This week’s Dean’s Teaching Showcase recipient is Raymond Shaw from the Department of Physics, winner of the 2016 Michigan Tech Research Award. Shaw was selected by College of Sciences and Arts Dean Bruce Seely precisely because his efforts in the classroom forcefully demonstrate the unity of teaching and research and signal no necessary tension exists between these two core faculty responsibilities.
Seely says “That past fall, the Physics Department honored Ray for the Research Award in the manner it had recognized several other research award recipients — assigning them to teach a large lecture class. In Ray’s case, this was PH 2200, which covered electricity and magnetism for 390 students. He discovered large classes requires ‘one part professor and two parts theater director.’
“Fortunately, he enjoyed significant assistance from a demo crew that prepared attention-grabbing experiments suitable for classroom use, a dedicated assistant who managed iClicker content and online homework systems, the office staff that printed and organized 400 exam booklets every few weeks, and the physics learning center coaches who assisted students with homework and exams.
“At the end of the term, student evaluations ranked the class at 4.36 on the seven dimensions reported on the evaluation form. This is a very good score for a large introductory class.
“Ray identified several keys to this success, including support from Physics faculty, John Jaszczak, Wil Slough, and Bob Weidman, with extensive experience in large-lecture sections, who shared lecture materials and staging tips, and provided occasional pep talks. In addition, help from the testing center and IT staff members further confirmed that such courses are taught by a team, not just a professor.
“When asked about his contributions to making this class work, Ray noted that because big classes can seem impersonal, he ‘took it as a challenge to let my students get to know me as a person.’
“He spiced up lectures with personal anecdotes related to the course, like his rapidly-flashing blinker (RC time constants) or electromagnetic phenomena in his research. Other times he used more random elements related to life in general. He once asked students to provide iClicker responses on possible ways of disciplining his son for breaking the TV. (Corporal punishment won, but he did not take that advice) His point — students respond when taught by faculty who are real people and who care about them. As one student commented, ‘Every class was enjoyable due to the somewhat ‘nerdy’ humor followed by funny references to his son (absolutely hysterical).’
“But perhaps as important was Ray’s enthusiasm for the class. Students clearly recognized his passion and excitement about physics. One student said, ‘Your enthusiasm for Physics is inspiring. It makes the lectures much more enjoyable.’ Another added, ‘Your enthusiasm was great. You were always passionate and in a good mood.’
“This might not seem like rocket science, but teaching seems to work better in environments where faculty exhibit their enthusiasm about their field and show how they care about students and their learning.”
Shaw will be recognized at an end-of-term luncheon with 11 other showcase members, and is now eligible for one of three new teaching awards to be given by the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning this summer recognizing introductory or large class teaching, innovative or outside the classroom teaching methods, or work in curriculum and assessment.
by Michael Meyer, Director, William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning
There are few absolutes in life, but Will Cantrell says this is one: “Every cloud droplet in Earth’s atmosphere formed on a preexisting aerosol particle.”
And the way those droplets form — with scarce or plentiful aerosol particles — could have serious implications for weather and climate change.
It’s been known for decades that cleaner clouds tend to have bigger cloud droplets. But through research conducted in Michigan Tech’s cloud chamber, which was published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cantrell, graduate student Kamal Kant Chandrakar, Raymond Shaw and colleagues found that cleaner clouds also have a much wider variability in droplet size. So wide, in fact, that some are large enough to be considered drizzle drops.
Dirtier clouds, Shaw explains, not only have smaller droplets, but also much more uniformity in droplet size, with no observable drizzle drops.
“If clouds have more aerosols in them, the drops would be smaller and more similar in size,” Shaw says. “It would be harder for the cloud to rain, and the cloud would then last longer. If a cloud rains, or has less water in it, it won’t be there to reflect sunlight.”
By Stefanie Sidortsova, read the full story.
In my physics class, I ask students each day as part of their class preparation to attempt an explanation of a real or simulated physics result. The question is based on material to which they’ve just had their first exposure, by reading or video lecture. It’s challenging, and initially not well liked. But it’s definitely something at which students improve with practice. They become not only more willing to “guess,” but they begin to support their answers with evidence, independent research and/or mathematical analysis far more often.
When I recently told my students that I had begun seeing that progress, a number of them spontaneously reflected and then shared agreement that this was getting more comfortable. It’s easy to lose track, in mid-semester, of how far you’ve come already. And it can be highly motivating to students when they see progress. In a similar way, looking backward momentarily can sometimes help put what remains in perspective.
As a physics student, when I first learned about rotational motion, I missed the idea that every rotational quantity had a linear analog. I struggled mightily as I tried to learn rotational kinematics in about a week, and the pace seemed completely unreasonable to me given that we’d spent about seven weeks learning the same concepts for linear motion.
This week, as I teach the same material, I explicitly connect each new rotational quantity back to the linear one. This seems to help students not only absorb the new material but reinforces the old and makes the pace more reasonable. A look backward could be an open-ended reflection on progress, or an explicit challenge to make comparisons to, connections with, or predictions about what’s coming. It could be done as a formal assignment, an in-class exercise, as a “minute paper” reflection near the end of a class or through a Canvas survey or quiz.
If you’re looking for other instructional strategies (and don’t want to wait for next week), stop into or contact the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning.
Raymond Shaw (Physics/EPSSI) is the principal investigator on a research and development project that has received a $150,931 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
John Jaszczak (Physics and adjunct curator of the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum) presented an invited lecture at the Denver Mineral and Gem Show (Sept. 16-18).
Jaszczak presented “Mineralogical Miracles From Merelani, Tanzania,” and brought an exhibit of faceted fluorite gemstones from the museum’s collection that were donated to the museum by the late Harold Dibble.