I teach Biology 431, Genome Science and Genomic Medicine, as an active learning class where the students work in groups on problems, which they then present to the rest of the class. One of the advantages of teaching this way is to emphasize the problem-solving process over simply focusing on the answer to problems. For this reason, I also decided to change my exams to a two-step exam model. In the first step the exams are given as normal. After the exams are returned, the second step is for students to do a self-reflection on each of the questions they got wrong- why did you put this answer? where did you get confused? what is the correct answer and why? As a result, I have found that students have a better grasp of the concepts learned in the first portion of the class and are better able to apply them to the more advanced topics that we cover in the second half of the semester.

I use SAIL in my Physical Chemistry class, which is a 200 level course required of all Chemistry and Biochemistry majors. When I first started teaching the class, there was a bimodal distribution of grades that typically reflected the differences in comfort with mathematics. In CTL’s Teaching Science Seminar, we discussed evidence that active learning may help weaker students most, through structured practice and discussions with their peers. I decided to try this method in my class, and applied for a SAIL Course Development Grant to support these changes. Now students in my class work in small groups of 5-6 people on worksheets that walk them through proofs that I previously presented to them when my class was in a lecture format. I then discuss the concepts that emerges from those proofs in mini lectures. The combination lets me focus on what matters during the mini-lecture, and helps students get the practice they need. One particular aspect of the format that I like is that students who don’t have enough time to study outside class, have ample opportunity to learn in class and questions from me or the TA. Since incorporating SAIL into my class, the lower half of my grade distribution has been reduced and no one has failed the class, indicating to me that students with weaker initial math backgrounds are benefitting from this new structure and can master conceptually and mathematically hard topics in thermodynamics.