Getting students to solve problems effectively

I just gave the second midterm in my P132 course covering physical/wave optics and electrostatics with a few questions on the previous material of quantum mechanics and geometric optics. One of the comments I often see when I ask students to reflect on their preparation is along the lines of, “I did all the extra practice problems but still did poorly on the exam.” When I ask these students one-on-one about their study habits, it seems that often,  while they do try every problem, their procedure when they get stuck is inefficient.

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An observation regarding instructional goals in P132

As I am going through teaching P132 – Introductory Physics II: What is an electron? What is light? I have noticed a good instructional goal that I did not consider back at the beginning of the semester when I was first planning out the course: developing an appreciation that nonsensical mathematical results can still possess physical meaning. In P132, there are several topics where the formulae can give nonsense answers. Two more straight-forward examples include Snell’s Law n1 sin θ1 = n2 sin θ2 and quantization conditions requiring integers.

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Personnel Leadership – It is a thing!

As we wrap up another semester, I am, as is usual for this time of year, thinking about what went wrong and what went right this past semester. I will say that a lot of things have gone very well this semester. My students have exceeded my expectations which is a great feeling. I have even checked with colleagues to see that my expectations have not been slowly changing to “easier” over time. Now, if I could just figure out what we did right so we could replicate it…

One thing that continues to be at the forefront of teaching in a class of 6 sections, 3 instructors, 16 graduate-student TAs, 2 undergraduate graders, 1 undergraduate Supplemental Instruction leader, and 2 undergraduate ExSEL program tutors is keeping everyone on the same page and focused on the same goal – all while not micromanaging.

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