Monday, September 13, 2010

Current work: teaching

My brief research project ended a few weeks ago, and now I'm doing something completely different.  I'm teaching!  I am leading two sections of the introductory physics course for non-physics majors.  It's a class filled with pre-meds.

Pre-meds are really competitive about grades, to the point that they'll argue over a fraction of a point on homework, or sabotage classmates.  They'll complain if you try to teach them something that isn't on the test.  They prefer to memorize as much as possible so that they never have to think about the subject in front of them.

At least, that is their reputation.  They're really not that bad.

I think it's a relatively easy class to teach.  Each section meets for four hours a week, so they're plenty of time.  It's actually kind of ridiculous how much time people spend in this class.  It's a pretty easy class too, at least for me if not the students.  It helps that I can solve any problem in this class on the spot if I need to.  It also helps that we have worksheets prepared for the entire semester.  There's a simple standard template for every section: let the students do their worksheets in groups, and go around checking on them.

Oh, and homework grading is automated.  I haven't done any grading yet.

I find that I'm not too bad at teaching either.  I'm pretty confident.  My presentation is clear and engaging.  I can improvise lessons whenever a teachable moment pops up.

I make mistakes too.  Not physics mistakes, but teaching mistakes.  For example, if I don't explain something quite as clearly as I could have.  Or I use more or less time than I expected.  Or I don't organize the section in quite the optimal manner.   But these mistakes are hard to correct because it's difficult to judge whether an explanation is good or if a section is well-organized.

One skill that has been unexpectedly handy is my ability to write problems.  I have been writing puzzles since high school, but I never considered it a useful skill.  But whenever the worksheets are too boring, too easy, or too short, I can write my own problems just like that.  I can make them as challenging as I need them.  Let's just say that the students never have a shortage of exercises.