Falling off a cliff
Posted by Arjendu on January 5, 2010
The adrenalin rush and acceleration of time in how we went from the December break, with its enforced long weekends at Christmas and New Year, to the intensity of Winter Term at Carleton, can only be described by the phrase ‘falling off a cliff’. This term I’m teaching junior Quantum Mechanics in precisely the same formal way as I’ve taught it for the last 5 years, using a 3-stage process that I’ve seen work wonderfully: (1) Assign readings, and ask students to email questions to you (worth 15% of their grade) (2) present a lecture in class that responds in weighting and approach to their questions and encourage questions and discussions (another almost 15% of their grade) (3) pause often to work together on problems, including as much as an entire class day.
I trust a lot about this course now: The above format, the difficulty level, the approach (plunging students into Hilbert Space instantaneously). There are some problematic stretches still — how and when we reconnect with the position-based Schrodinger equation approach they’ve seen before in Modern Physics (I am never entirely sure how much time to spend on deriving the transmission and reflection rates from tunneling theory, for example) and on how we finish the course finally (I have them vote for special topics, and we might land up exploring entanglement (EPR) or identical particles or quantum field theory, but its not clear to me whether that time might not be profitably spent in reviewing everything we’ve learned).
But it’s always a hard ride, particularly the pre-class sessions reading the questions and trying to figure out how to address them. And the issue grows with class size, of course. This year I’ve got 26 kids registered, mostly juniors, the largest yet. I am anticipating many freezing early mornings with coffee, laptop, class notes, and quantum textbooks. I’m kinda looking forward to them, actually :-).
The floodgates of administrative work have opened, as well, and well, here goes.