lihtox: (Default)
I have to start thinking about how to teach this large introductory physics class, so I'll do a little brainstorming here and see what everyone thinks.

I've been thinking a lot about incorporating video podcasts into the class. First, I would like to videotape all class periods and put them on the web. This serves multiple purposes:
* Students who are sick or otherwise distracted can do what they have to do, and not miss out on class time.
* Students who take poor notes can double-check what they wrote.
* When a student asks me "What did I miss?" I can point them to the web.
* Students who would normally sit in the back of the classroom and look dreadfully bored can just stay home and watch from there. That way their glassy eyes won't sap the energy out of me.

There's a danger of course that students will use this as an excuse to skip all classes, and then try to do a marathon viewing before the exams; that would be dumb, but students have to learn not to do dumb things. :) (Also, in this class it's traditional to give students a test or quiz every week, which alleviates some of that danger.)

My second thought is to do additional video podcasts covering material I can't or don't want to cover in class. Some of this may be review-- for example, a math review for weaker students. Some of it may cover topics or derivations I think are really cool, but would be harder to follow for weaker students. My crazy dream is to end up doing podcasts of most of the material of the course, for the following reason: current physics education research suggests that the standard method of teaching physics, where the professor simply presents material already found in the textbook to the class, who write it down and use it later on to do homework problems, doesn't work very well. It's kind of a waste of time to make students write down equations and derivations in their notes that they already have in their expensive textbook. A better way is to devote class time to asking students questions, making them think about the consequences of what they've read, and defend their thoughts with other students. I'd love to teach a class that way. However, that requires that students actually read the textbook, and I am mindful that math-heavy textbooks can be a slog to read, particularly for students who are timid about the material, or who learn better in an audiovisual context. So I'm thinking that I would like to put together a series of podcasts in which I basically present the material in the textbook, just as I might do in a normal lecture. Students can watch the podcasts, or they can read the book, or both, whatever they like. I don't know if I'm ready to try that this semester, but it's in the back of my head.

There are technical questions, of course. Would I have access to a videocamera to film my lectures? Can I get a vantage point which shows everything I'm writing, without it being illegible because it's too far away? For the supplemental podcasts, I can use my computer's built-in camera, but where will I record them? How much work will they involve, and am I up to recording them every week? (Of course, I can reuse them from one semester to the next. Since I'm teaching the same large class in fall and spring, maybe I can start making these podcasts this fall, but only rely on them in the spring.) And do I have a good video presence, or will I look stupid?
lihtox: (Default)
* I have now successfully changed a car battery. Yay for me! Our car's battery died Sunday morning; we got a jump from the neighbor and it seemed fine. Well, yesterday evening we were headed out and...again, no start. No lights were left on or anything. This was 7:30 and I had a homework session to run at 8, so I ended up walking to campus (2 miles)-- I tried catching a bus, but because of a local construction project the bus routes are all messed up and seem to change based on the whim of the driver, so I ended up standing on the wrong corner. Oops. I ended up doing the 2 miles in 30 minutes, a pretty good walking speed, but the fronts of my ankles are still sore. Jen called AAA for a jump (our neighbor's car couldn't do it, not strong enough) but the AAA guy took one look and said we needed a new battery because of a battery acid leak. AAA was going to have a truck come by with a new battery which we could buy from them, but first the truck didn't come last night because of a snafu, then the truck couldn't come this morning because they didn't have the right battery. They wanted to come tomorrow morning, but I thought we might try to do it ourselves. So before class this morning, I figured out how to take the battery out of the car, then while I was at class Jen and Miriam walked 2 miles to Autozone to buy the new battery (she pushed it back in Miriam's stroller while carrying Miriam), and then I put the battery in when I got home.

I don't think of myself as being particularly handy, and Jen and I don't normally follow stereotypical gender roles, but I do seem to find myself doing these sorts of things. It's certainly very satisfying.

* Speaking of gender stereotypes, it's my goal to raise Miriam (and any other children we may have) with a minimum of emphasis on gender, for as long as possible. I know that eventually she'll have her own opinions and may disagree with this plan, but meanwhile we try to keep pink to a minimum, I tend to shy away from dresses and "dainty clothing" for her, going with more rugged clothing instead. She only has two toys which might be classified as dolls. I wonder sometimes, though, if my idea of "gender-neutral" is actually "like a boy". Maybe so. Maybe it's even good to err on the side of the opposite gender, to counterbalance the inevitable cues she'll get when she's older.
But this is all relatively easy for a girl. Thanks to feminism, there's nothing a girl can do or wear which is so masculine that it triggers a feeling of "wrong" in most people. The lack of pink throws people a little bit, but that's it. It seems to me, though, that raising a boy in a gender-neutral way would be much tougher. Would we go so far as to dress our infant son in frilly pink? In a dress? I'm not sure I'd be brave enough; it would not be met well by other people. If Miriam dresses up as Superman one day, it would be cute; if our putative son dressed up as Wonder Woman, people would worry. This does stem from a leftover feeling that the feminine role is inferior to the masculine, so that pink on a boy is emasculating while a girl with construction toys is empowered. I know that's true. And yet, it seems like the boy is the one who is at a disadvantage due to this prejudice, not free to do whatever he wants to do or be whatever he wants to be, lest it be seen as demeaning.

* I promised myself that I would only spend 5 days on Optics this semester, because my colleague suggested that, if I moved Optics to the beginning of the course (instead of the traditional end position), I would spend half the semester on the subject (because I move slowly) and not have time to cover the more complicated electricity and magnetism material. Well, I did in fact spend too much time on interference and diffraction (partly because I had never taught it before seriously, so I was learning as I went), and so I have one class left to teach images and lenses. It seems much too short a time, and I may have to be ruthless about what I cut in order to make it fit. Don't know if I'll make it, but I'm reluctant to give in on my pledge. Things will hopefully go more smoothly once I get to electricity; I've taught that more often and so am more comfortable with it. I do need to be a little more ruthless there too, though: do I really need to belabor Gauss' Law? Finding the electric field by integration? I don't know. One might try to ask "What is really important for the students to know?" but the problem is that these aren't physics majors for the most part, so that question is rather deep. What physics topics are most important for an economics major to learn? Does it matter, so long as they are exposed to the scientific method? Unfortunately, the feeling I get from the department is that I should just teach faster, and I don't feel comfortable talking about these things. Hopefully I will find a department which is comfortable with a slower, more in-depth approach, and these discussions can be had.
lihtox: (Default)
Teaching class hs always been draining, but I've been particularly nervous this semester. I think my self-confidence is down (as I've mentioned) due to various inputs, along with lingering discouragement about my career. Add in the fact that I haven't taught in three months (not a big deal normally, but this is the first summer I've taken off in a couple of years). Also add in the fact that I've swapped around the usual order for this class, am starting with optics rather than electricity, and furthermore have started with interference and diffraction which are two subjects I don't know nearly enough about (normally they come at the very end and I handwave my way through them). Once I finish with optics and move onto electricity I may feel better.

On the plus side, I am rather proud of my website. It's barebones, but I've got it automated so I can adjust a line or two in a separate file and it will generate the HTML on the fly. I've also added a new RSS feed so that students can be notified when the site is updated: I especially like that idea. :)


In another note: one year ago today we packed up this little creature in her carseat and brought her home. Yes, Miriam is 1 year old today. We're having a party next weekend so we didn't do much today, but we did sing to her and gave her a cupcake. It occurred to us that we're the ones who should be celebrating: we've survived an entire year as parents, and Miriam has not only survived but flourished. Yay for us!

Labs

Jan. 28th, 2007 01:42 am
lihtox: (Default)
Last semester I used a lab manual for my astronomy class, but half of the time I ended up rewriting the labs to make them relevant for our equipment, or to get rid of what I thought were stupid steps. So this semester I didn't require them to buy a lab manual; instead, they have to visit the class website every week and print out the week's lab. I promised them that, if the lab isn't up by Sunday, that means they don't have to print it out, and I have to supply the copies.

The Sunday deadline is actually pretty brilliant in retrospect, because I'm writing my own labs now, and writing labs is time-consuming. It's annoying to write down all the little niggling steps they have to do to make the lab work, trying to anticipate the difficulties they might have. (Yes, I'll be there if they have questions, but if they don't know they're having problems I won't necessarily catch said problems quickly enough.) If I waited until the day before lab to write out the lab instructions (i.e. Monday), then I'd have that to do on top of class preparation, writing the homework questions, and so forth. This way, the lab part gets separated off into its own artificial due date.

Now this week's lab is done, I can go to bed, and then wake up and start on the lectures. :)
lihtox: (astronomy)
I'm teaching one class this semester (Astronomy part II), to leave myself time to do research. (The research hasn't happened yet, but it's still early.) After two 5-person classes last semester, this class of 24 seems huge and a bit overwhelming. I divided them up into two lab sections, which was a very good idea: it gives me a better chance to learn their names, even if it does mean two lab sessions a week for me. The risky bit is that the labs have to be done in 90 minutes instead of the usual 3 hours; today was the first lab and they were all done in an hour, so maybe it won't be a problem.

The lectures have done pretty well so far. The students seem to be mostly on the ball, and they react the way I'd like (with amusement or amazement as appropriate), at least some of the time. (Last semester's students were rather stoic which got to be frustrating.) My lectures have been good, I think: colloquial and informative. I don't know if they are organized enough: there is a danger that everything I say might sound reasonable to them, but then they can't follow the thread later. They took their first quiz today, so we'll see how that goes.

I've been talking about light, and in class today I needed an incandescent (i.e. tungsten-filament, normal) light bulb. I'd brought one with me, but the switch stopped working before class started. Not wanting to go back across campus to get another one, I looked for an open office, and lo and behold, there was a professor next door to the classroom with a lamp! I asked to borrow it, and she was very nice in lending it to me, saying it was one of the stranger requests she had gotten. The students got to see the blackbody spectrum through a diffraction grating, and compare it to the discrete spectrum of a fluorescent spiral bulb (which is pretty striking if you ever get the chance to see it), and it went very well.

Teaching is an athletic activity, and it wears me out. Unfortunately, my bicycle is in the shop, so I have to walk home (30 minutes)...not very far for me, but I'm sitting here at the college waiting to recover first. :) Guess it's about time to go....

Exam

Nov. 21st, 2005 03:20 pm
lihtox: (Default)
I just gave my class their second exam today. You know you've become a teacher when you stop having nightmares about forgetting to study for an exam, and start having nightmares about forgetting to _prepare_ (or copy) an exam. I had the latter for the past two nights.

I think it might have been too long, and a few people reacted negatively too it. (One slammed door; I've been there before. :) Sigh. I hate it when my exams are too long, but I have a hard time not testing them on everything. There is only so much one can do as a teacher, and it is the student's responsibility to meet you the rest of the way, but one does want to be fair at least.

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