with 24-hour news cycles and constant change. Today’s technology is often outmoded in the blink of an eye; political events and their downstream effects touch both the personal and professional aspects of life; Can you find ways to connect your course content to what’s going on outside the classroom?


10. Democratize the Classroom

Break down the wall that separates you from your students; make success a common goal, not just for your students, but also for you as the educator. Try to drop the “you and I,” and start using “we and us,” when addressing your students.


What are some of the ways you keep students engaged in required courses? Share your strategies and tactics in the comments below.


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Image Credit: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock


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