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We actually do stuff October 19, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, teaching.
Tags: , ,

When taking classes for my PhD, I decided one class that might be worthwhile was one that focused on teaching in higher education.  One of our first assignments was to come to class with a topic we wanted to teach to, say, an intro-level class, and we would have approximately 10-15 minutes to go over the topic.

At the time, I was interested in seismology, so I decided to put together a demonstration on how seismologists can detect changes in subsurface layers using ray tracing.  I grabbed a simple can opener (since I couldn’t find mirror), a laser pointer, a ruler, and a pen.  I drew a flat line on a piece of paper, a line with a dip on another, and a line with bump on a third.  When I presented this to my group in class, each person got a paper.  They had a point source, and they had to draw rays traveling from the source to the line.  They put the can opener so that it was tangent to the line and could then draw the reflections.  They saw that the lines would sometimes cross and that the times of arrival were not very ‘orderly’ on the layers that had bumps and dips.

It was really funny to watch my group mates.  By the time the last group mate got the laser pointer, you could see he was just itching to try it, and he could barely contain  himself.  (It’s a lot of fun to watch the faces people make when they concentrate, too.  You could tell they were both enjoying themselves and trying hard to draw straight lines.)  After the exercise, we talked about ways to work the activity into a large class, making sure to keep a lot of student involvement.

I thought the demo was kind of hokey.  However, people made kind of a big deal about it: it turned out that in a class of about thirty people, I was the only one who’d brought a demo.  Everyone else had basically come up with a mini-lecture.

What brought this to mind was a student who stayed after class to talk yesterday.  Somehow we got onto the topic of people skipping classes, and he said, “Oh, I skip classes, too, but those are lecture classes.  I come to this class because we actually do stuff here.”

Unfortunately, not all of my students are as clued in as this one.  More unfortunately, there are an awful lot of teachers out there who haven’t realized how to get students to come to class.



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