Stacey Lowery Bretz
My Approach to Teaching and Learning
Whether I am teaching future high school science teachers, STEM majors, or pre-health students, my focus is always student success. Chemistry is a very challenging subject. I make sure my teaching and assessment methods follow best practices supported by evidence from research studies on how people learn. My research uses ideas from cognitive psychology to investigate the teaching and learning of chemistry. My research team (undergraduate and graduate students at Miami University) and I investigate how students’ brains learn to think about atoms, molecules, and chemical reactions. We also investigate how students learn to conduct experiments in the laboratory. If some students in my chemistry classroom are struggling with a particular concept, we can use what we know from our research to help them learn and succeed. I don’t believe in “weed-out” courses. Instead, I want all my students see my course as a gateway to pursuing their dreams and passions. That’s one of the special things about being a professor at Miami: I can incorporate my research on learning into my classroom to benefit my students. We call that being a “teacher-scholar.” Learning in my classroom does not mean passively listening to my lecture. Rather, students discuss their ideas, create and revise models, develop visualizations of chemical reactions, and learn how to view their world through a molecular lens. That means beyond learning chemistry, they are learning how to learn — and that’s a skill that gives them an edge across their education and throughout their lives.
My Teacher-Scholar Journey
Because my expertise is chemistry education research, the teacher-scholar model resonates deeply. My group develops assessments to measure students’ learning in the laboratory and to characterize their mental models of molecules and reactions. We characterize students’ understandings of and reasoning with representations from macroscopic (observations with human senses) to particulate (structure of molecules, ions, and atoms) to symbolic (equations, graphs, and math). We develop rubrics and instruments for investigating the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor dimensions of meaningful learning in the laboratory. As a teacher-scholar, I apply everything I learn in research into the pedagogy and assessments of my courses — and vice-versa: my students’ voices, ideas, and experiences inspire my research. I designed and taught a general chemistry course using evidence-based pedagogy that reduced the DFW rate for at-risk students from 35% to 8%. I’ve co-authored textbooks for college chemistry and high school AP chemistry that translate my research on visualization and multiple representations of molecules and reactions into a pedagogy and suite of assessment tools for teachers to improve student learning. I help faculty colleagues use evidence-based pedagogies. Ellen Yezierski and I have collaborated with 14 chemistry faculty to create 19 novel experiments/activities, using inquiry pedagogy to transform their cutting-edge bench research into hands-on experiences for 13 undergraduate courses. We’ve co-authored 21 publications, twice making the cover of the Journal of Chemical Education. These collaborations are a best practice in our department for meeting Miami’s benchmark of “multiple measures of excellence” for teaching in promotion and tenure portfolios.
Knowledge is Power
“Miami University is a special place because faculty are not just talented researchers but also talented teachers. When Miami faculty say we are teacher-scholars, that’s our shorthand way of promising Miami students that you won’t just learn what other people already know. At Miami, you will learn how to learn what other people haven’t yet figured out!”
Ph.D. Cornell University
M.S. Pennsylvania State University
B.A. Cornell University
More About Me
My students and I have published 105 peer-reviewed publications and contributed 327 presentations at national and international conferences. I have also given 198 invited seminars/keynote addresses and co-authored three textbooks for high school and college chemistry.