Monday, November 30, 2015

Week 6: Public Speaking and Gaining Confidence

This week Huanyu (Joe) Qiao led a discussion entitled “Public Speaking and Gaining Confidence.”  We watched two example speeches delivered by Lance Miller and Hans Rosling respectively.
Here are the links for the two speeches:
1.      Miller’s speech:

After watching the first speech, we discussed the guidelines for how to prepare a good public talk based on the manual of the Toastmaster International Club:
·         Organize Your Speech — Introduce the basic concepts of organizing a speech around a speech outline.
·         Get to the Point — Clearly state your speech goal, and make sure that every element of your speech focuses on that goal.
·         How to Say It — Examine word choice, sentence structure, and rhetorical devices.
·         Your Body Speaks — Complement words with posture, stance, gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact.
·         Vocal Variety — Guides you to add life to your voice with variations in pitch, pace, power, and pauses.
·         Research Your Topic — Addresses the importance of backing up your arguments with evidence, and touches on the types of evidence to use.
·         Get Comfortable With Visual Aids — Examines the use of slides, transparencies, flip charts, whiteboards, or props.

We also discussed how to gain confidence in front of your audiences:
·         As a teacher, be confident in your expertise in your field!
·         Practice makes perfect.
·         Have a detailed plan before you enter the classroom.
·         Take a deep breath before you start to give the talk.

Rosling’s talk demonstrates how to effectively use visual aids in a speech or a class.
We discussed several techniques that Hans Rosling used in his speech (
  • Explain the data axes
  • Highlight subsets of data
  • Dig deeper to unwrap data
  • Place labels close to data points
  • Answer the “Why?” questions
  • Complement data with energetic delivery

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Week 5: Lesson Planning

For our meeting this week we talked about lesson planning. More specifically, we discussed the various lesson planning techniques we have used in the past, and whether or not they were effective for us. We also talked about our personal experiences as students, and what we thought worked best for us in the classroom. To summarize, we all seemed to appreciate when professors structure their courses in a way that gets across why it is relevant, and that focuses on teaching things that directly relate to the exams they give. We also tended to like when instructors teach abstract concepts by providing examples of how they work in practice. A general theme seemed to be that good lesson plans are centered around good prep work, clarity of purpose, and content that connects to students.

After all of that preliminary stuff was out of the way, we broke into a rather lively discussion. I started it off by detailing a lesson planning technique I had discovered in my research, Madeline Hunter’s “Drill That Skill” technique, which basically centers around an instructor providing consistent guidance and repetitive examples so as to ensure that students learn material properly the first time they try it. The general reception to this technique was lukewarm at best, mainly because it lacks innovation, and because it might lead to students who know how to do something without knowing why they are able to do it.

Next I summarized the lesson planning technique known as “constructivism,” which is basically a fancy way of saying “the teacher or professor guides students through active learning techniques” in a way that eventually gives them the ability to “learn how to learn.” In our discussion of constructivism, we talked about how it is important to make students accountable for things they are supposed to learn on their own, which can be done either through constant pestering from the instructor, or a graded quiz or examination.

After that our discussion trailed off a bit after one GTC member had questions about how they could improve their sections. Numerous other members made helpful suggestions and tried to give them various techniques (many of which we had talked about earlier) that could help them better connect to their students and encourage more participation and excitement towards the course material.

We closed with a discussion of what was probably everyone’s favorite lesson planning technique: backward design. To put it simply, backward design basically requires you to look at your course...backwards. It is centered around establishing goals you want your class to reach, coming up with effective ways to measure their understanding, and implementing activities that allow your class to reach the initial goals you set. This differs from traditional lesson plans in that you are not just creating a list of things you want your students to know and praying that you are able to get all of that through to them by the time your course is over. Backward design promotes teaching with an endgame in mind, which is useful both for the instructor and their students.

All that said, the truth of the matter is that no one lesson plan is ever going to address the specific needs of all of your students all of the time. The key is to try and do the best you can to connect to as many of your students as possible, which hopefully we will all be able to do just a bit more effectively after this week’s discussion.

For more information on the lesson planning techniques discussed above, check out these links:

- Nick Garcia

Monday, November 2, 2015

Week 4: Maintaining Professionalism

This week we discussed the idea of "professionalism" and how it relates to fostering student (and mentor) success. 

To begin the meeting, we talked about past mentors that we regarded as our "favorite" professors. As each person described their pick, a mental portrait was painted in my head, and I felt as if I knew these teachers I had never met. It seemed that every professor shared certain qualities (like being knowledgeable about their field and being able to convey material effectively) but were extremely unique as well. This lead into discussion about "the ideal professor." 

Like most topics discussed in great detail, we concluded that promoting "professionalism" is not so black and white. It largely seems to deal with conducting oneself in a way that allows for balance between being a leader and friend to one's students. There are definitely some surefire practices that every teacher should follow like staying up to date with what's happening in your field, wearing appropriate attire, being punctual, and conveying enthusiasm. But, "the most effective way to teach" seems to be an oxymoron. There are a thousand different ways to run a classroom, and none of theme have to be wrong (though live bears in the class is probably frowned upon). We ultimately realized that the best teachers are the ones that play off their own personalities and strengths rather than sticking to a defined script. Adaptability is necessary, but if you're trying to be someone your not, you're less likely to accomplish your goal (which is probably a true statement in more ways than just teaching). My charge for the closure of the meeting was for each person to find out who they really are. Knowing this could ultimately yield insight into how you could more effectively teach and interact with students.