2015-16 Summaries of Fellows’ Pedagogical Projects

| May 13, 2016

Antonio Acevedo

Instructor of History

Hudson County Community College, Jersey City, New Jersey

Course: Western Civilizations I & II

“Developing Students’ Historical Thinking through ‘For and Against’ Quizzes”

This project sought to develop students’ ability to “think historically” in history survey courses. Drawing from the work of reformist history educator David Voekler, thinking historically includes seeking to explain the historical significance of actions/events, asking exploratory questions, analyzing historical issues from multiple perspectives, and marshaling and utilizing historical evidence. Professor Acevedo sought to foster this kind of historical thinking in his students through the use of “For and Against” statements which call on students to explain multiple sides of historical arguments. Students were given two accompanying historical claims – called “For and Against” statements – for each week’s readings.  These statements were broad statements, such as: “Agriculture was the worst mistake in human history” (Western Civ I); and “Hitler and the Nazis were mostly to blame for the start of World War II” (Western Civ II).  If there was a quiz during a given week – some announced, some “pop”– one of the two claims for that week’s readings would appear on the board and students were asked to write two paragraphs: one “For” paragraph supporting the claim (with historical examples), and one “Against” paragraph arguing against the claim.  In contrast to multiple-choice tests, the “For and Against” quizzes encourage students to explain historical significance.  In addition to helping students begin to “think like historians,” these quizzes encouraged students to do the assigned readings.


Sebastien Buttet

Associate Professor of Economics

CUNY-Guttman Community College, New York, New York

Course: Economics of Social Issues

“Towards a Student-Centered Pedagogy for an Introductory Economics Course”

This project utilized current economic issues and prompted students to analyze them in terms of economic models and concepts. The instructor addressed five current economic issues: (1) What will making community college free achieve? (2) Why does the level of income inequality matter? (3) What will be the impact of raising the minimum wage on youth unemployment? (4) What economic policies best address global warming? (5) How can economic theory help reduce traffic congestion?  The students drew from analytical tools, such as supply and demand models, to respond to these questions. Then, students attended seminars on labor related topics such as raising the minimum wage in NY. The students also reflected on what they learned from the seminars and how that related to the issues and ideas learned in class.  Finally, the students were assigned an end-of-semester project whereby they addressed one of the five current economic issues through the lens of the various economic models and concepts learned throughout the semester.  With these various assignments, the instructor learned that his students were developing abilities to apply economic ideas to current socio-economic phenomena.


James Hedberg

Lecturer of Physics

CUNY – The City College of New York, New York, New York

Course: Introduction to Physics

“Understanding the Language of Physics Through the Use of Everyday Examples”

This project sought to improve students’ learning of physics concepts in a large lecture course where the teacher has limited opportunities to work with his students individually. The instructor sought to gain a better understanding of students’ understanding of physics concepts by asking them to write sentences using these concepts (e.g., Force, Work, Power, Energy) in descriptions of their everyday lives (e.g., riding the subway, walking to class, etc.). Students were asked to write sentences once a week as part of their homework assignments, which also included more traditional physics problems. Then, a portion of each class session was spent discussing sentences of note, either due to their stunning clarity and precision or their confusion. The instructor used these discussions to correct misunderstandings of core physics concepts, develop partially presented ideas, and importantly, highlight accurate and rich (sometimes stunningly precise and clear) usages.  Through this project, the instructor was able to address the common misunderstandings that his students had in regards to core physics concepts.


Mark Larrimore

Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Eugene Lang College, The New School, New York, New York

Course: Theorizing Religion

“’Religion Making’ and Students’ Prior Learning”

The project used the idea of “religion making” to bring students’ prior learning from their personal lives into a course on theory and methodology in religious studies.  The hope was to enable students to appreciate how theorizing about religion occurs not only in the academy but also in the media, online, in the law – and in the lives of communities and individuals.  In this way, students might better grasp the role academic work can play in a larger ecology of religion spreading through the full range of their lives. To think about the various places that theorizing about religion plays out, students were asked to write about and share their “religion matrix,” attending especially to intergenerational differences. The resulting essays and subsequent discussions tapped students’ prior learning and brought students’ personal questions and loyalties into productive conversation with the work of the academic study of religion. The project deepened the fellow’s appreciation of the value of engaging religion reflectively and relationally, at a personal as well as academic level, and will surely affect his teaching in many classes in the future.


Elizabeth Miller

Instructor of Behavioral & Social Sciences

SUNY-Westchester Community College, Valhalla, New York

Course: Introduction to Sociology

“A New Approach to Teaching Gender Inequality”

Through this project, the instructor took an interactive approach to gender inequality by highlighting for her students how the social constructions of femininity and masculinity constrain people regardless of their biological sex or gender identity. The project focused on a single class session featuring various exercises designed to unearth students’ prior knowledge about the social constructions of gender. First, in a snowball exercise, students wrote ideas about masculinity and femininity on opposites sides of a piece of paper, balled them up, and tossed them around the room for their classmates to add to. Second, the class compiled a list of “masculine” and “feminine” items that they had generated from their “snowballs.” Third, students were placed in four groups and were asked to discuss various topics related to masculinity and femininity. Fourth, the class as a whole pondered the hindrances of socially-constructed gender categories. Lastly, the students participated in a cell-phone facilitated, anonymous polling exercise. The class then discussed gender stratification by using poll questions as a starting point. By making gender about more than just inequality for females, which cisgender male students often resist, the topic explored how everyone is constrained by gender expectations, even men, which reduced resistance to the topic, thereby providing room for learning. Through this project, the instructor learned about her students’ prior knowledge and experiences with gender inequality, and used these experiences as starting points for class discussion of gender inequality.


Lauren Navarro

Assistant Professor of English

CUNY-LaGuardia Community College, Queens, New York

Course: English 101

“Scaffolding Students’ Writing: A Focus on ‘Claims’”

This project sought to address the challenges that students face in crafting an effective argumentative essay, particularly the use and evaluation of claims. In contrast to what she had done in previous semesters, Professor Navarro introduced the topic of claims early in the semester, and she brought up the topic regularly throughout the semester rather than teaching it at semester end, a common practice in the teaching of writing. She integrated the idea of claims into the whole course through a variety of short assignments, peer-interviews, and class discussions. For the peer-interviews, students shared their essays, responded to their partners’ work, and sought to question (even contradict) the claims that their classmates made in their essays. Students then reflected on what they learned from each other about crafting effective claims and shared their reflections with the whole class. In another exercise, students responded to a controversial article in order to develop their own counterclaims. Later in the semester, students presented the claims they were developing in their essays to the class, and responded to peers’ questions. Lastly, students wrote letters addressed to Professor Navarro in which they reflected on their learning.  At the end of the semester, Professor Navarro observed that students were making much stronger claims in their writing and the argumentative research paper – the final assignment of the course – was much improved from previous semesters. The instructor learned that shifting her thinking – in this case, questioning conventional sequencing of class topics – could open doors to her students’ and her own learning.


Dominick Quagliato

Instructor of Chemistry

Union County College, Cranford, New Jersey

Course: Principles of Organic and Biological Chemistry

“Developing Students’ Understanding of Molecular Structures and Drawings”

This project sought to address a challenge that students face in organic chemistry – learning how to work with the two-dimensional models that represent molecular unit structures.  Developed as a two-week series of lessons, the instructor first laid out the basic principles of interatomic bonding.  To initiate the lessons, the instructor presented the class with a drawing of a typical organic structure which was supplemented with a 3-dimensional model which provided them with a visual and tactile example. The instructor then prompted the students with a series of questions to examine features of the drawing which allowed the class to develop rules and concepts of structure and bonding. Through this exercise the students learned about the structure of simple organic molecules and how structures can be represented in structural drawings.  The goal of this project was to demonstrate to students the structures of a limited number of simple organic molecules, and how these structures can be represented with drawings.  Thus the project addressed students’ misunderstandings of structure and drawings as it relates to molecular structures.  By end of the project, the instructor learned that he needed to make the teaching and learning of organic chemical structures and models more accessible to students by providing more opportunities for them to learn about these ideas in and out of the classroom. To continue this project, the instructor is developing interactive activities designed for learning in a non-lecture environment.


Michele Rotunda

Instructor, Social Sciences, Business, and History

Union County College, Cranford, New Jersey  

Course: American Government & Politics

“Drawing from Current Events to Apply Political Theories and Concepts”

Through this project, Professor Rotunda led her students in applying political theories and concepts to the 2016 presidential race. Students were organized into six groups and each group was assigned one of six presidential candidates. Throughout the semester, each group worked together to act as “campaign managers” for their candidate as they examined particular political issues through various assignments. In class, using their presidential candidate as an example, the students worked together to respond to topics ranging from public opinion, interest groups, political parties, campaigns and elections, and the media and politics. Through this activity, students deepened their understanding of key political terms and concepts.  Students shared that as a result of the exercise, they felt better informed about the dynamics of the 2016 Presidential election. Carrying out this project confirmed the instructor’s awareness of her students’ relevant pre-existing knowledge of political processes and highlighted the importance of carefully constructed assignments and questions to enable students to connect this knowledge to academic concepts of politics.


Bhawani Venkataraman

Associate Professor of Chemistry

Eugene Lang College, The New School, New York, New York  

Course: Energy & Sustainability

“The Science and Societal Implications of Energy”

The project was developed for an introductory course in chemistry and focused on the following questions: “Can New York City switch to solar photovoltaic panels for its electrical energy needs? What are the costs?  What are the benefits?”  The course seeks to develop a foundational understanding of the physics and chemistry of energy and to relate these scientific principles to society’s reliance on fossil fuels. The project, which was threaded through the full semester, sought to help students analyze an energy-related issue, develop evidence-based arguments, use quantitative estimates to support arguments, and evaluate pros and cons of a proposed solution to an energy-related challenge.  Students did this through various writing exercises, including preparation of reflective and research-based papers and making class presentations. Students also carried out quantitative exercises to familiarize themselves with energy concepts and units. Through the various exercises and assignments, students demonstrated growing awareness and understanding of the challenges of transitioning away from reliance on fossil fuels, as well as the political and economic dimensions of moving toward use of renewable energy. For the instructor, this project affirmed the importance of helping students examine an issue from all sides and to explore the basis for their own understandings and beliefs. The students had many unanswered questions and developed some new ones which the instructor will use to further develop this project.