As I plan my courses, I spend a fair bit of time reflecting on best practices for teaching chemistry in the classroom and lab – what are the best ways for students to learn (not necessarily which are the easiest ways for the professor to teach). One of the ways I’ve worked this into my chemistry classes is through Project Based Learning.
In a recent Analytical Chemistry course, our class carried out a comprehensive water quality monitoring project of streams that feed into Cootes Paradise, an important local wetland area that is under rehabilitation. This project came about in consultation with a scientist at the Royal Botanical Gardens who suspected that sewage contamination was making its way into Cootes Paradise from streams in the Chedoke watershed. Our class designed and carried out a study that demonstrated that this is indeed happening.
For this course, I started by thinking about what I wanted my students to learn – what methods of analysis they needed to know, and how that could be taught through this project. Working in teams, the students collected samples from various sites in the watershed every other week for the semester. Each team then focused on one type of analysis each week, learning the skills—and the science behind it—as they collected real world data.
It was a great way to connect the lectures to the labs; the students loved the hands-on nature of their work, and they were able to understand why they were doing it. It was also a great way to connect their learning to the community. At the end of the course, the students gave a public presentation attended by representatives from local conservation groups and the City of Hamilton, and it was reported in several media outlets.
Redeemer’s small class sizes create opportunities to do things differently. But more than that, as an undergraduate university that encourages innovative teaching methods, Redeemer supports and promotes this type of student-centred learning. For me, it honours the giftedness of our students, and it’s is the best way for them to learn.
BCS (Redeemer University College); B.Sc. Hons. (University of Guelph); PhD (University of British Columbia)