Teaching and Learning STEM: A Practical Guide
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RICHARD M. FELDER, PHD, is Hoechst Celanese Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University and author of the bestselling Wiley textbook Elementary Principles of Chemical Processes, now in its fourth edition. He is the inaugural recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award in Engineering Education, presented in 2012 by the American Society for Engineering Education.

REBECCA BRENT, EdD, is President of Education Designs, Inc., a consulting firm in North Carolina, and is a certified educational program evaluator. Prior to her work in consulting, she was an associate professor of education at East Carolina University.

Separately and together, Drs. Felder and Brent have published over 300 papers and presented over 700 workshops and seminars on STEM education on campuses around the world.


The Authors iii

Tables, Figures, and Exhibits xi

Foreword xv

Preface xvii

1 Introduction to college teaching 1

1.0 Welcome to the university, there’s your office, good luck 1

1.1 Making learning happen 2

1.2 Learner-centered teaching: Definition, warning, and reassurance 5

1.3 What’s in this book? 7

1.4 How to use the book 9

PART ONE Designing courses

Interlude. What do they need to know? 13

2 Learning objectives: A foundation of effective teaching 17

2.0 Introduction 17

2.1 Writing and using course learning objectives 19

2.2 Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives 30

2.3 Addressing course prerequisites and program outcomes 34

2.4 Ideas to take away 36

2.5 Try this in your course 37

Interlude. Good cop/bad cop: Embracing contraries in teaching 39

3 Planning courses 41

3.0 Introduction 41

3.1 Three steps to disaster, or, how not to approach course preparation 42

3.2 A rational approach to course preparation and redesign 43

3.3 Choosing a course text or content delivery system 47

3.4 Formulating a course grading policy 47

3.5 Writing a syllabus 51

3.6 The critical first week 52

3.7 Ideas to take away 63

3.8 Try this in your course 63

Interlude. How to write class session plans (or anything else) 65

4 Planning class sessions 67

4.0 Introduction 67

4.1 Avoid common planning errors 69

4.2 What’s in a class session plan? 69

4.3 Promote long-term memory storage, retrieval, and transfer 70

4.4 Two cornerstones of effective class sessions 74

4.5 Plan good questions and activities 76

4.6 Don’t turn classes into slide shows and verbal avalanches 78

4.7 Use handouts with gaps 81

4.8 Planning undergraduate laboratory courses 84

4.9 Ideas to take away 86

4.10 Try this in your course 87

PART TWO Teaching courses

5 Elements of effective instruction 91

5.0 Introduction 91

5.1 Make class sessions effective 92

5.2 Make pre-class assignments effective 96

5.3 Don’t be a slave to your session plans 99

5.4 Keep improving your teaching 100

5.5 Ideas to take away 104

5.6 Try this in your course 104

Interlude. Meet your students: Aisha and Rachel 107

6 Active learning 111

6.0 Introduction 111

6.1 What is active learning? 112

6.2 Structures and formats of activities 114

6.3 How well does active learning work? Why does it work? 116

6.4 Active learning for problem solving 119

6.5 Common active learning mistakes 122

6.6 Common active learning concerns 125

6.7 Active learning in recitations and flipped classrooms 128

6.8 Ideas to take away 128

6.9 Try this in your course 129

Interlude. Is technology a friend or foe of learning? 131

7 Teaching with technology 135

7.0 Introduction 135

7.1 Instructional technology tools 135

7.2 Learning benefits of technology 137

7.3 Setting up communications 139

7.4 Integrating technology into instruction 141

7.5 Blended learning and flipped classrooms 142

7.6 Online courses 146

7.7 Ideas to take away 149

7.8 Try this in your course 149

Interlude. Meet your students: Michelle, Ryan, and Alex 151

8 Evaluating knowledge, skills, and understanding 155

8.0 Introduction 155

8.1 Multiple-choice and short-answer questions 156

8.2 Evaluating and promoting conceptual understanding 160

8.3 Evaluating problem-solving skills 164

8.4 Evaluating reports and presentations 175

8.5 Ideas to take away 182

8.6 Try this in your course 183

PART THREE Facilitating skill development

Interlude. Meet your students: Stan and Nathan 187

9 Problem-solving skills 189

9.0 Introduction 189

9.1 The long, steep path from novice to expert 190

9.2 Strategies for teaching expert problem-solving skills 193

9.3 A structure for complex problem solving 200

9.4 Problem-based learning 207

9.5 Ideas to take away 208

9.6 Try this in your course 209

Interlude. Meet your students: Dave, Megan, and Roberto 213

10 Professional skills 217

10.0 Introduction 217

10.1 How can professional skills be developed 218

10.2 Communication skills 221

10.3 Creative thinking skills 222

10.4 Critical thinking skills 230

10.5 Self-directed learning skills 235

10.6 Project-based learning 238

10.7 Creating a supportive environment for professional skill development 239

10.8 Ideas to take away 241

10.9 Try this in your course 242

Interlude. Sermons for grumpy campers 243

11 Teamwork skills 245

11.0 Introduction 245

11.1 Cooperative learning 246

11.2 How should teams be formed? 248

11.3 What can teams be asked to do? 252

11.4 Turning student groups into high-performance teams 255

11.5 Dealing with difficulties 263

11.6 Ideas to take away 268

11.7 Try this in your course 269

12 Learner-centered teaching revisited 271

12.0 Introduction 271

12.1 Aspects of student diversity 272

12.2 Inductive teaching and learning 279

12.3 Learner-centered teaching strategies 283

12.4 Last words 285

References 287

Index 311


"Felder and Brent, longtime leaders in STEM education research, fill an important gap by providing both insightful and very practical guidance for the college instructor trying to translate the findings of STEM research into effective classroom practice."
     --Carl Wieman, Nobel Laureate in Physics, Department of Physics and Graduate School of Education, Stanford University

"In their research-based, direct, and exceptionally readable style, Felder and Brent provide one of the few--and the best--practical guides to teaching in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. From designing a course to teaching students to assessing for learning, busy faculty members will find countless, creative, and straightforward strategies for creating a more learner-centered, evidence-based teaching environment."
     --Mary Deane Sorcinelli, research professor and founding director, Center for Teaching & Faculty Development, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

"While designed for university faculty, Teaching and Learning STEM serves equally well for high school teachers of STEM courses, particularly those of us working with advanced level students. The chapters on active learning, effective use of technology, and developing problem solving and creative thinking skills should be studied by teachers of all subjects working with students of any age."
     --Daniel J. Teague, instructor of mathematics, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics

"Richard Felder and Rebecca Brent have created a treasure chest of wisdom and practical strategies for improving learning. It is organized in a way to be accessible to first-time and veteran educators alike, and I have already started applying their ideas in my classroom."
     --Sheri Sheppard, mechanical engineering professor and Director of the Designing Education Lab,  Stanford University

"Imagine a book that is like having a welcoming and seasoned faculty colleague just down the hall, ready with engaging stories and sage advice. That is this book."
     --Kimberly D. Tanner, professor, Department of Biology, and Director, The Science Education Partnership and Assessment Laboratory, San Francisco State University

"This is my all-time favorite book on teaching.."
     --Tara Gray, Director, New Mexico State University Teaching Academy

“Felder and Brent break down the last few decades of advances in STEM education into coherent, useful, and well-organized advice, creating down-to-earth lessons that keep the needs and interests of the STEM educator front and center.”
    —Brian P. Coppola, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Chemistry and associate chair for Educational Development & Practice, University of Michigan

"What makes this particular book useful is its STEM context. I appreciated the STEM-specific examples, the short and easy-to-understand descriptions of teaching strategies and the advice about the steps I could take to implement them in my courses without investing excessive amounts of time or effort. I felt as though an experienced and realistic colleague were giving me advice about how to improve my teaching, and isn’t that the best way to get advice?" (Education in Chemistry 2016)