Reflections on P132 Spring 2019

The semester is (well) over, the grades are in, and the course evaluations have been returned. Based upon this feedback, I must say that I think the strategy used this past semester to apply the TBL strategy in the large lecture hall of Physics 132 was fairly effective. Our changes to the laboratory curriculum (developed in conjunction with Paul Bourgeois and David Nguyen) also seemed to be positive. This post will focus on the team-based learning aspect of the course in the lecture hall. I will reflect on what I did differently and how it compares to both the previous two semesters’ iterations of the course. I will also consider my other prior experience teaching in large lecture halls. The lab will be dealt with in a later post.

Note: this material has now been replicated on the page describing P132

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How to go about directing future improvements to courses?

I am at an interesting point for the first time. I have been teaching the 131 and 132 courses here at UMass for several years and thinking about how to seek continued improvement in an effective way. I know of some faculty who continually do overhauls to keep things interesting and fresh for themselves and for their students. This technique has merits as an interested teacher has intrinsic benefits.

I want, however, to continue to improve my courses in a way that builds upon the successes.

Reflecting on previous iterations, most have been centered on a key pedagogical principle: active learning, team based learning, backward design, flipped, etc. I think this path still has room.

I am thinking about those things that students mention as being particularly engaging: the myosin fibers in the energy unit, the spontaneous structure formation in the entropy unit, the circuit-based study of the neuron in 132. All of these have what is called by Redish et al as “biologically authentic examples.” I would like to both continue to find more, and find ways to integrate them more deeply into the curriculum. Perhaps a case-study type format?

Professional Websites as an Assignment

As the new semester starts, I am once again teaching P619G – Graduate Student TA Training and Professional Development Seminar. This course for the professionalization of first-year UMass-Amherst physics graduate students; we strive to give our new graduate students tools such as time management and presentation skills that they can use throughout their careers. To help with more immediate concerns, these skills are taught through the lens of TA training. Presentation skills can easily be taught through the practice of giving mini-lectures in lab sessions, for example. How could these skills be documented by graduate students in a useful way? Could we do something similar for our undergraduate students, who also have a freshman seminar?

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Brokk’s reflections on AAPT Summer Meeting 2018

During my AAPT SM18 experience, I focused on presentations and posters from three main areas in which I have deep personal interest: IPLS/curriculum development, diversity/equity in physics, and self-efficacy/attitudes. In addition, I attended several sessions related to areas of interest for our department, specifically on integrating computation through the curriculum. In this post, I will synthesize and reflect on my take-aways from the conference. I saw a lot of good talks. As such, this post is somewhat long.

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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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