|My Teaching Mentor?|
I teach a module on environmental sensing and how environmental conditions can affect morphogenesis. However, I mostly try to expose them to ideas and/or concepts of critical thinking. About an hour before a module begins I get the cells going and then write something on the board for the students to see when they show up. I arrive about a minute before the module is supposed to start.
This year I did some variations on themes I've used in the past. For example:
Several times I simply wrote 'Skepticism' on the board. When we start I ask the students what connotations the word 'skepticism' has. Invariably the results are negative. One of my modules I asked 'What's the opposite of skepticism?' after the students told me skepticism was a negative thing. I heard 'gullibility', 'taken advantage of', 'trust', and of course 'faith'. I expected trust and faith, but after these students told me that skepticism was kind of a bad thing, the first thing antonym out of their collective mouths was gullibility!!! Regardless, I make a point that they are scientists, or at least training to be scientists, and they should embrace skepticism. I suggest they need it to be good scientists, but even if they decide that they do not want that kind of career, skepticism will serve them well if they are to be productive members of society.
Once, just to screw with the students, I put an obnoxious completely bogus formula on the board. I started by writing 'As you will recall from your biology course(s) growth of an organism in a given environment can be defined as:' then a bunch of formulaic BS. 'However, this is clearly only valid for spherical cells in static conditions. In nutrient rich environments,' slightly altered formulaic BS. 'What is the formula in nutrient poor environments?' Since I arrive just before the module begins, they can stew on it for awhile. Most students realize it's bullshit, but there is still a bit of concern.
Finally, several times I wrote 'Critical Thinking' and left it at that. We then briefly discuss what they think it means. Interestingly, though not surprisingly, most students have heard the phrase and can use it in conversation, but if you ask them to define it......I tell them critical thinking is the way to evaluate truth statements/claims.
During the module we keep coming back to the concepts of skepticism and critical thinking. We talk about controls, predictions, assumptions, bias, and whatever is relevant based on how the discussions go. While I mess with the students a lot and force them to play along, overall the students have seemed to get a lot out of it. (We'll see this year, once I get the evaluations.)