An Integral Approach
For every course that I taught, I tried to knit all sessions into an integral whole. To this end I employed two methods. One is using a theme to run through all contents and activities. For discussion sections I tried demonstrating the three-step problem solving strategy (what do you want, what do you have, what is the bridge between them) whenever it was possible. For labs I always reminded students of the four key tips of doing physics experiments (predict before doing, pay attention to details, do not hesitate to try out something new and check the final result against intuition) at the beginning of every session. The other method is building current session on top of the previous one by briefing and recapping at the beginning. For discussion sections I summarized key concepts and theorems of the previous lecture and common mistakes that appeared in the past homework. For labs I related current lab to the previous one by putting them in the same theoretical framework and pointed out common misconceptions reflected in students’ answers to the questions in the previous lab.
Tools Drawn from Diverse Background
Since I came from a diverse background: (BEng and MSc in Electrical Engineering, MSc in Math), I can draw tools from other fields to enrich my physics teaching.
My engineering education provided me with a strong practical sense thus I am alert to the applications of physics in everyday life and the gap between the idealized physical models and the complex reality. This enables me to not only motivate students with the usefulness of physics but also inform students the limitation of the theoretical tools that they are learning. For example when students were learning total internal reflection I motivated them by introducing optical fiber communications which they used every day to surf the internet; when students were thinking we could always boost signal power to increase its propagation distance I informed them of the limitation due to optical fiber nonlinearities.
My mathematical training endows me the ability to scrutinize the details of logical induction and deduction process, the capability of dissecting the thinking procedure of analysis and synthesis, and the skills of plausible reasoning and demonstration. They empower me to identify where students go wrong in their understanding and interpretation and develop a single strategy to solve many problems. For instance I walked students through the derivation of the law of reflection and refraction via Fermat’s principle using the three-step problem solving strategy (what do we want: a relation between the reflection/refraction angle and the incident angle; what do we have: Fermat’s principle; what is the bridge: the position of the point of reflection/refraction); I summarized for students the “four questions to ask yourself when attempting any interference problem” (what are the two waves that interfere with each other, which wave is lagging/leading in phase, why is the wave lagging/leading, how much is the phase lag/lead) and the four common sources of phase lag/lead, and introduced the ray bending trick so as to convert any interference problem into the double-slit configuration that they are most familiar with.
I always attempt to be innovative in my teaching, making use of technology and tools developed in cognitive science. For example I set up a real-time feedback system by writing explanations to the questions that I received in my office hour and uploading them to my personal website so that the office hour was effectively delivered to every student. I also utilized mind maps (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map) to depict the knowledge structure of the course so as to prevent students from being lost in the labyrinth of concepts and theories when preparing for their exams.