Category Archives: teaching

This is what a terrible teaching statement looks like

Last month I offered some advice about how to write a terrible teaching statement – or, more usefully, how not to.  The post was inspired by many years of serving on search committees (not, I will point out again, by any particular applicant’s example).  But in researching an upcoming blog post, I stumbled across a copy of my own teaching statement, from the last time I was on the job market.  And guess what?  It was terrible in many of the very ways I mentioned. Continue reading


How to write a terrible teaching statement

Over the last 20 years I’ve served on at least a dozen faculty search committees, and that means I’ve seen approximately six wheelbarrowloads of job applications.  I’ve seen some terrific applications and some terrible ones (and I now understand that my own applications, at least early in my career, shared some features with the terrible ones).  But one standard piece of the faculty job application almost always makes me roll my eyes: the teaching statement.

Most faculty job ads request a “statement of teaching philosophy”; some search committees even pay attention to it*.  I’ve seen them anywhere from a couple of sentences to several pages long.  And actually, there’s no need for a post titled “How to write a terrible teaching statement”, because believe me, this skill is already widespread.  So instead, let me suggest an important way in which you can write one that isn’t terrible.  Continue reading

Why I assign the group work that I hated as a student

Photo: Group presentation, by LBB Jauno speciālistu sekcija via, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When I was an undergraduate, I hated group work.  As a professor, I assign it. Hypocrisy? Cognitive dissonance?  Cruelty?  Well, I don’t think so.

I hated group work for two reasons.  Continue reading

Sign: "No texting while learning"

How do we make students into professional learners?

Photo: Original by Whispertome via; released to public domain; clumsy modification by yours truly.

Last fall I was 1/3 of a “teaching triangle”.  This meant I teamed up with two other instructors for reciprocal classroom visits – not for assessment, but as an opportunity for observation and then discussion of different personalities and different teaching approaches working with different students in different classrooms.  I picked up some useful ideas from seeing differences among my colleagues in how they approach teaching.  But much more importantly, the experience crystallized for me something I now realize I’ve been seeing for years: the astonishing differences among students in how they approach learning. Continue reading

Teaching population dynamics with simulations in R

Graphic: Results of a discrete-time simulation with two competitors having a shared predator. Exercise for the reader: which trace is the predator?

Warning: wonkish. Of interest primarily to those who teach upper-level ecology courses.

I don’t have an important message today, or a big unresolved question to talk about. I just thought I’d share some teaching resources. If you teach ecology (past the introductory level), you may find this useful.

One of the major themes in my 3rd-year population ecology course is the diversity of population dynamics that can emerge even in fairly simple systems: extinction, stable equilibrium, damped oscillations, stable limit cycles, neutral cycles, chaos, and so on. We spend a lot of time on the kinds of ecology that tend to favour oscillations (things like time lags and enemy-victim interactions) as opposed to those that tend to favour stable equilibria (things like immediate density-dependence and, under some circumstances, interspecific competition). Continue reading

Do biology students need calculus?

Image: Integration by parts. Remember?

Nearly every university science student takes 1st-year calculus. The content is fairly standard: functions, limits, derivatives, max/min problems, working up to integration and often capped off by the powerful but counterintuitive trick of integration by parts*. I think 1st-year calculus is widely seen (both by the Math departments that teach it, and the other science programs whose students take it, as the sine qua non of mathematical training for all scientists.

Is it? Continue reading

Student blogging on insect conservation: a success story

Image: Skillet Clubtail dragonfly, by David Marvin (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This year in my 3rd-year Entomology course, we introduced a new student assignment: to write a blog post about an insect of conservation concern in Canada. (I say “we”, because most of the credit goes to my TA and PhD student Chandra Moffat. I’ll link to some of the resulting posts below; but first, a few thoughts. Continue reading