Friday, September 24, 2010

Stumbling out of the gate

Yes, it has been very quiet on this blog lately.  But, perhaps to your chagrin, I am not gone forever.  I've just been completely swamped with my new teaching responsibilities. 

I knew that teaching was hard work, but it is amazing how much time I can put into preparing a class and still feel unprepared.  I'm behind on grading, I need to be preparing exams, and I'm wondering if I am getting anything through to my students.  So, from what I can tell from my colleagues' experiences, I'm having a fairly normal first semester.

I feel for my students, as I've had a few stumbles along the way.  One of the topics I covered in the introductory astronomy class went over like a lead balloon (actually, I think a lead balloon would do better).  At the end of the unit, I found myself asking, "why did I think this was important?", and I can't give a good answer.  So, next time that unit is out, but my current students had to suffer through it.

A couple of weeks ago, I had students measuring angles using their fingers, fists, and hands.  We measured the height of a couple of buildings this way.  It's a time-honored method, and, I thought, fairly simple.  But there were problems in the materials and I hadn't actually done the lab myself, so it went poorly.  In fact, the students nearly revolted.  But this week's lab went much better (I tried it myself first!), so I'm learning.

I've also learned an important lesson, and I think it will prove much more important than which topics I should avoid or which labs I should and shouldn't use.  That lesson is the importance of being confident and projecting that confidence.  In the lectures where I get flustered and let that show, my students pay less attention and don't grasp the material.  In lectures where I exude confidence about my material, I can sense that the students have come along for the ride.  For me, the trick will be to remember to project confidence when, in my opinion, things are going poorly. 

In the meantime, I've fallen behind on astronomy news.  I was surprised the other day by the news that Jupiter was at its closest to Earth in 47 years (not by much, but still a cool factoid).  I have a few months of professional journal reading to catch up on.  But I'll get there. Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better.

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