Science teaching rewarded

Sep 05, 2002, vol. 25, no. 1
By Carol Thorbes

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Nick Harden (centre), Michael Monagan (left) and Garry Mund each have their own approach to teaching in the faculty of science. But their prowess at the front of the class earned each of them a 2001-2002 excellence-in- teaching award from the faculty of science.

Harden, an assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and Monagan, an associate professor of mathematics, are each recipients of a $1000 grant.

Garry Mund, a doctoral student in chemistry, is one of four graduate teaching assistants receiving a $500 grant for teaching excellence in the sciences.

“Winners of these awards often go on to win the university teaching award or to be nominated for national teaching awards,” says Willie Davidson, SFU dean of science.

He and a committee of chairs select award recipients based on nominations.

“Most importantly, these awards encourage everyone to be a better teacher and let us see what it takes to make effective teachers in science.”

For instance, Harden isn't trying to be nasty when he sets problems and exams that have no textbook answers.

He's trying to cultivate lateral thinking.

“I place a heavy emphasis on looking for parallels between seemingly very different processes. This both reinforces the concept that nature reuses systems that work well and develops a train of thought useful to the research scientist looking for ways to move a project forward.”

Mund finds cultivating a supportive and relaxed atmosphere in his labs evokes his students' best.

“Mistakes are always going to be made but by continuously maintaining a positive approach, students might better learn from those mistakes and are less likely to repeat them in the future.”

Monagan has a trick up his sleeve for enhancing his students' grasp of difficult concepts.

He simultaneously writes mathematics on an overhead projector and says in words what he is writing.

“Writing it out step-by-step forces the instructor to go at a pace at which the students can follow and take notes. It also forces the instructor to be thinking through the steps so that no point in an argument is glossed over,” explains Monagan, an associate professor of mathematics who researches algebraic computation.

Other recipients of 2001-2002 teaching awards were graduate students Crystal Huscroft (earth sciences), Paul Chang (mathematics) and Kathleen Fitzpatrick (molecular biology and biochemistry).

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