Teaching

Philosophy

To be an effective teacher, I believe it is essential to incorporate techniques described in the education research literature. Specifically, research shows that when students are actively engaged in lectures, they remember more content [1], have higher test scores, and are less likely to fail [2]. One technique I will pursue to encourage active engagement is “peer instruction,” which consists of students engaging with one another for a few minutes to answer questions [3]. I especially believe in encouraging cooperation among students, which enhances academic achievement and improve attitudes [1].

Students in my classes will typically be assessed based on weekly homework, midterm exams, and a final exam. I will strongly encourage students to work together to solve the homework problems. For exams, I am strongly opposed to the use of multiple choice questions, which generally discourage critical thinking and reinforce the notion that students just need the “right formula” to solve the problem. My exams will be challenging, but students will be allowed to bring formula sheets, which emphasizes critical thinking over memorization. My tests will virtually always be free response, so that I may accurately evaluate their knowledge, identify common misconceptions, and award partial credit.

Inclusive teaching practices are vital because many facets of an instructor’s conduct and classroom environment affect students’ learning opportunities, especially those from underrepresented groups. Implicit bias is one such factor which is unconscious, pervasive, and difficult to avoid, but perhaps best addressed by remaining vigilant and reflective regarding one’s own behavior. I encourage anyone not familiar to explore Harvard’s website on the matter. Another concept worthy of consideration is stereotype threat [4], in which student performance is affected when inadvertently reminded of any negatively-stereotyped social identity they hold [5] (reference 5 is fascinating – read it!). Simple gestures, such learning students’ names or maintaining a patient, enthusiastic demeanor during class and office hours, can make a tremendous difference. As discussed above, I believe it is especially important to actively engage students and foster opportunities for cooperative learning, which research demonstrates can help decrease the gender gap in STEM fields and is especially beneficial to students from disadvantaged backgrounds [6, 7].

References

[1] M. Prince. Does active learning work? A review of the research. J. Eng. Educ., 93 (3): 223–231, 2004.
[2] S. Freeman et al. Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. P. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 111 (23): 8410–8415, 2014.
[3] C. H. Crouch and E. Mazur. Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. Am. J. Phys., 69 (9): 970–977, 2001.
[4] C. M. Steele. Whistling Vivaldi: How stereotypes affect us and what we can do. Norton, 2010.
[5] M. Shih et al. Stereotype susceptibility: Identity salience and shifts in quantitative performance. Psychol. Sci. 10 (1): 80–83, 1999.
[6] M. Lorenzo et al. Reducing the gender gap in the physics classroom. Am. J. Phys. 74 (2): 118–122, 2006.
[7] D. C. Haak et al. Increased structure and active learning reduce the achievement gap in introductory biology. Science 332 (6034): 1213–1216, 2011.

Outreach

My current advisor, Professor Doug Kelley, has lead a 1-2 week summer activity for the past few years as part of the Upward Bound program at University of Rochester. Upward Bound is a summer school program designed to help first-generation and/or low-income students from local city schools gain admission to college. In 2016 and 2017, I assisted Doug in designing and running a fun, hands-on activity in which we teach these students concepts from mechanical engineering. The course is structured around a competition to design, build, and then race model boats. Every day, the class would begin with a brief lecture on fundamental concepts, and then students were free to continue designing and building their model boats using an assortment of materials (foam, plastic bottles, balloons, rubber bands, etc.) and tools (scissors, glue guns, drills, etc.). On the last day of class, the groups competed to see whose boat would go the furthest and fastest in an inflatable pool. The activity is a tremendous amount of fun for the students and teachers alike, and it allows these high school students an opportunity to learn while exploring their creativity.

hands_on_school

I had the pleasure of participating in the Hands-On Research in Complex Systems School twice, working as an assistant to my Ph.D. advisor, Professor Mike Schatz. The Hands-On School is an annual two week program designed to introduce low cost table top experiments to graduate students and young faculty who largely come from developing countries. The experiments focus on complex systems in physics and biology, with a very strong emphasis on the “hands-on” aspect.  In both the 2012 and 2014 schools I lead the “2D Turbulence” session, teaching a simplified version of the system I study in my own research. Documentation and scripts can be found at these links: overview, instructions, and Matlab codes.  Additionally, I also lead a special session on the use of python for teaching introductory physics. This package (documentation and python scripts) can be found here.