A Teaching Haiku

Agnes Scott College just hosted Cathy N. Davidson for our Founder’s Day Event. There was a workshop for faculty afterward, where she asked us to introduce ourselves with a Haiku that captured our teaching pedagogy. While we were encouraged to share it on Twitter with #AgnesScott #NewEducation, I’m not on Twitter. I want to post – and discuss it – here:

Most physics is hard
The real world is challenging
Team work in Quantum

This Haiku captures a number of my core teaching ideas:

  • Physics is hard!  My students don’t seem to expect this, so I spend a lot of time reminding them that they shouldn’t expect themselves to get everything correct every time.  That also means that I need to facilitate effective practice for them to make progress on understanding this material.  I believe that I should set up a grading system that sets reasonable expectations – students aren’t going to fail my class if they are doing the work.
  • The “real world” is – in itself – an important part of my approach to teaching.  Ideally, we can connect what we are learning in physics to real world problems.   I have increased the explicit connections to the real world in homework and projects in some of my classes.
  • A second way I care about the “real world” is the fact that most of my students in Intro Physics aren’t majors – they don’t really need to master physics, beyond possibly preparing for the MCAT or a few topics they will see in chemistry or neuroscience classes.  How can I have them “do physics” in a way that builds useful, transferable skills?  “Problem Solving” is an important skill, and I am trying to help them think about that in a way more expansive than simply getting the right answer.
  • The difficulty of physics certainly relates to many situations in the real world!  One important tool for dealing with challenges is reflection.  I ask my students to briefly reflect after their TBL quizzes (conceptual “reading quizzes” at the beginning of the week).  I want them to see that how they prepared for the TBL has something to do with their score, and (after the team component) think about how the team worked together in a way that contributed to their success.  In previous years I have implemented more extensive reflection on different skills, but found that students weren’t engaged with it.  I’d like to continue to find ways to have the students evaluate, understand, and develop the self-management techniques that will help them succeed in physics and whatever they do after my class.  Fundamentally, this is about learning how to overcome difficult/challenging/hard situations.
  • “Team Work” has become a key feature of all of my classes, though it gets implemented slightly differently depending on the course.  Why?  I think it is key for dealing with challenges.  Everyone can contribute, even if they don’t have mastery of the calculations or concepts.  It seems to level the playing field somewhat – some of my “A” students really need to work better with others, while some of my students (who struggle with homework and tests) are incredible at facilitating conversations in their teams.
  • I didn’t just want to highlight team work, but I specifically thought about team work in quantum.  Intro Physics is where most innovation has occurred over the past few decades, frequently leaving upper-level classes to old-fashioned lecture, homework, and tests.  However, we should be able to transport our best practices regarding learning from Intro to Quantum.   While I still lecture a bit in quantum (compared to my other classes with almost no lecturing), students frequently work in their teams on questions on whiteboards.  They will take part of their tests in teams.  In my mind, team work of some sort should be the default for all classes – not just Intro classes or leadership classes.