December 10, 2009
Education, Graduate School
Evaluations, Graduate School, Teaching
FemaleScienceProfessor has a thoughtful course-evaluations-time post about student evaluations of professors who are teaching their first course. It’s worth a read, most especially because it presents the question, “What can be done to prepare new professors to teach?” The comment section offers further insight into the issue. This is a topic about which I have some great concern as a graduate student who ultimately hopes to go into teaching (as well as research), but on which I shall not comment much at this moment. Instead I just have some general observations:
As an undergrad I had some absolutely excellent professors and some fairly dismal ones as well. What seemed to distinguish the good from the bad was a combination of method and attitude. Interestingly, I think that professors and students expect the same things from each other:
4)Neatness and Clarity
The list is not in any order, other than that respect is obviously the most important attribute for both students and professors. The moment one party loses respect for the other, it is inevitable that the other loses respect and that mutual respect be extremely difficult to restore. The key question for either is to ask: “What if I were a student/the professor?”
One commenter for FSP’s post noted that he used mid-course evaluations for the courses he taught. I had a physics professor in my second year of undergrad who did this and happened to be an excellent professor for a number of other reasons. I never had another course in which a mid-course evaluation took place, but the impact of that incident remains. As a student I was impressed with the professor’s concern that he teach us as best as he can and his humility in voluntarily accepting our feedback (as opposed to the evaluations at the end of the semester which are obligatory). I don’t remember if there were changes in his style of teaching or in the course afterward but I think that it probably increased the students’ respect for the professor and as a result improved the learning atmosphere.
November 12, 2009
Education, Graduate School
For my graduate courses I am using what are considered the some of the “classic” graduate textbooks for each subject (or so I’m told). For classical mechanics, I am using Goldstein, Poole, and Safko. For quantum I am using Sakurai. When I take E&M, it will invariably be Jackson which I use. These books are well known, and some of them have a reputation for being the standard for graduate textbooks in physics.
Professors have confessed to disliking the textbooks used in their courses several times. They concede that the books are riddled with mistakes or that they aren’t especially clear. They even suggest other books which would be better for a specific topic. But each year, the particular textbooks are used by the professors who also criticize them…The reason: tradition.
I’ll admit that I’m not in a particular position to critique these textbooks as a student, partly because I haven’t had exposure to many others, and partly because I am still learning the material. However, I am curious about the extent and origin of the tradition of using specific books. I’ll be the last person to criticize tradition, I think that tradition in general is a very good thing, one form of transmitting wisdom from one generation to the next and also of establishing cultural connections. So perhaps the use of these books is part of the culture of physics education and perhaps they also include a degree of wisdom (or at least knowledge of physics). But I wonder what is lost at the expense of adhering to a status quo in textbook use.
Anyone else come across this?
November 8, 2009
Astrophysics, Education, Genetics, Language, Science Communication, Update
Carl Sagan, Cosmos, Outreach, Science Communication
So much to write about!
Saturday was dubbed Carl Sagan Day in honor of what would have been the 75th birthday (on Monday) of Carl Sagan. Broward College in Florida hosted a celebration and New Scientist had a blog post, from which I learned about the celebration.
Carl Sagan, with Richard Feynman and several others, was one of the great communicators of science of the 20th century. His miniseries Cosmos introduced the wonders of modern astrophysics to people around the world. If you have not seen an episode of Cosmos, watch one: they’re on Hulu; although they’re old and some of the science is outdated, they remain a classic. The movie Contact was conceived by Carl Sagan (though released after his death) and inspired the book, which by the quirks of history, was published well before the movie. The novel Contact, in my opinion, is deeper than the movie. It’s a great “What if?’ on first contact with extraterrestrials and a wonderful meditation on the relationship between science and religion by an agnostic/skeptic who knew how approach the issue with class and respect. Sagan was not my inspiration to go into physics or into astronomy, but exposure to his works certainly egged me on and he helped nourish public interest in astronomy at a time when the end of the Apollo program meant that national interest was fading.
- Behavioral Genetics Shapes Sentencing of Murderer
This deserves its own blog post but the summary is that an Italian court has shortened the sentence of a murderer because genetic testing suggested he was predisposed to violent behavior. Here is the Nature news story. Apparently this is first time such a decision has been made in Europe, but a few similar decisions have been made in the US. This story raises some really interesting ethical questions, about which I’m not at all qualified to write, but nonetheless, which I think could make for an interesting post.
- Babies Cry in Native Language
This is interesting. A German study suggests that babies’ cries differ by language even in the days immediately after birth. This follows up with studies that suggest that language recognition begins in the third trimester, with response to native language. Really cool stuff if you ask me….I wonder if there is also response to other sounds too? Music? I’m not so much thinking of the Mozart Effect, which hasn’t really been proven, but of the effect of prenatal exposure to music in regard to later musical preference.
I attended an excellent talk by an artist who works with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Blog post to come.
- Went for a walk in Rock Creek Park…Miss the Cuyahoga Valley.
October 5, 2009
At ‘A Kind of Desire for Knowledge,’ the group blog of which I’m a member, I’ve posted a short summary of an article from the October edition of Physics Today about astronomy education. Go read it: Then, participate in a discussion here or at that site.
What kind of experiences have you had with intro science courses? Were they good or bad?