The Caltech Center for Teaching, Learning, & Outreach
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Center for Teaching, Learning, & Outreach
Winter 2016 Newsletter--TA Edition
CTLO Winter Seminar: Please join us for a fascinating exploration of teaching, learning, communication, and the media we use: “Words Are Obsolete”: Explaining and Understanding in the Dynamic Medium,  presented by Bret Victor (BSEE ’99), Director of Research at the Communications Design Group, San Francisco.

Wednesday, February, 3, 2016
Noon to 1pm

Beckman Institute Auditorium

More information and RSVP (for lunch):
Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering and mathematics (Freeman et al., 2014) 
Freeman et al. conducted a meta-analysis of 225 undergrad STEM courses. In classes where teaching incorporated an active learning approach compared to a lecture-only approach, student performance increased by an average of 0.47 standard deviations. In addition, students were 1.5 times less likely to fail in courses that utilized active learning. 

What works, what doesn’t (Dunlosky et al., 2013)
Dunlosky et al. analyzed 700 articles to determine which study strategies are most beneficial for learning. Self-testing and distributed practice were the winners, while highlighting and reviewing fared poorly as strategies. The winning strategies can be facilitated in class by using clicker questions, straw polls, getting your students up at the board to solve a problem or peer teaching using a think-pair-share strategy, all of which check for student understanding. 

The science myths that will not die (Scudellari, 2015)
Nature recently featured an article highlighting persistent myths and "learning styles" made the list. Find out why the common belief that "individuals learn best when taught in their preferred learning style" is a myth and what to do instead.
CPET Certificate Programs Available! 
In co-operation with the CTLO, CPET (Caltech Project for Effective Teaching) is offering two tiers of certification in university teaching:
  1. Certificate of Interest
  2. Certificate of Practice
The Interest program aims to inspire participants to develop as educators through the submission of reflective journal entries about topical seminars and workshops on teaching and learning.
NEW! The Practice program includes a more comprehensive knowledge and support structure in which participants both teach and reflect on their teaching experiences, and develop a teaching philosophy and portfolio.

If you are interested in either of these programs, you can find more details here.

CPET Journal Club! 
Are you interested in learning about relevant educational research over coffee and tea with your peers? CPET invites you to participate in a new teaching-oriented journal club, which will serve as a space for participants to discuss current educational research and to connect with other students who share their passion for teaching, all over free coffee and tea! Help us find a time that works by completing the survey here.   

You Can Do To Improve Your TA Experience
  1. Learn your students’ names. Students appreciate this more than you likely realize. It can go a long way in creating a supportive learning environment.
  1. Continually ask if there are any questions from students. And ask questions of your students. This gives you a better idea of what concepts to focus on.
  1. Get your students more active in recitations or office hours. Numerous studies conclude that active learning results in greater information retention.  Get your students up at the board to solve a problem or peer teaching using a think-pair-share strategy.

Teaching/Learning Resources are readily available at your fingertips!
Check out these new on-demand resources from CTLO, including comprehensive information for faculty and TAs about:
  • Planning and Teaching Courses – documents related to all phases of teaching, including syllabus/policies templates, methods to consider for lectures for TAs: recitations, labs, and office hours, and more.
  • Teaching for Inclusion & Diversity – resources to help identify and implement inclusive teaching practices.
  • Books and Articles – a curated collection of key publications on university STEM education.
  • Caltech Teaching Awards – institute-wide and discipline-specific awards for teaching excellence among faculty, instructors, and TAs.
Community Science Academy International
Our Winter Session of the Community Science Academy International will take place here January 25 - February 4.  High School students from China and Taiwan will spend two weeks on the Caltech campus in an intensive international version of our Community Science Academy, learning core science and engineering concepts and research skills.  Students will gain hands-on experience utilizing DIY instrumentation and SKIES software to perform experiments and build projects in areas relevant to community needs, including agriculture, environment, and urban planning. A number of the soil and water testing exercises will take place at nearby Huntington Library and Gardens. A favorite culminating activity for the young scholars is designing and building a powered kite complete with camera and GPS steering.


On November 30 we held our third Community Science Event, “Microbial diners, drive-ins, and dives: deep-sea edition,” where Professor Victoria Orphan of the Geology and Planetary Science Department presented a keynote seminar on microbial ecology to approximately 100 local teachers. After the presentation the teachers participated in a showcase of interactive demonstrations spanning all grade levels -- everything from bottle terrariums and ant habitats to DIY microscopes and calorimeters. These activities were led by a team of 60 Caltech graduate students, undergrads and PCC volunteers. Lastly, the teachers shared their own lesson plans and brainstormed about how they would bring what they had learned back into their classrooms. To jumpstart the process, selected materials and tools from the lessons were donated to the participating teachers. Almost every school in Pasadena Unified School District was represented, as well as schools from across Los Angeles County.
Whether you are at the proposal or implementation stage, CTLO can help you develop and implement effective educational outreach and "broader impacts" models. We have collaborated on a number of successful grant applications recently. Please contact Mitch Aiken,  395-4641  for assistance in developing your plan.
Dr. Jennifer Weaver joined us in the fall as our new Assistant Director. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto where her thesis focused on ecological modeling and comes to us from a post-doc at UC Berkeley, where she held a dual appointment to the Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology and the Center for Teaching and Learning. Jenn’s interests in educational development include active learning, retention in STEM disciplines, diversity, and course design. She has taught
numerous educational development workshops and undergraduate courses in physical geography, biogeography and environmental science.
At the CTLO, Jenn is consulting with faculty on their teaching at Caltech, working with the Caltech Project for Effective Teaching co-directors, undergraduate students from the ARC, training new teaching assistants and working with faculty on teaching with technology, whether as MOOCs, using the SKIES app for iPads in their classroom or other emerging interests. Jenn would love the opportunity to visit your classroom (both faculty lectures and TA recitations) and find out more about teaching at Caltech. Contact her with an invitation or questions about any of the above at

Leslie Rico joined the Center for Teaching, Learning, & Outreach  in October as the Administrative Coordinator. Most recently, she worked as the Administrative Assistant to the Executive Officer in MCE. She has enjoyed a distinguished 23-year career with Caltech, including prior work in Development and Institute Relations, the Caltech Library System, and in the GPS. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in English with a minor in Creative Writing from the University  of LaVerne.
We can work with you, your course or your department on all aspects of teaching and learning, such as:
  • strategies, from traditional to those that incorporate new methods or technologies
  • grading & assessment practices
  • classroom observations/recordings & feedback
  • mid-quarter/end-of-quarter student surveys and focus groups
  • assistance with grant proposals involving educational outreach, including NSF "broader imapcts."
Please contact us at (626) 395-8427 (main line). For more information: or send additional queries to We are located on the 3rd for of the Center for Student Services (Building #86).

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