I view my role as an instructor as a facilitator of
student learning, and I pursue student achievement through a mix of
active-learning approaches. My experience is that carefully designed active-learning
and discovery-based class activities, mixed with concise summaries of material
and ample problem solving, tend to best address most student learning
styles. However, in any given physics class, students come with a wide
range of prejudices, interests, and past experiences. For this reason, I
will tweak my general approach to a particular class’s overall needs to
maximize student learning.

One important theme in my teaching over the past four years has
been an increasing reliance on quality writing assignments. I take the
view that writing is a critical thinking exercise, and that writing assignments
with revision provide students the opportunity to reflect on what they
understand about physics. Currently, I am particularly interested in the
use of electronic portfolios in promoting
student learning.

My primary educational goal in a Core Curriculum physics
class is to expose students to the worldview provided by the analytic tools of
Physics. In particular, I want to increase students
analytic thinking skills and expose students to the physics of the last
century, which has truly changed their lived.

I have taught three core curriculum courses at BSU:
Modern Physics for the Humanist, FYS: Science Fiction Science, and FYS:
Scientists at Work.

__Modern Physics for the Humanist__

The primary themes of the course are conventional and
speculative space travel, relativity, quantum mechanics, and artificial
intelligence (AI). I use several movies to highlight each of
themes. For instance, *2001, A Space Odyssey* highlights space
travel and AI; *Contact* focuses on relativity and speculative space
travel; *The One* introduces quantum mechanics and cosmology; *Paycheck*
introduces relativity and cosmology; *The Planet of the Apes (original)*
introduces special relativity.

Students take part in an extensive online town meeting
considering whether we should pursue a manned expedition to Mars. This
activity was planned following the model the Dr. Anne Hird
uses in her classes and presented at the 1^{st} MCO conference on
E-learning.

My first year seminar on science fiction is one of my
favorite courses to teach, and I have given it significant revision over the
years to make the course a meaningful beginning for the new BSU students who
take it. The course centers on two clusters of assignments.

First, students chose a science fiction topical
group. These three student groups watch three different science fiction
films, and for each film, each student writes a 2-3 page paper on a different
assigned topic that I chose after watching the films with this assignment
structure in mind. Typically, each student will write a paper on some aspect
of the underlying science in one of the films, a paper on the societal
structure or social implication of another of the films, and a paper on some
aspect of the literary merit of the third film. (Each film has one
question of each of these types and the students rotate through each question
type.)

The science fiction topical groups provide a natural
small group for peer-revision. For each assigned paper, students read the
two papers of their partners and provide feedback according to instructions on
a particular aspect of the writing. My expectations for the quality and
depth of analysis for each of the three papers increases with each film, as
students develop their skills.

The science fiction topical groups also pick one of their
three films to present to the class using film clips and a discussion
format. To prepare for the oral presentation, students complete a journal
assignment. In this journal assignment, I lead students down a path of
deeper and deeper thinking on the film, culminating in a self-reflection in how
their thinking about the film changed as they did more research. In
addition to the oral presentations, students create a poster to present at the
Mid-year Symposium for First and Second Year Student Work, sponsored by the
Office of Undergraduate Research.

The second aspect of the course is the student written
science fiction short story. This assignment begins at the very beginning
of the term with a creative thinking assignment and continues throughout the
semester with outlines, a medium length (4-5 page) research paper on the
underlying science, several idea organizing assignments, and three drafts of
the paper (at least 7 pages). I emphasize that the importance of this
assignment is to think about how the science drives the story.

Scientists at Work is an unusually formatted FYS taught
as part of the STREAMS Summer Bridge Program. The sixteen students in the class
are incoming BSU science or math majors in the coming fall. The class
takes place over three weeks, during which time the students are residents in
one of the residence halls. The students also complete a college level
math course and conduct approximately 30 hours of undergraduate research as
part of the FYS and program.

The central idea of the course is to encourage students
to reflectively think about their studies and to begin to consider themselves
practicing scientists. Students write two short papers, complete a major
writing project related to their research, write daily in a research blog, and
create and deliver a group poster at an end of term banquet and the Mid-year
Symposium. The course is taught through the use of an e-portfolio where
students write reflectively about their experiences, goals for the fall
semester, and learning styles.

The “content” of the course is largely driven by the students’
experience in the lab setting. Students read journal articles about their research
and develop questions for their faculty and peer lab mentors from the reading.
Since the course is being taken by science and math majors, there is a heavy
focus on writing methods and data analysis sections, as well as an emphasis on
writing a scientific abstract.

My primary educational goal in introductory
classes is that students develop an understanding of the world through the
analytic tools that Physics provides. It is often commented in the Physics
education literature that the typical student views the world in a form of Aristotlean thinking that has been known to be false for
over four hundred years. My goal in introductory physics courses is to help
students replace this world view with a scientific view based on mathematical,
verifiable laws of nature.

I regularly teach the two semester
calculus-based and sometimes the two semester algebra-based physics sequences.

__Calculus based physics:__

I have regularly taught Physics 243 and PHYS 244, a two
semester sequence of calculus based physics, since my arrival at BSU in
2002. The students in the 243-244 sequence are predominantly physics, mathematics,
and chemistry majors.

The view of our department is that the version of these
courses taught at BSU must meet the same standards for rigor and material
covered as their equivalent counterparts at any major four year
university. This is a challenge for many of our students because calculus
based physics is among the most difficult courses (relative to student
preparation) at any college or university. To meet this challenge
requires careful planning and execution, and I am confident that, by taking
advantage of active-learning methods and frequent student interaction, students
in my calculus based physics courses learn material at a high level.

I have been a leader in using online homework, writing
assignments, and in-class active learning activities to help students learn in
this sequence. In 2007, I set up the physics department’s first online
homework system and have maintained that system for use by myself and other
faculty since that time. I have always supplemented online homework with
extensive written “annotated homework;” these are centrally important problems
where I ask students to turn in a paper copy of their solution to the problem
with meta-cognitive writing about the problem and its solution. This is
an effort to help students think about why the solution to the problem is what
it is and how the approach to the problem may generalize to other
situations. In spring 2011, I completely restructured my course to make
use of an in-class PAL (Peer Learning Assistant) who helped me to implement
full active learning in the classroom. I significantly reduced the amount of my
lecture time, replacing it with carefully crafted, sometimes step by step,
problem worksheets that the students would do in groups as the PAL and I went
from group to group to help them.

Students find my use of technology very helpful in their
learning in the 243-244 sequence. In these classes, I use my tablet PC in the
classroom, writing on my tablet and projecting to the board. The “board
notes” are then placed in the course blackboard site after class. The
blackboard site also has copies of old exams, solutions to the homework and
exams, blank copies of the class activities and solutions to those, and other
learning aids.

Traditionally, PHYS 243-244 has been a lecture / lab
course with three 50 minute periods of lecture (where new material is
introduced) and a 3 hour lab (where students learn techniques and see physics
in action). With my assistance, the physics department has transitioned
away from this split lecture / lab towards a style of teaching called studio
physics. In studio physics, the entire class period is taught in what
would look like the lab – students sit in small groups at tables with lab
equipment, usually for two three hour per week sessions. The role of the
instructor is to mix up the class-time between short (ten minute) lectures,
periods of student group problem solving, and short lab activities. In a
typical class period, the mini-lecture, problem solving, lab work cycle would
be repeated twice.

__Algebra based physics:__

I am an occasional instructor in Physics 181 and 182, an
algebra based physics sequence. The students in Ph
182 are predominantly biology and chemistry majors with some students taking
the course to fulfill GER requirements. Since promotion to associate professor,
I have only taught one section of the 181 lab course (in fall 2007). However,
that experience was a significant one for me in terms of re-thinking how to
teach physics with writing assignments.

In summer 2007 I received a CART Summer Grant to design a
new approach to teaching physics labs that is centered
on Writing-to-Learn (WTL) best practices. My interest in this topic
stemmed from my realization that the writing we ask students to do in the
typical introductory lab (the formal lab reports) are neither well designed
from a writing instruction perspective, nor are they well-tailored to helping
students learn material that will aid them in the main lecture part of the
course.

My redesigned lab was centered on student writing, and
each student brought their laptop. Early in the semester, students would
begin the lab period by writing a brief description of the central idea in
their own words. Each group would then read their own descriptions to
each other, then revise their personal description and make a “group”
description. As the lab period progressed, students would periodically be
asked to write an explanation of the methods being used or the data that was
being acquired. Instead of formal lab reports, students pretended to be
mid-1700 century physicists (who would have been doing these experiments for
real), and they would write a letter to a colleague in a different lab group
explaining what they were discovering. (The colleague would have to write
back as well.) Later in the semester, students designed their own labs,
and these letters became more elaborate because the different lab groups would
be using different methods, so that the correspondence partner would not know
what the letter writer actually did if the methods were not well described.

__Physics 403, Mathematical Methods:__

My basic philosophy in Math Methods is to teach a course
that introduces students in the physics major to the advanced mathematical
techniques most frequently used in upper division courses such as mechanics, electricity
and magnetism, and quantum mechanics. The topics in the class included
linear algebra and vector spaces, ordinary differential equations, partial
differential equations, Fourier transforms, and function spaces and orthogonal
function decomposition. Many of these subjects were new to the students
and all of them are deep and very difficult. I expected students to gain
a familiarity with these topics so that when they encountered them in future
studies they would be ready to understand the physics without fighting the
mathematics so much.

My primary goals in the class were that students remember
material throughout the term and demonstrate a basic understanding of the more
difficult topics. The main problem I felt I needed to fight against was
the typical student tendency to “brain dump” learned material.

To accomplish this goal, I structured the exams and
quizzes differently from other classes I taught. Every two weeks we had a
quiz. On each quiz were two problems that tested current material and one
problem that randomly tested material taught in the course to date. These
random problems had the effect of making students “keep fresh” on all course
material, even if it wasn’t directly related to the current material.

__Physics 422, Computational Methods in the Physical
Sciences:__

Physics 422, Computational Methods, is a sophomore-level
elective in the physics major. It was placed on the books by Dr. Jeff
Williams during the restructuring of the physics department in the late 1990’s,
but was never been taught before my teaching it in the Fall
of 2004. I have repeated the course four times since then, and the
physics department has now put Computational Methods in a regular teaching
rotation.

The original 2004 version of the course was traditional.
It was based on a standard textbook; I lectured for about 1 hour per week;
students wrote computer code (in the programming language perl)
with my assistance about 3 hours per week; we completed “labs” that basically
covered all the typical topics in numerical methods - i.e., we went
through the book.

In Fall 2008, I significantly
revised Computational Methods to have an undergraduate research focus. I
picked a research problem from my research, devoted the last third of the
semester to having the students work in groups on it, and then picked the
topics the students would need to learn to make progress on the research
project for the first two-thirds of the semester – meaning that I explicitly
sacrificed the breadth of coverage for greater depth and the ability to get
into a real research project.

The Fall 2008 course moved away
from lecture / lab to a very successful team focus. Students gave the lectures
and designed the class activities to help the other students learn the early in
the semester material – each student would meet with me for about an hour, and
we’d work together on how to present the computational techniques, then they
would go and come up with a physics problem that could be solved with that
technique and write / beta-test a lab to help students do it. When we got
to the research project, each week a different student was the team leader who
assigned tasks for work in class and for homework.

In subsequent years, I have been working to incorporate
more common platforms such as MatLab and SQL. I feel
that students learning these tools will be better prepared for work in
industry.

__Physics 409, General Relativity:__

General Relativity is not a subject typically taught at
the undergraduate level. It is a very challenging course both
mathematically and conceptually for students. With this in mind, I teach
Physics 409 in a mostly formal seminar style with a heavy emphasis on student
reading and questions.

To address the mathematical challenges of the class, we
began with several weeks of advanced mathematics in lecture with extensive
homework. I believe that the students in the course spent an average of
three hours per class completing their assignments for the first three weeks of
the term. The reason such a heavy homework based was assigned is that it
allowed the class to develop a language in which we could approach the more
conceptually challenging aspects of the theory.

After the first three weeks on mathematics, the class
shifted to a largely conceptual mode. For most classes, I prepared a
lecture and the students were assigned reading. About twice a week,
students were required to hand in questions they had about the reading and
approximately one page with their thoughts about the question. These
“reading assignments” helped the students read critically in a difficult
subject and frequently led to class discussions.

__Physics 438, Electricity and Magnetism:__

I have taught E&M in a fairly standard manner with
lectures, homework, exams. I publish before class complete lecture notes
online, and I publish full homework solutions online after students have been
given a chance to work on the homework without the solutions. In this
course, mastering the computations demonstrated in the homework problems *is*
the goal of the class, so I give a short, three problem quiz every other week
with a longer comprehensive mid-term and a long comprehensive final. On
each quiz, two problems are “new” material, and one problem is a randomly
selected “old” problem so that students cannot forget what was previously
learned.

The students in E&M are serious physics majors; they
know they have to learn to do these problems, and they come prepared for that
challenge. I find that student engagement in this class is naturally
high, so that I can give a short lecture, do an example problem, assign homework,
then spend the rest of the time answering student questions about the homework
problems. It is a class where students come prepared with questions, and
we learn to do the problems together.

In the past few years, I have moved this class to a
flipped classroom style. My traditional
lectures are available to students and should be reviewed before class. This lets us work on “prototype” problems in
class.

__Physics 439, Mechanics:__

Physics 439, Mechanics, is a required upper level course
in the physics major. Mechanics is truly one on the canonical courses of
the physics profession that is taken by all physicists. Thus, there is an
expectation within the physics community of what a student who has taken
Mechanics will have learned.

At all institutions of higher education, undergraduate
Mechanics is an unusual course in that almost no new concepts are introduced in
the class. Instead of introducing new physical ideas, Mechanics is a
skills development class. In the context of the physics major, Mechanics
is the course where students learn advanced techniques for approaching problems
and how to apply higher level mathematics (Calculus 3 and 4 and above) to
physical situations.

This class has moved to a flipped classroom style in the
same manner as PHYS 438. However, in Spring 2019, we introduced the class as 3 credit course with
two hours of lecture and two hours of computational lab. In the lab, students write code in python to
solve problems. Basic numerical methods
(bisection, arrays, Euler Method, numerical derivative) and some advanced
methods (relaxation for PDEs, Runge-Kutta) are
introduced with an eye towards solving classical mechanics problems.

__Physics 458, Advanced Electricity and Magnetism:__

Physics 458, or Advanced E&M, is the second course in
a canonical two-course sequence at the junior / senior level in electricity and
magnetism. It continues with the same book as Physics 438, and the final
three chapters in this book are remarkable.

Advanced E&M course is very much a lecture / discussion
course. I write formal lectures, which I publish online before
class. I also publish detailed homework assignments with hints.
Instead of publishing full homework solutions, I write into the assignment
itself hints that will help students complete the more difficult
problems. In the Advanced E&M course, some of the homework involves
annotating and re-deriving key concepts or examples outlined in the text.
Students come to class having read my “lecture” notes beforehand, and we go
through the material together. Sometimes I can speed through calculations
at the board, but most often the class is spent discussing the deeper points of
classical physics.

Advanced E&M makes use of oral exams for the mid-term
and final exams. Students schedule 20 minutes for an individual
appointment. Present are the student, myself, and one other physics
faculty member. I’ve written a rubric that is used for marking students
in the oral exam (included in these materials). We usually ask the students a simple
question to start and then see how complicated a question we can ask the
student before they start to need help. Students are scared shitless of this,
especially before the mid-term which is their first experience where they are
required to think on their feet, so they come really well prepared. But
we are very supportive of them, and they know that too. Generally
speaking, students have found this to be a very big learning experience, one
that they say they have grown from. In the end, they like having had to
do it.