SOC 102 – Social Problems is both an entry-level requirement for Sociology majors at Syracuse University and a popular elective for many Liberal Arts disciplines. Course content focused on the application of sociological theory and methods to identify, describe, and analyze a wide variety of contemporary social problems, as well as critique and analyze strategies for social change.

To reflect the progression of teaching this course and its evolution over 4 semesters, I present this information in ascending order, beginning with Summer 2013 and ending with Summer 2014.

Summer 2013
Sociology Department
SOC 102 – Social Problems
Objectives:
My first semester teaching Social Problems independently was for Summer @ Syracuse. Many students in this course were entering freshman and, for some, this was one of their first college courses. It was a great opportunity to capitalize on students’ general excitement being at college, to expose them to the discipline of sociology, and to engage them in a variety of classroom activities that taught collaborative learning. I realized quickly that it was important for me to modify my lectures and assignments in ways that assisted students with adjusting to the academic rigor of college. This was achieved by focusing on students’ comprehension of the literature using classic and contemporary scholarly articles and developing students’ writing skills through weekly assignments. Providing detailed written feedback on student papers was especially useful to assist them with improving their reading comprehension and writing skills, building their confidence over time. The writing assignments progressed students through basic comprehension in the beginning to in-depth academic analysis and critical thinking by the last paper. This culminated with their final paper, where students picked a social problem to research, wrote a short academic paper, and developed in-class presentations. Teaching this summer session was an intense experience. Being that our class met for nearly two hours, four days a week, I was challenged with maintaining students’ interest and participation throughout the course.

Fall 2013
Sociology Department
SOC 102 – Social Problems
Objectives:
This was my first full semester teaching Social Problems at Syracuse University. Our class met twice a week for about an hour and a half. I was able to adjust and expand my syllabus from Summer 2013 to include more academic literature, integrate more classroom discussion, and provide more time for in-class activities. SOC 102 is a prerequisite for sociology majors and an elective for a wide variety of academic disciplines. To ensure a thorough understanding of the basics of sociology and build a solid foundation for future learning, I added a course reader, a midterm exam, and a final exam to test students on their general knowledge of important sociological concepts. These exams also evaluated their ability to utilize concepts appropriately. I also incorporated four writing assignments that followed the major themes of the course. I provided extensive written feedback on these assignments, assisting students with further developing their writing skills. This class was probably my favorite group of students thus far in my career because they truly enjoyed engaging in classroom discussions, sharing their ideas, and being intellectually challenged.

Spring 2014
Sociology Department
SOC 102 – Social Problems
Objectives:
I elected to teach this one-night-a-week course from 6:30 PM-9:15 PM because I wanted to gain experience teaching a night course. This class was an interesting blend of students. Some were older and had day jobs as social workers, some were athletes, others were military members, and for a number of students, English was their second language. These students carried diverse, often contrary, opinions into the classroom and it was challenging to get them to work together in groups and interact with each other. Our classroom exercises and discussions were vital to facilitate this interaction and were some of the most memorable moments for me. Non-traditional students admittedly struggled with improving their academic reading and writing skills, and for students who were raised abroad, understanding U.S. social problems was especially difficult without much personal experience. A very useful tool was incorporating online journals as a place where students could express their thoughts, feelings, and frustrations about the readings, lectures, and topics throughout the course, communicating with me privately. The midterm and final exam tested students’ knowledge, understanding, and application of the course materials and required them to engage their analytical and critical thinking skills. It is with this group of students that I saw the highest degree of improvement over the course of the semester. It is an amazing experience to teach non-traditional students.

Summer 2014
Sociology Department
SOC 102 – Social Problems
Objectives:
For this second turn at teaching Social Problems for Summer @ Syracuse I maintained the general structure from the previous summer, but made the course content and assignments a bit more intellectually challenging and rigorous. I also kept the online journals component from Spring 2014 as a way to ensure that students were doing the readings and contemplating the course content outside of the classroom. Once again, many students in this course were entering as freshman and new to the expectations of college, so the course was formed around students’ comprehension of academic literature and developing their writing skills. I tested out some new classroom exercises, my favorite being a classroom debate on economic inequality, where teams were assigned pro and con positions and prepared evidence outside of class. On the day of the debates, students engaged with the opposing team in front of the class, and after each debate we had a short debriefing session. It was an excellent learning tool and I plan to use the debate model in future courses. The end of this summer session once again culminated with a final paper, where students picked a social problem to research and write a short academic paper on. For their final presentations, I made a modification to the assignment in that students could elect to work in small groups (2-3 students). They produced digital videos that presented their social problems in creative ways and spread awareness by sharing their videos on YouTube and other types of social media.