My overall philosophy with teaching is to be interested. Interest can be contagious.
Functionally, I have found that every course I teach needs a variety of teaching techniques. Some of class time will be spent having students debate each other about concepts. Some of class time will be doing problems in small groups. Some will be lecture. Some will be demonstration. Some will be other activities. This variety is not because of “different student learning styles,” rather, to truly understand a concept one must see and use it in different contexts, and from different angles.
Interest and teaching techniques can’t do all the lifting though. The great sweat of teaching comes from trying to understand the students’ perspectives, and what will be interesting, challenging, and rewarding for them. Only by doing this work can you be an effective teacher.
Courses at Mount Holyoke College
Current courses are on Moodle. For what it’s worth, here’s RMP for my time at MHC.
- Physics 110: Force, Motion and Energy This is the entry point for our physics major: calculus-based mechanics. I enjoy hammering home the beautiful connection of calculus with motion. I also love connecting physics with the practical, and make connections to sports/exercise, dance, and engineering.
- Physics 100: Foundations of Physics This is the first semester of our physics course for students interested in pursuing health careers. It is an algebra-based course, and covers force and motion, energy, fluids, ray optics, and basic thermodynamics. In addition to methods of peer instruction used in Physics 110, I tried to make the course (both labs and problems) as contextually relevant to health/biology as possible. For instance, Brownian motion is a topic covered in lecture and lab. In fact, the lab is equipped with microscopes. Weekly multiple choice quizzes complement long written problem sets. These quizzes are designed to promote skills such as proportional reasoning, dimensional analysis, and quick thinking. This course design is based on my own experiences at the University of Maryland as detailed below.
- Physics 150: Phenomena of Physics This is the second semester of the pre-health sequence, and is functionally identical to Physics 100. Electricity, magnetism, wave optics, atomic physics, and nuclear physics are the main topics.
- Physics 315: Analytical Mechanics This is our upper level classical physics course, where we think about complicated scenarios using the Newtonian formalism, and formally introduce Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formalisms. In my version of the course, of primary importance (of course?) is setting up the correct equations of motion. This leads to a discussion of whether analytical methods or computational methods are appropriate. Students are given exercises of both kinds, to learn common techniques. They are also expected to be able to animate the motion using MATLAB (or Python). Class is much more lecture focused than intro physics classes, but there are times when conceptual questions are helpful, and we try to do at least one longer problem in class each week. The course culminates with students writing a brief paper on a subject of their choice, formatted in LaTex, with figures and equations.
- Physics 326: Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics This upper level course is functionally very similar to Physics 315, in that while it is heavy on lecture, I try to insert conceptual questions and demonstrations where appropriate. The students also turn in a brief paper at the end of the course. In addition to analytical exercises, the students run a molecular dynamics simulation as part of their homework. From this simulation, they are able to directly measure things like the Maxwell-Boltzmann Distribution, the ideal gas law, and heat capacity. Additionally, this forces them to learn ways to deal with large datasets, an experience not all have had yet. (I mostly point them to MATLAB, though they are free to choose if they are more comfortable with something else. And Excel does not work for the tasks they need to do 🙂 )
- College 115: The Future of Jobs This course was taught with other faculty from Computer Science, Economics, and Philosophy. I helped teach about the “body” of robots, how motors work, and some of their limitations (such as locomotion on ground). I also held labs for the students, where they constructed a “hard” robotic arm with DC motors, and also built a soft gripper. They could then compare the gripping efficacy of both the hard and soft device.
Emory Tibet Science Initiative
In 2017 I traveled to India (Drepung Monastery) to participate in the ETSI. I co-taught an intensive course on Electricity, Magnetism and Light to Buddhist monks. This was an incredible cross-cultural experience, and forced me to teach in a primarily conceptual format, rather than relying on the crutches of equations. The monks debate everyday, and so Conceptests came quite naturally to them!
University of Maryland
In the spring of 2013, I designed and taught my first course at UMD. This course, titled “Inquiry into Physics” had an enrollment of education majors, most of whom intended to teach at the elementary level. Based on techniques developed in Powerful Ideas in Physical Science, I constructed a safe space for them to explore and grapple with their own physical ideas. These exercises, while too advanced for their future students, created a model that could be applied to their future students. Because we had adequate class time, we were able to cover quite a large amount of material. Most of my students could have taken an exam a ‘normal’ physics course and done quite well. I dare say their physical and mental connection with the conceptual aspect of the material could have even put them at an advantage.
In the fall of 2013, I helped to develop the Physics 131 course, Physics for Biologists. In the spring of 2014, I served as the labs technical director, for the second semester, Physics 132, helping to redesign some of the already innovative labs. This is part of the NEXUS initiative.