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Advanced E+M redux

Posted by Arjendu on June 2, 2010

So, the Advanced E+M class wound to a close last night, with the bulk of us retreating to the local pub (the Contented Cow) for a post-class conversation. It was my first time teaching this class, and I tried something new in terms of structure, and this note is to report that I can’t speak highly enough of the results of this experiment.

Here’s why I think it went well: The preface of Pollack and Stump says something along the lines of ‘This would be ambitious for an instructor to cover even in 2 semesters.” However, by refusing to do any of the ‘covering’ myself, the students and I got through essentially the whole book this term (which lasts 9 1/2 weeks, in case you aren’t that Carleton-familiar). Last night’s discussion (before the pub) indicated that this wasn’t at the expense of sanity or actual comprehension:  They were happy with the pace (they didn’t think it was too rough) and what they got out of it (they feel far more ready to tackle Jackson than they had been, and that’s pretty much the intent of the course). In short, they learned a lot more than I could have possibly taught them (and I think I can happily report that many of them learned a lot more physics than I know myself). I’ve asked for written evaluations later, but I am reasonably secure that we trust each other enough in this class that I would probably know roughly where we stand if people were unhappy.

This is definitely one of those situations where I didn’t have to be ‘the sage on the stage’ but instead took full advantage of my resources (the remarkably sharp and talented students who enrolled) and my bag of tricks as a ‘guide on the side’ to create what ultimately turned out to be a good course. An alternate way of thinking about it would be to echo something we’ve recently talked about at Carleton’s Learning and Teaching Center events: That is, that thinking of ourselves as coaches for the young and athletic minds we have in our care is a very sensible way to teach, and allows us to play to our strengths, while allowing for the students to play to their strengths.


3 Responses to “Advanced E+M redux”

  1. […] Advanced E+M redux […]

  2. I’m curious, why did you choose Pollack and Stump? I liked a lot of their homework problems, but Griffiths is so remarkably clear…

    You might know about our advanced E&M materials since I spoke about them at Carleton. It sounds like you’re following our model of not being a sage on the stage already, but our tutorials and clicker questions have been popular among students and faculty.

    • arjendu said

      Why Pollack and Stump? Excellent question. Not entirely sure I could defend it. It was recommended to me by my colleagues, it seemed to complement better the text from the first week (Daniel Fleisch’s “A Student Guide to Maxwell’s Equations”), the range of coverage (almost Jackson-level in certain parts) worked better for me, particularly as a transition from Purcell (which is what I/we use in our sophomore-level class), and so on.

      Thanks for those resources!

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