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Fatherly Advice for a good class January 21, 2013

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
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My dad was a high school science teacher. Back when I was in grad school and started teaching physics labs, I used to ask him for a lot of advice. Some of it was pretty basic advice, like how do you write an appropriate exam (if you think 5% of the questions are “A” level, and 70% are “C” level, you’ll probably have a B- average exam.)

However, some of it was more general advice. The three most important things he ever told me was about how to create a good environment for your class. Here’s his advice:

  1. Have clear expectations. Nothing ruins a class more thoroughly than uncertainty. The students need to know what they need to do to pass, and to get an “A.” Use a fixed grading scale so they’ll know how much work they’ll have to do and be willing help each other.
  2. Give them tools they want to use. There’s no reason to make them cart around a graph-paper lab notebook if you don’t need them doing frequent graphs, and there’s no reason to make “physics for the math-phobic” students read a vernier caliper if you have digital ones available. Now-a-days, I’d add that you should give them tools, like a google doc study guide, to enable collaboration.
  3. Always remember why this is interesting or necessary. Don’t waste time with the irrelevant.




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