Department of Physics and Astronomy
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Teaching is challenging, especially teaching science. Students do not enter classrooms as blank slates. Virtually all have heard of the Big Bang theory, for example, but bring along myriad misconceptions about the origin of the universe and many other aspects of scientific thought and scientific discoveries. And yet there has never been a more pressing need for a scientifically literate populace. As sophisticated technologies increasingly dominate everyday life, unskilled workers increasingly struggle to make ends meet. Our global society is faced with the daunting task of shifting to an information-based economy, developing sustainable sources of energy, and mitigating the adverse effects of human resource use on our planet’s ecosystems. If these problems are to be solved, science and technology must play a central role.
I have been a science teacher at both the secondary and undergraduate levels. My interactions with my students are my chance to shape the perceptions and hone the critical reasoning skills of the world’s future scientists, engineers, teachers, journalists, and policymakers---not to mention voters and taxpayers.
Cal Poly Pomona
As faculty in an undergraduate-only department at a predominantly undergraduate university, I teach a wide range of physics and astronomy courses, including a 3 quarter, calculus-based introductory physics sequence (Physics 131/2/3) for science and engineering majors, and an upper-level (Juniors and Seniors) astrophysics sequence (Physics 424/5/6) for Physics majors and Astronomy minors. Here is the syllabus for the very first course I taught at Cal Poly Pomona, General Physics I (Mechanics).
In Fall 2010 I taught Astro 1: The Astronomical Universe at Penn State, with an enrollment of 100 students (course syllabus). As a semester project, my students test-drove the Milky Way Project web interface prior to its worldwide launch and completed a set of data analysis tasks designed to simulate authentic astronomy research. For the full story please see the excellent write-up by Dr. Monica Brucker Young in Penn State Science News.
The University of Wisconsin
As a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin--Madison (UW), I was the Teaching Assistant for Astronomy 113: Hands On the Universe, an introductory laboratory course for non-science majors, in the Spring 2006 semester. This course was fun, affording me continuous interaction with each of the 84 students in my four lab sections. I also worked a grader for two undergraduate courses for astronomy majors, stellar structure and the interstellar medium, and as an astronomy tutor for student athletes. In the summer of 2008 I taught an intensive, 8-week astronomy survey course, Astro 103: The Evolving Universe (course syllabus). The course met for 75 minutes, 4 days per week (right after lunch), and keeping the 37 students awake and engaged was a fun challenge!
U.S. Peace Corps
My formative experiences as a teacher came during my service as a United States Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania. After 3 months of training, I took up my two-year post at Moshi Technical Secondary School as a teacher of Basic Mathematics (secondary-level algebra, functions, co-ordinate geometry, etc.) and Advanced Physics (analogous to an introductory-level undergraduate physics course). You can read more about my experiences and see photographs on my Tanzania Pages.
The Milky Way Project Student Research Activity
I have developed a self-contained course module that guides students through a simulated astronomy research project using real astronomical data from the Milky Way Project archive site. This module centers on the Milky Way Project Student Research Activity (MWPSRA), which received rave reviews from the students in my Astro 1 course who pioneered it, and has since been implemented successfully by other instructors at Penn State and elsewhere. Here is the general outline of the MWPSRA:
- Phase I: Students are assigned a minimum number of Milky Way Project images to analyze. Students record their observations in data tables as they use the online interface. Students complete this task individually.
- Phase II: Students complete a data analysis worksheet in small groups. The format of the worksheet follows the organization of a research article: data collection, results, discussion, and summary. All required calculations are clearly explained. Some questions have specific "right" answers, but most are open-ended, designed to guide students to ponder their assumptions and evaluate specific hypothesis against their findings.
I am still in the process of evaluating and updating the MWPSRA packet and related course materials. Once these materials have reached a stable version I will post them on this page. In the meantime, if you teach introductory college astronomy or an honors-level high-school science course and are interested in implementing the MWPSRA with your students, please contact me (information below) and I will happily provide you with the most recent version.
I thank Dr. Edward Prather, director of the Center for Astronomy Education at the University of Arizona, for useful discussions and suggestions during the development and implementation of this course module. I am very grateful to Dr. Julia Kregenow for improving the delivery of the MWPSRA through repeated implementation with her introductory astronomy classes at Penn State.