Robert L. Niese
// science // art // education
As an educator, I thrive when engaging students and helping them connect with complex scientific concepts through learning techniques that inspire discovery and cultivate curiosity. All of us remember some point in our childhood where the thrill of discovery and our innate curiosity made us insatiable learners. For me it was dinosaurs, birds, seashells, rocks, and fossils – I absorbed information like a sponge and found immense pleasure in collecting and disseminating it, much to my parents’ chagrin. Later, as a science education specialist in elementary schools in Tacoma, Washington, I witnessed this same childhood passion for knowledge in nearly one hundred classrooms and over a thousand students. These experiences have led me to believe that learning is most rewarding and effective when it is driven by internal motivation instead of external rewards. To this day I maintain that our curiosity and the satisfaction that comes from independent discovery is what inspires the pursuit of new information for learners of all ages. Now, as a university instructor, I continue to embrace a pedagogy that derives from constructivist and experiential learning theory – one that focuses on student-centered lessons that encourage sustainable, independent inquiry. I do this through active and collaborative learning exercises, flipped classrooms, and transparent, backwards-designed curricula.
Ultimately, I seek to ensure that each of my students succeeds and feels validated by the work they have put into our class. I design all of my curriculum with inclusivity in mind – whether through an intentional and enhanced representation of research by female scientists or scientists of color, or through discussions of how race, gender, sexual orientation, or society have impacted scientific research and discoveries. My own experiences in the LGBT community have improved my awareness and appreciation of these topics, even in a science classroom. Every student has a unique background and I always strive to ensure that no one feels excluded from the culture and process of science and science education.
My pedagogical training and professional development have taught me how to craft effective learning experiences that encourage sustainable independent inquiry. These peer-reviewed practices promote student success by cultivating curiosity and deep learning through discovery, and by validating diverse student backgrounds through an antiracist, inclusive, and accessible curriculum. Feel free to contact me to learn more about my curriculum design and philosophy.
The Ways We Learn
// inspire discovery // cultivate curiosity // enhance accessibility
Robert and Bret team-teach a comparative vertebrate anatomy course with ten students every spring. The laboratory components of the course emphasize learning by doing, and each student participates in small group research projects, learning how to think like a scientist.
Museum collections are particularly well suited to engage students. The ability to touch a real artifact can turn a lesson into an active learning experience.
Above: a skeleton of a Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera). Even simple photographs or scientific images such as this scan of a Sword-billed Hummingbird can become teaching tools that engage curious minds through various internet resources and social media.
Museum specimens can be both priceless research artifacts and unique teaching tools. When utilized properly, they can inspire new generations of scientists to ask new questions, promoting the long-term utility and value of the collection.
Museums are not oversized curiosity cabinets. When we connect students to these specimens and to the living creatures and habitats they came from, we make tangible connections to nature and the environment.