Marcel Pinheiro

Marcel Pinheiro: Growing Engagement


Marcel Pinheiro, Department of Biology

Written by Kelly Stone, Special Projects (Teaching Stories), CTE. 

When teaching content-heavy courses, such as BIOL 110: Introductory Zoology, it can be difficult to sustain the learners’ attention — especially when those learners are first-year students, already overwhelmed by the transition from high school to university. As an instructor for Biology courses such as 110 and 414, Dr. Marcel Pinheiro strives to ensure that his classroom is a place where students want to learn. Being an instructor for first-year students makes for an exciting opportunity because “you have infinite potential,” Pinheiro explains. “They’re not jaded yet. They don’t know what to expect, so you can try to show them things they may not see again for another two years.”
Taking abstract content and contextualizing it in real-world scenarios is one way Pinheiro works towards creating an engaged classroom. With BIOL 110, Pinheiro says that making content relatable “can be difficult when you are talking about something that lives at the bottom of the sea.” For this reason, Pinheiro includes videos whenever possible during his lectures: “The nice thing about zoology is that you can show them before you tell them. You can say, ‘Hey! Look at this octopus doing this crazy thing! Now let’s learn about octopuses.’” Providing students with in-class videos to pique their interest is a teaching strategy that Pinheiro implemented at the beginning of his teaching career. Videos are “much more powerful and much more memorable. You’re going to remember something you saw, like an octopus rolling around in a coconut shell, for much longer than if I were to simply tell you about it.”
As class sizes increase, student participation in the classroom tends to decrease. Pinheiro uses technologies such as Clickers in class and Twitter outside of class to continually encourage students to interact and participate. Clickers help students overcome their timidity when responding to in-class questions; they can also be used to generate peer discussion about the topics being taught. Pinheiro uses Twitter to provide students with links to videos shown in class, articles depicting real-world applications of material, and also for providing quick exam tips. For Pinheiro the exam tips are “an easy way to grab the attention of students because they are going to get a concrete benefit.” 
Another way Pinheiro keeps students engaged and focused is by highlighting which concepts are especially important. He does this by placing an image of a key on PowerPoint slides that reference key concepts. By highlighting these essential concepts, Pinheiro reduces the number of questions that students have regarding the parameters of their midterms and the final exam. These visuals help students understand how to structure their studying: “They see that key and know that that’s an anchoring point where things will start from, and then build from there.”
Striving for an engaged classroom is something Pinheiro is continually working towards — but of course it all starts with students coming to class. Pinheiro encourages them to attend and “actively participate in any way you can – and I’m not talking about putting up your hand and asking questions, though that would be lovely. Just having a notepad and writing down important ideas that the professor is emphasizing. If you don’t come to class, you lose the reason for being here, which is to learn from someone interested, excited, and in love with what they do.”

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CTE has developed more than 100 Teaching Tips. Each one is a succinct document that conveys useful ideas and practical methods for effective teaching. Some of the Teaching Tips that are relevant to the strategies mentioned in this Teaching Story include the following: