Welcome to My Classroom


“Welcome to my classroom” is scheduled as an interactive session in the annual STLHE conference program and showcases the teaching of 3M National Teaching Fellows. Presenters give a sample interactive class suitable for first-year students or a general audience.

The 50-minute session generally consists of two components: a presentation of a teaching moment, innovation or style, and a discussion of the pedagogy behind the presentation. The second part is intended as a forum for the audience to ask questions and relate the enacted elements to their own teaching experiences. Three proposals are selected in an attempt to create a balance of styles and subjects.

Submitting a Proposal

  • Please consider the conference theme in your proposal;
  • Follow and respect the submission dates and guidelines as outlined on the conference web site in the call for proposals; and
  • Start the title of your proposal with “Welcome to my classroom” followed by the remainder of your title. This will allow the program organizers to correctly identify the submissions for this part of the program.

The conference program committee will ensure submissions meet the program requirements and will forward them to the 3M “Welcome” sessions working group who then will select three for the program. Those not chosen for the special session will have the Welcome to my Classroom prefix of the title removed and will be considered with the other submissions to the conference.

Recent Conference Sessions

Mike Atkinson, Psychology, Western University

Welcome to My Classroom: Student Engagement in a First-Year Gateway Course

Introduction to Psychology. The gateway course for all higher level psychology courses, and many other programs in the university as well. In my 800 student classroom, about thirty percent believe they will continue in psychology. Another twenty percent have not completely decided, and the remainder are taking the course as an elective. The challenge for me is to light the fire of knowledge for the thirty percent and convince the rest that they really want to pursue psychology too. To engage students I use a number of techniques in a lively, fast-paced delivery that maintains attention, creates rapport, and challenges students to think about issues. In my presentation, I will model some of these techniques and then invite the audience to think about how to use these in their own classrooms.

Pat Maher, Community Studies, Cape Breton University

Building Community in the Classroom

Students flourish when they become part of a collaborative and creative community. All too often, courses are focused on squeezing in a maximum amount of content at the expense of the equally important process component of learning. The concept of learning communities, which assist to deepen the degree of learning by spending more time on, and paying greater attention to, process is highlighted as a “high impact practice” in student recruitment and retention literature; and it’s also the ethos of the program I teach in, Community Studies.

Whether the setting is a conventional university classroom, a field or forest on the edge of campus, or a local neighbourhood, educators can easily facilitate a learning community through a progression of intra- and interpersonal explorations. This workshop will engage participants in a series of experiential activities that we use in our first-year Community Studies programming – aimed at fostering initiative, leadership, self-awareness, and trust – all factors that underlie effective collaborations for increased learning. Workshop activities will be debriefed from both the participant and facilitator perspectives.

Adam Sarty, Physics, Saint Mary's University

A Mandatory intro Physics course you don’t really want to take, and that you think you’ve already mastered in High School 

Incoming undergraduate Science students are challenged with the need to take mandatory introductory courses in disciplines outside of their desired major subject area (for example, chemistry and physics are frequently both required to major in each other’s discipline, and both are needed for engineering students, etc.). The challenge is exacerbated by the facts that students normally have already taken these subjects in Grade 12, and therefore believe they have mastered the introductory material, and that the classes are often large – and, therefore students have reduced motivation to invest effort (or enthusiasm) into these courses.

Introductory physics courses are prototypical in this respect, and successful teaching must face this transitional challenge for students head-on. In this session, I will share some of my “first class” tools to help foster an initial enthusiasm for the course while illustrating how the expectations will be different than in high school. I will then review (and do!) a sampling of the interactive engagement techniques I employ to help students focus on conceptual understanding and entertain paradigm shifts of their view of physics. I draw heavily from methods pioneered/implemented/researched by Physics Education Research groups over the last 20 years, and discuss how specific use of these methods is always modulated by individual institutional realities (e.g. number of students in course, physical layout of classroom, and technologies available).

Maureen Connolly, Brock University

Establishing Relevance via embodied engagement

Dissonance plays a primary role in my teaching and learning. The sooner I can move learners to dissonance, the sooner they can engage with unfamiliar and unsettling ideas and propositions. Thus unhinged from their habitual ways of thinking and knowing, they can consider approaches that they previously would resist or avoid. Yet, dissonance used like a bludgeon loses its effectiveness, hence, I must orchestrate a more nuanced, progressive and, admittedly, tricky, unfolding. I use strategically constructed questions which appear innocent but which compel complex and usually deep engagement. I accompany these with movement engagement that allows the participants to unhinge from their neuro-typical and habitual forms of engaging in learning ‘from the neck up’. I call this approach semiotic choreology, and I have been using it in my classes for almost two decades. Semiotic choreology is an approach I developed for exploration and analysis of cultural phenomena through the expressive body. Using Laban’s movement existentials of body, space, quality and relation, in combination with a phenomenological analysis, I and my students can describe and (sometimes) physically enact thematized and spontaneous movement sequences. What semiotic choreology makes possible, depending on how I am able to involve learners and other participants, is the implication of the body of the person attempting to formulate meaning, and the tethering of that meaning making to the body’s expressive and reflexive potentialities. The body remembers.

Martha Graham insisted that Movement never lies, it is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather for all who can see it. I believe semiotic choreology is a means to be more attentive to this seeing, even and especially when the seeing need not necessarily involve neurotypical forms of seeing. It centres the body in a culture increasingly inclined to move the body to the periphery. Semiotic choreology implicates the body, opening a pathway to expression of this unavoidable tension between body and world, signs and disclosures of a different kind. It allows us to have a felt sense of the consequences of hegemonic normalcy across its many contexts of enactment, higher education included.

Using three progressive questions and simple movement activities within a small group format, I will provide several embedded layers that we can then unpack as a group in a larger facilitated discussion. Together we can explore how embodied engagement might allow students to connect with any subject matter in meaningful ways.

Ron Sheese, York University

This hour has seven days: A typical week in the life of my Ed Psych students

I will illustrate the methods I use in my Educational Psychology course by combining the events of a typical week into a one hour session. Those attending will play the part of students – reading, listening, discussing, writing and more. The topic chosen for the week’s work will be the application to post-secondary teaching and learning of John Dewey’s cognitive psychology as seen in his 1916 book Democracy and Education. The heart of Dewey’s approach is growth through reflection on experience. I strive to provide my students with experiences that are rich with possibilities for reflection and growth each week; and I hope that the session will not only illustrate how I do that, but also provide the attendees with the same outcome in this hour.

Lisa Dickson, Shannon Murray, Jessica Riddell

Three Ways of Looking at Hamlet

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is at once familiar and remote for 21st century students. A student himself, this great Dane deals with royal succession and ghosts but also with depression, family pressures, and girlfriend problems. Recent filmed stage versions with hugely popular stars like Benedick Cumberbatch and David Tennant have helped bring a new generation to the play, so the challenge for instructors is to harness those moments of connection without glossing over its unfamiliarity. If, as W.B. Worthen notes, “Theater goes well beyond the force of mere speech, subjecting writing to the body, to labor, to the work of production” (9), how may we as teachers tap into this material and experiential potential? In this session, three 3M teachers of Shakespeare present three ways of inviting students to Hamlet through debate, close reading, and creative assignments. In Jessica Riddell’s class, students put Shakespeare on trial for fraud in a Canadian court. Lisa Dickson maps out the playing space with an exercise that unpacks the opening lines of the play: the original “knock knock” joke. And Shannon Murray’s students in a Hamlet seminar end their experience with a creative response to the play, anything from painting and sculpture to quilting and game design. All these activities are designed to, in Rex Gibson’s words, make the Shakespeare classroom a “co-operative, shared experience” (12). Join us for some demonstration and play and for a discussion of the joys and challenges of introducing a 400-year old student to 20-somethings.