Teaching is hard!

I am teaching a class on human genetics for non-science major undergraduate students. It’s part of a three quarter long series covering “the past”, “the present” and “the future”. I teach “the present”. This is the second year that I am teaching the class but the first that the class was restricted to “Honor’s” students. Until last year I was exclusively a research scientist with  no teaching responsibilities or experience. So last year was quite terrifying creating a class, with a lecture and laboratory component, out of thin air. Nothing was more frightening than walking to the front of the classroom & trying to capture the attention of angst ridden teenagers stuck in a required elective. This year is somewhat better as I had a better idea of the material I want to cover and more experience trying to convert my knowledge into accessible sound-bytes. However, I still have a long way to go.

Yesterday, I gave the first exam of the quarter. The distribution of grades was a beautiful bell shaped curve. Unfortunately, the distribution of grades ranged from a low of 37 to a high of 98 with many students doing more poorly than I expected. I know that my teaching skills need improvement as I discussed this in my very first post, but given that these are Honor’s students I really expected a much tighter range of scores….say 70 to 98. Tomorrow I have the fun responsibility of returning their exams & discussing potential remedies to this enormous spread in grades (extra credit? modifying the weight of this exam?) without somehow penalizing those students who performed strongly. While the students may never love the topic of human genetics, I do hope that they will comprehend & appreciate the fundamentals. Clearly I have much more work to do!