A New Approach to Teaching

Published: Jul 26, 2002

Outstanding Results by Any Measure

Phillip Sokolove, professor of biological sciences, turned an introductory Biology 100 section into a lab for studying learning.
Phillip Sokolove, professor of biological sciences, turned an introductory Biology 100 section into a lab for studying learning.

“A New Approach to Teaching”
Phillip Sokolove, professor of biological sciences, took time out from his own successful research to investigate ways to improve student learning. Based on his reputation as an outstanding teacher, Sokolove was invited to become UMBC’s representative in the Maryland Collaborative for Teacher Preparation, funded by the National Science Foundation. The goal was to develop a new approach to pre-service teaching training in science and mathematics that would produce teachers prepared to implement new best-practice teaching methods in upper elementary and middle school classrooms in Maryland.
With help and guidance from Susan Blunck in the education department, Sokolove turned an introductory Biology 100 section into a laboratory for studying learning, using peer interaction and problem solving in small learning groups; whole classroom discussions accomplished via wireless mics; name badges; short research papers; an emphasis on student questioning; and content driven by student interest. The result? High praise from students and academics alike.
Former student Jason Baker says, “Without question, Dr. Sokolove has been one of my finest teachers. I have benefited from his teaching in a variety of capacities: as a student in his Biology 100: Concepts of Biology course, as a research assistant and as an undergraduate teaching assistant. In my opinion, the bulk of his effectiveness lies in his cultivation of what he appropriately terms ‘active learning.’
“During the course of writing several investigative papers, we learned how to collaborate with our teams, find reliable sources of information and make informed conclusions,” Baker adds. “The lectures themselves were dynamic. He regularly incorporated visual elements and lively classroom activities. He related biology to everyday life. And his reputation for this in particular is what prompted so many non-science majors to take Biology 100.”
Sokolove, who recently received a Regents’ Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, is working with Lark Claassen on an NSF-funded comparative study of the investigative and traditionally taught Biology 100 classes. Sokolove’s short term studies with postdoctoral research assistant Gili Marbach-Ad resulted in a series of articles in education journals and presentations at national meetings.
“I’m glad that I could represent UMBC as one of the recipients of a Regents’ Award,” says Sokolove. “The fact that I was nominated by my peers was the most meaningful part of it. I was touched that they recognized the work I am doing.”


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