This story appeared in the Stanford Report on Sept. 30, 2015.
Biophysics Professor Steven Block wants his freshman students to learn to think like scientists. So Block, who studies biomolecular motors, has his students conduct an experiment using "piezo poppers"—film canisters propelled through the air by an explosion ignited by a piezoelectric device.
First the students hypothesize about the fuel mixture, body design and optimal launch angle, and then they run tests to prove or disprove their hypotheses.
Elsewhere on campus, Marília Librandi-Rocha brings the study of Brazilian culture to life for her students through fictional narrative, in contrast to historical narrative. Her students create art, music and dance and offer them as gifts to an imagined great-great-great-great grandmother Balangandã, an experience that offers the students a deep understanding of the suffering, courage and resistance of the African presence in Brazil and the Americas.
Meanwhile, Stanford's innovative approach to language instruction focuses on what students can do with a language rather than what they know about a language. Alice Miano's Spanish language students use iPads in class to put their Spanish-speaking skills to use in a virtual ways – by conducting city tours using Google Earth or hunting online for apartments abroad.
All across Stanford, creative faculty and instructors are forging new ways to improve student learning.
Stanford is thinking broadly about how to best educate its students in the 21st century. In 2015-16, the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learningis hosting the Year of Learning, a year-long series of events and initiatives for the Stanford community, to engage faculty, instructors, students, staff and alumni in thinking about the past, present and future of teaching and learning at Stanford and beyond.
The Year of Learning begins Friday, Oct. 2, with the Great Teaching Showcase, where Block, Librandi-Rocha and Miano will join colleagues to share examples of teaching innovation in all seven of Stanford's schools. From 5-8 p.m. in Lathrop Library, this celebration of great teaching at Stanford will include a gallery walk showcasing projects and ideas, with brief inspirational talks by faculty and instructors Harry Elam, Ray McDermott, Eavan Boland, Allyson Hobbs, Mark Applebaum, Maya Adam and Fei-Fei Li. A reception follows. See video here.