Aug. 6, 2019Print | PDF
What can studying zooplankton teach educators about creating learning environments that prepare students for the future?
Just ask 2019 Laurier Student Teaching Award of Excellence winner Carly Tward, who used the lessons about perseverance, resiliency and collaboration she learned while studying zooplankton to motivate students in her classroom and the research lab.
“During my time in the lab I learned that roadblocks were unavoidable, so you need to learn how to stay motivated, find solutions and move forward,” says Tward. “When you’re doing research of any kind, you’re going to hit a wall.”
Tward received her Master’s of Science in Integrative Biology in May of 2019. During her two-year master’s program, she worked as a teaching assistant and mentor to undergraduate researchers.
In high school, Tward was diagnosed with a learning disability. She coped with the news by striving to establish a learning style that worked for her. Though it is common for people to use a combination of learning styles, Tward was suited to a kinesthetic – or hands-on – style.
For Tward, this period of self-discovery revealed an advantage to collaborating with peers whose learning styles were different from her own. It was a lesson she applied to an existing assignment she modified while a graduate teaching assistant for a senior biology course.
Throughout the term, students worked in groups to conceptualize, create and present a professional scientific poster. Tward populated each group with students of varied learning styles. Before being placed into a group, each student completed an assessment of their learning style, identifying as auditory, visual, verbal or kinesthetic learners.
Tward says the assignment plays to the strength of each kind of learner: auditory learners who like to lead initial brainstorming and encourage peers to share ideas; kinesthetically minded learners who have a knack for physical construction; visual learners who can imagine how the layout will come together; and students who are comfortable expressing ideas when it comes time to present.
“By gathering information about their skillsets early on, I could create a class for all types of learners that worked to their advantages,” says Tward.
As an undergraduate student pursuing her Bachelor of Science, Tward served as an instructional assistant in biology and was introduced to research through a volunteer position in the lab of Associate Professor Allison McDonald. Tward met McDonald during her first year at Laurier, a time when Tward didn’t have a clear idea of what life after Laurier might look like.
“In teaching and learning, like in research, we are working toward a larger goal that can be difficult to see in the moment, but our efforts today will help us get there,” says Tward.
Tward was provided the opportunity to supervise a second-year student as a senior undergraduate research assistant. Willie Cygelfarb (BSc ’19) worked under Tward’s supervision for three years, during which time Tward assisted him in completing three summer work projects, a directed study, thesis and the publication of a scientific paper.
“She provided all of the resources I required to succeed in the lab while also allowing me to learn from my mistakes,” says Cygelfarb. “Even when the results were not what I expected, Carly was there to reassure me and give me the confidence to work harder and not give up.”
Tward continued to work in McDonald’s lab throughout her graduate studies. She completed her program this spring, but stayed on campus during the summer to train the incoming cohort of research assistants in McDonald’s lab.
Tward’s next move is to the Michener Institute of Education to join a select group of students as part of the fall intake of the institute’s Cardiovascular Perfusion Program.
Cardiovascular perfusionists are key members of open-heart surgery teams, whose primary role is to monitor a patient’s blood flow and other vital signs during open-heart surgery.
The knowledge and skills Tward gained as a leader in the classroom and research lab have, in her estimation, prepared her for success in the academic and professional opportunities that lie ahead.
“Teaching was a time to build social skills and hone effective communication practices,” says Tward. “Learning how to make students feel calm in stressful situations and practicing communicating complicated concepts in more understandable terms have made me a successful communicator.”
Cygelfarb, who was recently accepted into a Canadian dentistry program, credits Tward as a catalyst for his success.
“I cannot think of anyone more deserving of a teaching award,” says Cygelfarb. “Without Carly, I would not be the student, researcher and person I am today.”
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