Alec Beaton

Teaching Portfolio

"We are the inheritors of a great scientific tradition and of a beautiful structure of knowledge. It is the duty of our generation to add to the perfection of this structure and to pass on to the next generation the best traditions of our science for the edification and entertainment of all mankind." - Isidor Isaac Rabi (1945)

Teaching Philosophy

As an educator, I believe my role is to guide. I liken teaching a course to guiding a student along his or her own individual path, with the objective being to have led each student to the same location of mutual understanding by the end of the course. Each student’s path is different and requires a different set of directions to arrive at this common location. Some paths may be similar to one another with substantial overlap, but others may be quite different and require an alternate direction set entirely. Consequently, I make every effort possible to meet the student at his or her current level of familiarity with the course content early in the semester, with the aim being to build on this foundation to understand each new concept as the course progresses.

This approach to teaching allows the student to have confidence and to engage with the content being discussed, which subsequently allows the student to take ownership over the material to better internalize it. While teaching 20 – 30 students in a general chemistry undergraduate recitation section, such an approach is certainly more challenging than it would be in an advanced undergraduate laboratory section of five students. I have adapted this approach in each scenario. In both cases, I strongly encourage students to ask questions. I try, whenever possible, to create an open dialogue or discussion of the material. This often means asking their thoughts or opinions, rather than just giving an answer. I also recognize that some students will not voice questions. Consequently, I will also briefly work with each student as he or she works through problems during recitation or office hours, to gauge understanding and clear up any misconceptions. Allowing for peer-to-peer discussion has also been shown to be an effective way to help students engage in the content in a more meaningful way, and I try to make room for this during my class sections.

To meet each student on his or her own path, I strive to draw connections between a student’s personal experiences and the content being covered in the classroom. This often translates to simply providing the student with as much context as possible, whether it involves discussing where one might encounter a certain chemical in their daily life, or if it involves drawing analogies to familiar scenarios outside of science to understand molecular motions or physical principles. I recognize that the context needed for one student’s understanding is not the same as the context needed for another student – after all, each path is different. Thus my approach to teaching relies heavily on providing individualized attention to the students and often involves tuning the lesson content to each student as much as possible.

As teaching assistant for general chemistry, while leading recitations and holding office hours, this often means spending a bit more time with each student on an individual basis to gauge the student’s current level of understanding before tackling the recitation problem or homework problem at hand. As teaching assistant for physical chemistry, typically leading laboratory sections and holding office hours, this usually means checking in with each student during the 3-hours long laboratory sessions to review aspects of the lab background or to answer questions.

As much of general and physical chemistry involves solving math problems and gaining important analytical skills, I firmly believe in the importance of working through problems by hand. I will typically show each step explicitly when working through course problems, and in my answer keys make abundant use of colors and explanations that my students have repeatedly told me they appreciate for the clarity and attention to detail. In this way, I serve to explicitly guide the student through solving the problem. Importantly, however, I always leave the door open for additional conversation for solving the problem in a different way or from a different perspective, and I encourage this kind of discourse. To me, this signifies that a certain student required a different set of directions for his or her own individual path and is integral to my style of teaching.

I believe that once the student is familiar with the course content from their own respective viewpoint, the content can become helpful for their own life or future careers. The problem-solving and analytical thinking needed to solve typical chemistry questions I believe factors into a student’s life whether he or she is consciously aware of it, whether it comes to decision-making or balancing a checkbook. Thus, by the end of a course, I hope to have led each student to the same location, where the problem solving skills combine with an understanding of the physical principles to lead to reasonably justified answers; in doing so, I consider each student equipped to better tackle his or her own challenges in life.

Teaching Bio

New York University

My first formal teaching assignment was in New York University during the Spring 2017 semester as teaching assistant for a general chemistry course for non-science majors (Chemistry and the Environment) and for a physical chemistry course. My predominant responsibilities in both cases were leading lab sections of 5-10 students and grading lab reports. The labs themselves were for the most part written and set up by the course instructors. The grading rubrics and answer keys were also provided for me by these course instructors. Teaching students without a specific interest in science was an enlightening experience. I saw firsthand how science content can effectively be conveyed to appeal to a generalized audience while still addressing important fundamental aspects of chemistry, such as balancing chemical equations, calculating reaction enthalpies, and even some rudimentary spectroscopy. My experience teaching the physical chemistry lab was particularly rewarding, as this course shaped my interest for pursuing graduate school. In particular, the mentorship from the course instructor helped mold my perspective toward generating rubrics for fair grading systems.

Syracuse University

The Fall 2017 semester was my first semester teaching at Syracuse University. Here I taught a number of recitation sections in general chemistry, ranging from 15 to 30 students. I also held office hours, proctored, and graded exams. As part of recitation, I worked through worksheets provided by the course instructor. I always made a separate key to allow the students to see my own notes as I worked through problems.

In Spring 2018, I taught physical chemistry lab and lecture at Syracuse University. This semester involved preparing labs and leading lab sections of 5-10 students, and lecture responsibilities involved proctoring and grading exams. I also prepared PowerPoint presentations on the labs, discussing some of the background and experimentation, and presented these to the students prior to the respective labs. There was substantially greater independence in leading these lab sections compared to the teaching experience for the same course at NYU. However, I made use of the lessons I learned at NYU with respect to fair grading and generating grading rubrics.

In Fall 2018 I taught general chemistry again, although this time it was for a different course instructor. The desired recitation format was different, and I adapted my teaching style accordingly. This involved a much more open-ended recitation, where students brought homework or other general questions that came up throughout the week. For each recitation, I always prepared 3 or 4 questions with an answer key to go over and discuss if there were no questions.

In Spring 2019, I taught the second semester of general chemistry, which involved reviewing worksheets provided by the course instructor. In Fall 2019, I again taught the first semester of general chemistry which involved reviewing worksheets.

Question 1: The TA's accessibility during posted office hours. Question 2 : The TA's enthusiasm for teaching. Question 3 : The TA's willingness to help students learn the material. Question 4 : The TA's knowledge of the course material. Question 5 : The TA's preparation for class. Question 6 : The TA's promptness in evaluating and returning assignments. Question 7 : The TA's quality of instruction. Question 8 : The TA's voice is clear and understandable. Question 9 : The TA's level of respect and sense of fairness in dealing with students.
In general these teaching evaluations show an improvement over the course of 3 years, during which I taught General Chemistry I (Fall semester). Although most scores lie within the above average to exceptional range, I would like to highlight the improvement in response to Question 3, which indicates the TA's willingness to help students learn the material. Although I was always willing to help my students engage with the content, I believe by incorporating feedback from prior years, I was able to offer better instruction by teaching more slowly and working more explicitly through different examples that could have aided in student understanding.

Starting in Spring 2020, I began teaching second semester Physical Chemistry lab and lecture again, this time with a new instructor. I adapted my teaching style to suit this new instructor, which meant less involvement in the presentations of the labs, but greater involvement in the lab preparation and grading. During this time, campus shut down due to the COVID-19 outbreak. I then had to adapt my labs to be fully remote friendly. This involved writing labs that made significant use of Python, and although different from what I envisioned, I believe were still successful at bringing across the major scientific points. I also relied on video recordings for the first time to present material to students.

In Fall 2020, I taught the first semester of physical chemistry lab and lecture for the first time. Students returned to campus but all course content was kept hybrid. I subsequently became very familiar with using online platforms such as Kaltura, Blackboard, and Zoom to record and post lectures. I also adapted to holding virtual office hours over zoom, which I believe remained successful despite being different. In Spring 2021, I taught the second semester of physical chemistry lab and lecture again. Although this was the third time teaching this course, it was the third time teaching for a different course instructor. Thus the content and teaching approach was adapted to best fit the style of the new instructor. This involved greater collaboration with the instructor to deliver labs that accomplished a set number of goals, which was an insightful approach to developing laboratories that I felt was very successful and plan to continue to implement in teaching future courses.

Lastly I taught physical chemistry lab again in Fall 2021. I was much more greatly involved in developing the lab content. The instructor wanted a greater focus on thermochemical principles to align with the lecture content during this semester. As such, a few labs were switched to better achieve these goals. The lab material was redesigned to explicitly state desired teaching goals and outcomes. I also developed an entirely new lab based on available instrumentation – namely, study of colligative properties using calorimetry.

Diversity Statement

As part of my teaching philosophy, I seek to guide students toward developing confidence in their own thoughts and opinions. As such, the classroom must remain an open and welcoming environment, regardless of race, religion, orientation, identity, or other characteristic. During my labs, lectures, office hours, and email communications, I strive to create a safe, protected space for all students. I believe it is always important to keep an open mind both with respect to science and to co-workers, and to appreciate and to value their perspectives and experiences. Furthermore, I believe it is critically important for students to foster their own identities within chemistry. I strive to provide inclusive examples and historical facts while discussing background information before labs or lecture content, in order to create a welcoming space where each student may feel represented.

Course List & Materials

Spring 2017 Physical Chemistry Laboratory (Syllabus)
Fall 2017 General Chemistry I Lecture (Syllabus) Samples*: Exam, quiz, and problem set Student comments
Spring 2018 Physical Chemistry II (Syllabus) Samples† : Lab lectures Student comments
Fall 2018 General Chemistry I Lecture (Syllabus) Samples*: Exams and quizzes Student comments
Spring 2019 General Chemistry II Lecture (Syllabus) Samples*: Exam and problem sets Student comments
Fall 2019 General Chemistry I Lecture (Syllabus) Samples*: Problem sets Student comments
Spring 2020 Physical Chemistry II (Syllabus) Samples† : Lab lectures and Lab procedures Student comments
Fall 2020 Physical Chemistry I (Syllabus) Samples† : Lab procedures, post-labs, rubrics Student comments
Spring 2021 Physical Chemistry II (Syllabus) Samples : Polarimeter Lab†, Absorbance and Fluorescence Lab†, Raman Lab* Student comments
Fall 2021 Physical Chemistry I (Syllabus) Samples† : Specific Heat Lab, Enthalpy of Reaction Lab, DSC Lab, Phase Separation Lab, NMR Lab Student comments
* Indicates material prepared by primary instructor. I was responsible for reviewing these materials during recitation periods.
† Indicates material prepared by me. I was responsible for covering these materials during class sections.