I live for that “lightbulb” moment.
My interest in teaching began at Cal State Chico, in room 110 of the Physical Sciences Building (which is now being moved into a brand new building). Room 110 was the physics study and tutor room; from 2009 to 2013, Room 110 is where I received academic help from peers, and where I later helped other students. I have been tutoring physics, engineering, and math in some form, whether individually or in groups, since 2010.
I finally got an opportunity to teach at ASU starting in 2018, when I taught several intro to exploration design classes (SES 100) as a Teaching Assistant for my advisor, Dr. Craig Hardgrove. I took a “current-event” approach to teaching by incorporating current local pop-culture into my intro to programming lessons. I also incorporated YouTube videos (Carl Sagan was a classic) as well as demos into my teaching. My students rated me a 4.4/5.0 in 2019 overall, with the main negative comment being that I needed a bit more enthusiasm when teaching (I could get a bit monotoned at teaching programming).
In spring of 2020, I co-TA’ed with another graduate student to teach Exploration of the Universe (SES 128) labs. These labs were already very developed, but they included an evening problem-solving lab once a week. In these evening labs I was given some freedom to come up with problems for the students to solve. I put a heavy emphasis on units, as I believe that units are one of the most important things to learn early in physics and engineering. Units can immediately help a scientist or engineer find an error in a calculation – if they units don’t check out, there is clearly an error somewhere! The last 1/3 of the semester was forced online due to COVID-19 – this actually allowed me more freedom in teaching. All of our labs essentially turned into problem-solving sessions, but I was able to incorporate technology into the labs. I created YouTube videos for my students where I used a whiteboard, my dog, the textbook via screen share online, animated gifs, my piano, and other YouTube videos to teach. Many of my students expressed during office hours that they were anxious due to being in dorms, being around busy family, not having internet access, etc.. By recording my office hours and offering them online to students, many of these students were able to at least lower some of their stress. By adding in things like guest appearances by my dog, Dr. Bones, a few silly memes or gifs, and filler piano music (that I played myself) from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, my students responded positively. One student emailed me the following: “None of this has been particularly easy for any of us and I know I’m probably not the only student who appreciated the quirky twist on the video (although I’ll admit I cringed most of the way). After a long week and especially after my calculus exam this morning, it definitely brought a smile to my face, along with a couple laughs.”
In fall of 2020 I started a position at Grand Canyon University (GCU) in the physics department as an adjunct lab instructor. This was the first time I’d been called “professor” in a classroom, and it felt pretty strange. I taught these labs in-person during the middle of the COVID pandemic and wore a mask during all classes. Our labs were split into half the amount of time, with half the amount of students to limit bodies in the room. I soon learned that my students needed additional instruction at the beginning of their lab, but in a very short amount of time. I ran through all of the physics labs and created 2-4 page sets of notes for each lab that I could throw up onto the whiteboard in the room in less than 15 minutes, I then let the students take photos of the board notes and my written notes. My students have told me these short explanations and notes have been invaluable, not just in doing the labs, but because they included the main concepts in terms that they could understand. I have continued to teach labs at GCU for the remaining duration of my PhD candidacy. My students feel comfortable asking questions and will actually answer my questions at the beginning of class for a 7am lab. It is very rewarding to teach lab classes, because the students get the hands-on experience of seeing physics in action and how the fundamental equations govern the physical phenomena they observe.
In spring of 2021 I was asked to help my secondary advisor, Dr. Lindy Elkins Tanton, teach an Inquiry Learning class. Getting to be on the teaching end of this class has been eye-opening and has changed how I think about teaching my students. Open Inquiry Learning falls under the Beagle Learning umbrella; this whole teaching style empowers students to take control of their education by teaching them how to investigate and think critically. Our spring 2021 class was held online through zoom, with discussion groups organized based on student interests, the “Big Goal Question” was “is there life on icy bodies, and can we detect it?” For an inquiry cycle, students first have to formulate their “big question,” from there they ask smaller questions, find peer-reviewed papers to address those questions, write paper summaries, then discuss as a group. After a few weeks of this, the cycle ends when the students distill all of the information of their summaries, questions, and papers together into a “big picture” distillation (usually an infographic or mind-map) in order to answer a larger “big question.” The semester usually consists of one fundamental “big Goal Question” which is broken into several cycles of “big questions” and smaller questions. This class was incredibly eye-opening, students’ thought processes were limitless. Fall 2021 I am currently helping Dr. Dave Williams teach another Inquiry Class based on Star Trek; this class investigates: “How can we create or improve the human future in space, informed by the Star Trek media franchise?”
My Teaching Style
I teach at the university level. I suppose my style of teaching pedagogy is a mix of what I learned from my professors at Chico State and what I’ve learned at ASU: primarily a learning-centered approach. What does this mean? It means I adapt to the classroom and the students I am working with. I combine teacher-centered and student-centered pedagogies. Where I can, I combine lecture with inquiry, hands-on with discussion. I don’t just lecture, monotoned and strict, for a 55-minute class period, using PowerPoint slides riddled with bullet-points – I’ve erased too many of those from my memory, which is exactly the problem. Yes, I will use some PowerPoint slides and I’ll use the whiteboard… I’ll also use YouTube videos, I’ll use demos, I’ll call on students to answer questions, I’ll engage with my classroom. More importantly, I want to empower my students to take control of their own education – that’s what they’ll have to do when they’re out of school! This is where techniques from inquiry learning can change a student’s ability to grow.
I converse with my students, asking questions to test their current knowledge, so that I can build on that or fill in gaps that may be missing. I try to have more than one way to explain a concept, often using real-life examples (e.g. when learning about standing waves, I can relate the nodes to the frets on a guitar, or we can talk about the sweet-spot on a baseball bat, or the low points of pressure in a Ruben’s tube!). I use pictures, hand-motions, equations, etc. to get STEM concepts across to my many learners. I build mutual respect with my students in the classroom, and encourage that they build that respect with their peers. They are young adults, soon to be STEM professionals, going into $10k’s of debt, they should act like and treat each other as adults. I do not discriminate in my classroom, and I take my students’ physical and mental health very seriously. I make sure my students know resources available to them at whichever University I am teaching. My goal by the end of every semester is to know the name of every student in all of my classes.