SITS 2007 was the first time all three tracks envisioned in the SITS Philosophy of Teaching Science were taught at the same time. The third track emphasizing substantive student assessment was new to the SITS 2007 curriculum. This was the third SITS since the ground-breaking work of 2004. Track one was firmed up in 2005 and track two in 2006. 2007 was by far the largest group of faculty so far, with twelve participants.
Five faculty, including three full-time faculty and two adjunct faculty, participated in track one. One of the adjunct faculty and two of the full-time faculty are new to teaching and are counting on SITS to help them make their first semester as teachers a productive one. Track one participants were challenged to articulate what the thinking of a professional in their area of expertise looks like and then to make it their goal to help students "try on" that kind of thinking. To that end, track one faculty were encouraged to think of their discipline in terms of its "big ideas" and logical propositions. Concept mapping played a big part in clarifying their thinking. Attention was also given to the craft of teaching, with sample lectures given by participants both outside and inside their area of expertise.
Two faculty participated in track two this summer. They reviewed elements of track one and then moved into a focus on interactive teaching. Engagement of students with absorbing real-life questions is the entry point for effective teaching. This is followed by sensitive teacher-directed Socratic questioning to explore with the class the logic of a solution derived from the principles and concepts of the course. Socratic questioning leverages off of what students know and shows them the power of a clear understanding of the fundamentals. Track two faculty gave two sample lectures relating to the course they were developing (their target course).
Two faculty returned this summer for track three. They reviewed significant components of tracks one and two and helped us to launch track three on substantive assessment. Realizing that the battle for student learning is often lost at the level of assessment, track three faculty focused on testing that requires significant student understanding. Faculty evaluated old exams they had given, to determine the percentage of questions that rewarded factual recall in some way. They evaluated student performance on old exams and learned how to recognize questions that need to be rewritten or discarded. They learned to write clear questions that require higher-order thinking including application and problem-solving. Realizing that there is always a need to hone presentation skills, track three faculty also gave two sample lectures relating to the course they were developing (their target course). A speech coach helped science faculty in all three tracks to assess their sample lectures.
We also conducted a variety of other sessions including a week-long in-depth discussion of a biblical worldview and its pivotal importance in the curriculum and in the classroom.
Comments from two different SITS 2007 participants show that SITS changes curriculum and communication:
Participating in SITS is invaluable for any faculty member preparing to teach a course for the first time. A well-designed syllabus planned around principle-based teaching takes many hours of work, more than can possibly be available during the brief preparation days at the start of a school year. This is the second time I have had SITS to prepare for a new course, and I could see a dramatic improvement in the quality of teaching for a first-time course.
Becoming equipped with the tools of effective teaching is so important. Being better equipped and more effective in communicating what we already have to offer to our students may in the long run pay much better dividends than trying to add more and more to our bag of information and not be effective in our teaching endeavors.
SITS is funded by the Science & Engineering Endowment Fund. Without the generous support of our donors, this valuable work would not be possible. Please pray and give that we may continue this stimulating and necessary work. Our goal for SITS 2008 is to support fourteen or fifteen science faculty for a minimum of eight weeks each.