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Successful Science and Engineering Teaching in Colleges and Universities (2nd Edition)

reviewed by Pei-Ling Hsu

coverTitle: Successful Science and Engineering Teaching in Colleges and Universities
Author(s): Calvin S. Kalman
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681239574, Pages: 194, Year: 2017
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In Successful Science and Engineering Teaching in Colleges and Universities, Calvin Kalman introduces many effective strategies to teach science. Kalman is a physics professor with more than 30 years of postsecondary teaching experience. In higher education, a challenge that science and engineering professors often encounter is large class size. Many science and engineering courses, especially at the introductory level, have hundreds of students in one class. To address this challenge, Kalman suggests two major teaching strategies based on research and his own teaching experience: reflective writing and collaborative groups.


Reflective writing is an instructional activity based on the teaching strategy of writing to learn, which aims to enhance students’ understanding of scientific concepts and knowledge. Too often, students do not read textbooks or materials before they come to class, in spite of their teachers asking them to read and bring questions to class. Thus, during instructors’ lectures, students may encounter new scientific jargon or concepts for the first time and do not have time to examine these concepts critically. When reflective writing is assigned before class, students read materials that will be covered in class. In reflective writing, students are invited to identify key concepts, make connections to previous classes or their daily experience, and examine these materials critically. As a result, students come to class with a basic understanding of the content and can then use class time to ask the professors critical questions. Thus, reflective writing can serve as a kind of flipped teaching activity that guides students to self-learn materials at home and engage in critical and productive discussions in class.


Reflective writing can also be used during class. Reflective write-pair-share is an activity used by instructors to reinforce certain scientific concepts between lectures. For example, after teaching difficult scientific concepts, instructors may invite students to write reflectively for a few minutes on these concepts and pair students to share their writings with each other. Doing so repeatedly between mini-lectures can forestall boredom caused by a long lecture and enhance students’ understanding of these challenging scientific concepts. Other extension projects based on reflective writing may include mini research papers and course dossiers, two interesting approaches to help students learn scientific knowledge through writing and critiquing scientific texts and lectures with peer support.


Assigning students to collaborative groups is an effective strategy that can facilitate social interaction in a big class with hundreds of students. In collaborative groups, four to five students can form a group to tackle tasks or problems together, with different roles assigned to group members, such as timekeeper, facilitator, presenter, critic, and recorder. One exemplary practice in using collaborative groups is peer instruction, which integrates the clicker response system to show students’ initial responses to a question presented by the instructor. Each collaborative group can then engage in peer conversations to discuss the various responses. As a result of these discussions, students may learn from each other and correct their responses.


Another effective way to use collaborative groups is labatorials, which integrate tutoring with laboratory practice. Traditionally, students are asked to write a long report for their scientific practice in laboratories and receive grades and feedback the following week. However, students might not read the feedback and have no incentives to improve their scientific practice based on the feedback. The strategy of labatorials is to divide the scientific practice and report into a series of checkpoints where students need to check with their laboratory instructor before moving on to the next checkpoint. This strategy allows students in collaborative groups to receive instant feedback in laboratories and to act on this feedback to improve their scientific practices collaboratively. Moreover, each labatorial worksheet starts with key conceptual questions and asks students to predict results of their upcoming experiments. At the end of the labatorial report, students are invited to explain whether their experiments supported their predictions or not. As a result, labatorials facilitate communication not only among group members but also with the laboratory instructor and can thus improve students’ confidence in conducting quality scientific practices.


Besides peer instruction and labatorials, Kalman further introduces many other strategies for using collaborative groups in science teaching, such as the learning cell, jigsaws, concept mapping, and problem solving. These practices allow students to identify conceptual conflicts and enact conceptual or epistemological changes during class discussions. Despite of these benefits, however, some students might not work effectively in groups. Based on his experience, Kalman also offers several strategies for working with dysfunctional groups, including regular evaluation, listening to all group members, enacting individual accountability, and helping the group find its own solutions.


This book is a light and joyful read. Its friendly features and structures help readers understand both the theoretical and practical aspects of these research-based teaching strategies. At the beginning of each chapter, Kalman explains the theoretical grounding and historical evolution of these strategies to help readers understand their origins, importance, and results, based on relevant research. In the main body of each chapter, Kalman adopts many forms of representation to help readers understand how to use these strategies in their classes. He shares many exemplary practices, along with activity objectives, effective strategies, flow charts, diagrams, templates, rubrics, product samples, and student comments to illustrate his first-hand experience implementing these strategies. At the end of each chapter, Kalman also summarizes the major points discussed. These features and structures of the book allow readers to absorb the contents easily and efficiently.


When learning science in higher education, students tend to familiarize themselves with techniques or formulas in order to answer test questions correctly, without fully understanding the scientific concepts and principles behind each problem. In this book, Kalman introduces many strategies that can scaffold students’ learning to connect their prior knowledge, create conceptual conflict, and enact conceptual change when applicable. These strategies not only help professors teach science more effectively in large classes, but also offer useful methods to help students learn science outside of class. This book is a great reference for beginning science and engineering professors, especially those who teach large classes in higher education.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22401, Date Accessed: 1/19/2019 6:09:23 PM

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