Peter A. Palmiotto (PhD)

Core Faculty and Director of Conservation Biology Concentration
Department of Environmental Studies

Teaching Philosophy

I am fascinated how forests develop and change over time and how individual species are affected by and cause that change. I enjoy sharing my fascination about forests and ecology with my students because it is extremely rewarding to see students get excited and amazed about the natural environment. In addition, enthusiasm is contagious and students learn better when they are enthusiastic about a subject. I also believe that students who enter a natural resource profession should have a basic understanding of ecology because of the multitude of environmental challenges we currently face (e.g., deforestation and global warming).

I believe strongly in the utility of a field approach when teaching. Incorporating practical skills and applied research into classroom lectures is critical to successful learning because concepts are more easily understood and interesting to students when taught in a realistic context. Classroom lessons complemented by field experience (i.e., field trips) and visible practical applications (i.e., outdoor lab exercises) enable students to practice what they learn.

I have a strong desire to conduct research that can be used as a tool for teaching. Specifically, my interests lie in the field of plant ecology and ecosystem ecology focusing on the role of disturbance in the development and maintenance of forest communities. My research is ideal for student projects because it consists of numerous aspects that can match student’s interest and time frame. One of the best ways for students to learn is by conducting hands-on research that the student has responsibility for and control over. For example, in collaboration my graduate student Amber Boland we studied the impact of the December 2008 ice storm on the structure of the spruce-fir and hardwood forests of Mount Monadnock. In this research she learned methods of experimental design, field data collection, data analysis and will be writing a scientific paper.

Whether in the classroom or in indoor labs I believe it is important to find a realistic context to teach. I use a variety of teaching tools to create that context. My research experiences from around the world and in the U.S. provide me with numerous personal lessons that I incorporate into my teaching. For example, I use my tropical and temperate slide collection, my own research findings and physical samples to stress ecological principles in classroom lectures. To interest students in a topic and stimulate discussion in my seminar classes I require that students write discussion papers and debate the topics. The one-page discussion paper makes students think critically while improving their writing skills.

Thinking critically and integrating knowledge is what a graduate education should provide students. A graduate education should take students beyond simply acquiring knowledge, it should be an experience during which students develop independent thinking, one that drives them to ask probing questions and seek answers that adds knowledge and understanding to our complex world.

In addition, I also strongly believe that students need to develop outstanding technical and professional skills as the foundation for their higher learning. Knowing how to use a compass and map, knowing how to create a professional quality graphic, knowing how to communicate professionally whether through writing, speech or personal behavior and presentation are a few of the examples of skills that are important for success of an environmental professional. As students learn the content that a graduate education provides, they also need to be provided the technical and professional skills needed for success.

I enjoy working with students and work to emulate a professor I had at Yale University. This professor had the ability to motivate students, encourage their creativity and push them to do their best. He could turn any situation into an informative and rewarding lesson. Teaching is a process of discovery and learning. There is always more to learn and better ways to convey to others what we have learned. My goal as a teacher is to continually seek ways to better convey my growing knowledge to students and to find the context that stimulates students’ passion for the natural world.