Episode 6: Evaluating Value in STEM courses with Zuania Pacheco
5:37PM Mar 15, 2021
In today's episode of the innovation studio podcast, we're talking with Zuania Pacheco, engineering, a chemistry instructor who's going to talk to us about the value in STEM education
and online design.
Welcome Zuania. We're glad you're here.
I thank you for having me.
So as we continue our conversation on innovation really being more about creating new value, or capturing value in new or different ways, we're going to start with the question, Swanee. When you hear the word value, just generally speaking, what do you think of?
I think about different things. One is the moral values of people that people have in general, in life in a society, I also think about doing things ethically, about how much something is worth for you. And in nowadays, it's hard to not think of the value of the monetary value of things like how much something cost, right?
When you hear the word paired with education, how does that change your definition of value?
I think about how important education is for someone? And how can someone use their education to move up in life and to achieve their dreams?
And with technology? How do you think technology either effects that value, or achieves that value or is paired with education?
I think when I pair value with technology, I think of how technology can serve society, how it can be used for the benefit of society. And in many cases, you need education in order to be able to create that technology to be able to serve the society. And I think nowadays COVID vaccines are a perfect example for that, of having value in technology, having that value of helping the people and giving them that beneficial to help that they need.
In your in an instructional design of your course your course design, in your disciplines of either engineering, or chemistry or both. Just I guess any STEM field in general. How do you see? How do you see the value of what you create, and do in your classes,
I think one of the first things I try to do is to tell students about respect. And remember that every person is going to be different, they're going to have different backgrounds, different ideas. So they need to respect each other in order to be able to move forward and get to that point where they can understand this is what I need to do. I also tell them about working with other people, they're going to be doing it in school, they're going to be doing it in live, they're going to be doing it in work. So having those learning how to communicate with others how to treat others well. And with respect is something that I value. And I that I try to tell the students that I value that a lot that I value teamwork, as well. So for some of the assignments, I try to put group components and I do self assessments so the students self assess how they work and also how the other team members work. So they can kind of compare this is how I'm doing and this is how others see me as I am doing. And this is how I feel others are doing in terms of sharing all the all the things they have to do during an assignment.
Walk us through a module or an activity or course and that you've designed and and point out where you see value for the student and how that might be measured.
So I have two ideas are coming to mind. One is because it's on innovation. So it obviously is the same topic. And it's for my intro to engineering class, I have students learn about different problems are occurring in the world, and that they have been occurring since many times like energy and how to some places is hard to get energy, or they can apply to something new like technology. And they need to come with a problem and an idea to solve that problem. They don't have to actually solve them, but kind of to getting that creative part of what they can do. And I gave them as much space they need. And it's, something's a little bit harder for them, because it's so open. And they're sometimes used to have really nice structure under assignments. So I also made, I gave them like a month, or sometimes five weeks to do the assignment, since I know it's going to be hard for them to get used to that much freedom. But at the end, they end up coming with ideas that surprise me. And that they surprise each other like, some of them were thinking about using virtual reality as a tool for physical health treatment. So they can have like a virtual coach that will tell them all the exercises that they need to do at home, or one of them was thinking to create. So we're off to students, we live in a rural area. So they have farm animals. And one thing they were talking about is that during winter, the water in the drought will freeze. And they have to manually bring water to the animals. So having a heater in the drought will not allow the water to freeze. So they created or they kind of model a solar system to have a water heater for the animals. And those are things that are useable, they can see working. So and I will not think of those because I I did not grew up in a farm. So also having a student's history and background coming into play. It's something that I I value a lot and I believe students will value because they see this is where I come from, and I can see it using engineering.
another thing that I've been doing since we move to online, I've been trying to look for things that students can have access at home to do their chemistry experiments. And Wanda students enjoy a lot was to my candy. So one of the topics and chemistry too, is crystallization. And I have the students made sugar candy to learn about how sugar crystallizes. And it's a fun experiment, since they're doing it at home. And it's enabled. So after they see it, they can eat it. And I think that's nothing better than being able to eat your experiment.
Exactly. Sounds like a yummy, yummy assignment.
And what kind of feedback Do you get back from the students on those types of assignments?
So I think that feedback changes because when they're starting, they hate it. And they're saying how I'm going to do this. And like you can do it. So they they need that encouragement there. They need that positivity. And when they're mid through or at the end, they said, Oh my god, I enjoyed this so much. So I love this experiment. We shouldn't have to do more things like this. Like, yes. So it's, it's a process. So, but I see that they they do enjoy it at the end, and they do learn a lot about it.
How did they share that back with you? Do they have to video or do they,
they rewrite it so I'm making them do reflections. So at the end of each assignment, they do a reflection And then that's how I get their feedback. And usually the ones at the beginning are because they email them to me, or they tell them to me during our zoom meetings, when they're having problems. And then once everything is done, and I get the feedback, I see that change.
So what are your Where do you get your ideas for how to create this, this engaging type of activity in your class?
from several places, something things I, I google them, I, I know the topic, and I try to remember what I did for the topic when I was in school. And if I like it, or if I didn't like it, and then if I like it, I try to look for the same experiments or a similar one. And if I didn't like it, then I tried to look for an activity in the same topic. But that could be a little bit more fun or more easy to do if I found it was too difficult. So it depends, I have some of my textbooks from when I was an undergrad. So I sometimes take a few ideas from there as well.
Do you think that this conversation would be different if you didn't teach in the STEM disciplines,
it may be different on the activities itself. But I think it will be similar in the sense that I will still value similar aspects like teamwork respect to each other communication. So those are known as soft skills, I will keep the same. But the the applied skills will be different depending on the class. But the general skills are can be transferred from one class to another will stay the same.
I'm curious as you copy a course from one semester to the next, how do you measure where the value was? And what do you do to revise or change it for the next term?
So I usually have students tell me about what they like what they didn't like, at the end of that semester. So I try to keep the things that they like and the things they didn't like. I do kind of like assess assessment on how necessary that is. And not only if they like it, but if they actually learn, because if they didn't like it, but they showed that they learned a lot on it, I still keep the class, I still keep that assignment. But if they show that they didn't learn, and on top of that, they didn't like it, I will take that out and then create a different assignment.
Would you say your your measure is both student feedback and mastery demonstration, then?
Are there any other things that that influenced that for you
trying to think, no, I do assess their mastery in different ways. Because I, for some assignments, I will see if they improve. For example, the innovation assignment that I give in the interest rate engineering course, they have to do a first draft, a second draft and a final draft. So I see if they have been improving between draft. And I notice that between the first and second draft, they don't improve us marsh. So now I'm doing only a first draft on a final draft. So it's still a mastery assessment, but it's in a formative way. So it's it depends on the class.
All right. your you know your discipline, your subject areas being being stem focused. What would your advice be to someone who was new to teaching in these disciplines?
Be patient. And think about when you were a student and how did you feel In that position, and try to not give the idea of I learned us this way. So I need to teach this way. But know that, if that worked for you, it may work for this to us, but there are some students that are different. So it might not work for them. So you need to be open to new ideas to what is out there in terms of different ways of teaching. I've been reading about cultural inclusivity in the classroom and about how this new generation is there are a lot of online, they do tic tocs. And they do Twitter. And they do. They don't do as much Facebook as you will think, which then hurt me
Oh, so kind of moving with the new generation, I allowed my students to take talks in the classroom when we were face to face. So
it's more about that.
Um, so for. For chemistry, I had a few students that were a lot into tic toc. And a few times they were like, I want to record you while you're doing an example. Like, okay, you have to share it with class, and then she will record me doing an example. And she will post it on tik tok. Um, so it was kind of let the students be who they are and kind of including that into the classroom because it's going to make it more fun for them. So that way, my way of thought is that if they see it more fond, they're going to accept it easier, and therefore they're going to learn more
fun factor might add some value. Is that what you're saying?
Yes, I think it will. Yeah, I have them playing with balloons, as well in chemistry. So there's the best first doctors of molecules. And it's basically how molecules look. And then atomic level and how the electrons look. And they're looked like balloons. So I bring balloons to the classroom, and I have the students make models of the molecules using balloons. And after they finish, they start drawing on the balloons. So they start playing with the balloons after the assignment is over. So it's kind of like I was going to say, kind of like their, what they their reward was going to say like their reward for finishing the assignment. It's playing with what is left over.
Well, it certainly keeps her interest, right.
yes. any final comments on value and innovation and what drives What?
keep in mind that everyone is different and who you are, but also try to tell this to us to be themselves in the classroom, and and to be creative. And to let's do this be creative.
It's definitely hitting those higher, higher blooms, isn't it?
Creativity. That's what we all want is for our students to to exhibit higher order thinking.
Oh, Zuania, I thank you so much for being with us today. It's been a pleasure.
We have been with Zuania Pacheco, engineering and chemistry instructor who teach us in STEM disciplines and subject areas in western North Carolina. Thank you.