Yesterday was the last official day of summer term, and I find myself reflecting on it. I can't help but conclude that Summer 2016 was my best semester yet as an instructor, and the summer term isn't even a full semester.
I worked really hard the past two months teaching Physics 100, a general survey class about physics. Granted it's not that hard to teach; I am an engineer, after all. But it took a lot of work to improve upon the class so that my students could have the best experience possible. I was offered to teach the class when the person who normally teaches it had other plans for the summer, and the department chair thought of me. I guess voluntarily submitting the course curriculum guides and syllabi for three engineering classes that the school is not offering but should caught his attention.
The lecture slides as left to me were all PDFs, which of itself would not have been a problem if the lectures themselves could keep the interest of the average student. The problem was they were focused almost exclusively on lecturing. There's no way that would satisfy for the 3-hour class times the summer term demanded. I had to develop in-class activities and demonstrations to keep the students interested and engaged. And because the lecture slides I had received were all PDFs, I couldn't just slip in a few slides here and there with the activities on them; I had to develop my own slide decks from scratch.
In addition, the labs were in great need of improvement. One was missing from the manual, so I had to develop that one on my own from scratch using only materials that were already had in store. I also developed two new labs from scratch. One of these labs was a simple experiment involving temperatures probes and rulers of different materials in melting ice. The student learn about rates of heat transfer at the same time they learn about the nature of temperature during changes of state. And yes, I said changes of state, not changes of phase. Don't get me started on my tirade about the diminished view of physicists when compared to metallurgists in this regard. I let others believe what they want, but to me solids, liquids, and gases will always be states of matter, and not phases. I'm too much of a metallurgist ever to adopt the physicist's convention.
Because each lecture covered a whole week during the normal semester and class sessions were two days apart each week, I was kept very busy trying to implement my vision for improving the class. I had to compromise in some regards due to time and manpower constraints, but that just gives me ways to improve the class further if I ever get to teach it again. And I hope that I do because, as much work and late nights as I put into improving the class, I really loved being in the classroom and the lab helping my students to learn more about the physical world around us all.
And as everything was winding down, I got some great comments from my students. They were so great, I got their permission to share them. What I have here is a sampling, but reading the praise from my students makes all the late nights worthwhile and together with the pleasure I experience while administering the course confirms that my career move in this direction is the right one for me to make.
In addition, one of my students approached me after class and said that he wanted to transfer to my alma mater and study materials science and engineering so he could follow in my footsteps. I can't begin to describe how gratifying that made me feel. I want to inspire and to educate the next generation of engineers, so getting feedback like that is what I live for.
Overall, I feel amazingly blessed that I had the opportunity to teach physics this past summer. It was a rush in multiple ways, but I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I spent with my students. Now I will need to get ready for the upcoming fall semester, which starts in three weeks. I'll be teaching my first online class as well as a special section of a first-semester college skills class that will include a study of engineering failures and their connections to other facets of life like business, politics, history, and literature. I'll be sure to post more about these classes as time goes on. For now, I'm really grateful for the summer teaching experience I've had and look forward to even better days yet to come.
Here you can find news and announcements I want to share. In between I'll include reviews of the books I read. Find me on Goodreads.com for more book reviews.