Thoughts During Break Time

Ah. I see that it’s been three days since my last confession. Gosh.

Well, it’s been a quiet weekend here in, er, my part of the universe. Good time for reflection and rest. I had a couple of posts I was going to do but in the end decided to break the pattern and change up my Saturday and Sunday, and the “change up” did not include the blog. So sorry about that.

I’m taking a break between an interesting meeting (that I will tell you about) and my office hour. The sun’s shining outside and it is not oppressively hot, surprisingly, so I’ll keep this short and poke my head out there again before my Physics 151 visitors arrive.

Some of the things on my mind:


(1) First, excitement about the first circulating beams at the LHC. That happens on Wednesday the 10th. Look back at my post about that here. Be sure to follow the links at the bottom of it to lots of more LHC information, and once the beams have begun to circulate, be sure to check this other site* to find out if the LHC has destroyed the earth yet.

(2) Preparing materials for my evening class. We’re doing a lot of online stuff for the class. We’re also using fancy RF clickers in class to -it is said- encourage students to participate. It’s all the rage now, and I’m partly to blame for being one of the relatively early adopters. It has become a lot more streamlined now, but I worry that a lot of this stuff is being overused in place of simply teaching properly. For example, now that I have a lot of material on computer slides (and I will not say powerpoint because I am sick of everyone using that name for anything projected by a computer), it is easy to go a long way without using the board at all… This bothers me since I am trying to encourage students to roll up their sleeves and calculate. Not an awful lot of that going on if I’m projecting up nice clean examples on the slides, but it does make it so much easier to throw up a quick multiple choice question to which they can anonymously submit answers using their clickers. And they love the video-game aspect to it… It’s good, but I must remember to not get seduced. Some regular time with a piece of chalk and some hands-on problem solving is really important to do.

(3) That reminds me. Several students have come up and asked me for copies of my slides. Some have been confused as to where they are on the class website. They aren’t there: I feel a bit bad about this, but I am very resistant to giving out lecture notes or slides to the students. Why? Call me old-fashioned, but I think that students should make their own notes. I know that some students will probably use them responsibly, but I expect that the vast majority will use the slides from my lectures as a substitute for making their own notes – notes in class, and notes from their reading of the book. I am really old-school on this, but I think that making notes in real time is an important skill set to develop, as is making your own notes from a text. The complaint I get at this point to the former is that you miss a lot of the lecture if you are taking notes, that you can’t do both well. My response is that it is not meant to be a perfect process, and further, if you give up on it you’ll never develop the skill at all. Furthermore, I think that an important part of the process of learning the material for the first time, and engaging with it right off the bat is to start trying to scribble notes during the lecture. You’re going to miss stuff, sure. But that’s ok. And part of the skill is learning how to let go of some of the details and capture others. There are several opportunities (such as reading the textbook outside of class) to fill in the other details, reflect on the thing as a whole, and make sense of some of those incoherent scribbles from the lecture. There’s the issue of whether there’s time for the students to make notes if the lecturer is zipping along using computer projections that take no time to draw. This is an excellent point, and so leads me back to (2) above. Also, I try to be mindful of this on the slides too, and build them step-by-step with lots of time between each chunk of information. I also stop and get students working on part-solving the next step in a problem before revealing that next step, so evn though it is on computer a lot, I try not to make it a relentless stream of information.

So, although I know that there are several students out there who would take great notes and all that even if I was giving out the slides, I want to cut out another route by which the whole classroom experience degenerates into a TV show where you just watch, occasionally clicking on your remote. If any of the students from my class are reading – I’m sorry.

(4) Some fun TV coming up. The wonderful “Little Britain”, the creation of Matt Lucas and David Walliams that started out as an excellent show on BBC radio 4 (as so many good things do), then went to UK television -somewhat amazingly- been picked up by HBO. They’re not just showing the old stuff, they are in fact restructuring a lot of it to justify the title “Little Britain USA”. I had not realized until a chance conversation last night that they were doing specific new work for the American version. (It so happened that I was chatting over a glass of wine with one of the actors involved. They’ve been playing one of the recurring characters.) Sound like it’ll be fun. UK audiences will get to see it too! Story on BBC here.

Hmmm. I seem to have spent about an hour more on this than I intended (I broke some out into another post, upcoming, knowing that nobody read far down a post these days). There went my break and most of my office hour. I’d better stop and prepare my evening lecture…

-cvj

(*Thanks commenter caze!)

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