Teaching Students to Learn

Posted by Ashlynn Houk

Dan Kimball, instructor of math, chemistry, and science at Bakersfield College, started out his career in the juice and food industry. After receiving his BS in Chemistry from Brigham Young University in 1978 and his MS in Chemistry from San Diego State University in 1980; he then went on work as an international consultant in the citrus juice processing industry. He has over 20 publications in citrus processing, including 3 books. Eventually Dan found his way to the teaching field and has taught math, chemistry, and physical science in universities, community colleges, and high school for almost 30 years. Read on to find out how Dan teaches his student to learn, by instilling in them skills that are more than just chemistry concepts.

What is your teaching philosophy?

My philosophy of teaching has expanded with my experience. I believe that learning must be fun and I tell my students at the beginning of the semester that my class will be more fun than Disneyland. Many students actually mention that it was that fun on the end of the semester questionnaire. My class must be relevant and interesting as well, something that makes the students say, “That’s cool!” I also feel a responsibility to prepare my students for future college classes and their career.

I am constantly telling them that I expect their work to be professional and look professional. I believe in letting students do the work; the more I do for them, the less they do for themselves. I give them enough knowledge and resources to work out problems themselves, which places the responsibility upon them. Instead of shoveling knowledge into their brains, I give them the shovel. Many times students fall flat on their face, but this is the way they learn. Students cannot be expected to be successful all the time. They learn mostly by failing and getting back up again and trying again. I believe in helping students whenever they ask and try to make myself both available and approachable. I love teaching and I hope to pass this passion on to my students.

What teaching practices do you employ to get your students engaged in learning?

I have incorporated a list of 13 Learning Skills that I have listed on a poster in my lab and refer to often. I spend the first lab period explaining these learning skills and their vital role in passing my class. Many students have come back and said that my learning skills helped them more than the chemistry I taught them. I provide a wealth of resources on my class webpage including announcements, Power Points, podcasts, and other class information. My PowerPoints are particularly effective in getting students engaged. I also give a lecture quiz after each lecture to help students stay focused.

I write my own lab manuals with innovative activities to drive the class principles home. I also use supplementary instruction leaders, in class tutors that hold special workshops and assist me with students during lectures and labs.  Of course, one of my great resources is the WebAssign online homework. WebAssign provides me with the versatility to customize my homework questions to fit my course content as well as the Read It, Practice It and Watch It features that I have found to be the most excellent features in any online homework program. 

What role does technology play in your classroom?

Technology is very important in my teaching. Students today are born into a world of technology that often becomes obsolete before the sun goes down. They are very connected to the latest innovations, so I update my technology as timely as I can. On my website I have PowerPoints and podcasts. The podcasts explain the PowerPoint presentation which students can use both to preview the lecture and to follow up later as a review.

I email my students weeks before the class starts and encourage them to begin various activities from my website as soon as possible. An announcement page lists the assignment due and other activities throughout the semester. I have my syllabus online and my WebAssign page that gives them all the information they need to know about registering with WebAssign, how to use it and what to do in case something goes wrong. I also provide other links that are helpful to the class. 

What are your best practice suggestions for using WebAssign?

I suggest that students get started early, even before the class begins on the WebAssign homework. Getting ahead and staying ahead makes the class a hundred times easier. I encourage students to visit me during my office hours and ask questions in lab. If they need help they should get it.

Topics: Instructor Spotlight