I believe every student can learn physics, astronomy, math and computers. (That is, unless they abuse themselves, for example with excessive drinking of bad beer...) I taught gifted students and not so gifted, and the difference between them seem to be that the gifted are not afraid to ask and not afraid to try.
I want to be an effective teacher, so when I am teaching the gifted I give them as much as I can. When I am teaching the fearful I try to alleviate their fears. I want to keep on improving on my own teaching skills, so that I don’t create any additional fears or boredom. At the end of the day I want my students to be learners, but more importantly I want them to become effective and responsible practitioners of their skills.
Ok. Now the details…
I think that in order to be an effective physics teacher, one that leaves his mark on each student, we have to posses good communication skills, a formidable teaching strategy, a friendly and effective "one-on-one" teaching ability, technological prowess, and a large "arsenal of teaching tricks". Some of these are gifts you are born (or raised) with. Most of these qualities, though, you just have to continuously develop and maintain. So let me address my approach on how to go about it:
Communication Skills and Teaching Strategy :
If a person has a teaching talent it will be possible for him to work on becoming an effective teacher. One may be able to determine if a teacher is INEFFECTIVE by finding consensus in evaluation forms and reference letters. To find out if a teacher is good, one has to attend his/her class or presentation. After many years of working at it, I am becoming quite confident in my teaching ability. I know that in the education field one can never rest. Each generation of students, and each specialized group of students requires the rethinking of one's teaching methods.
Teaching well is a matter of optimization. Every minute
that the student spends doing physics counts! Good classes maximize the time
that the student is solving problems, while covering enough material to develop
a strong "story." An effective story is like the scientific process
itself. It has a beginning (observation) middle (hypothesis & model) and
end (analysis and proof/refutation). Good "stories" are told in more
than one way, because the description of a phenomenon depends on one's
perspective (or frame of reference).
Every class that the student attends needs to be a complete unit, or story. Every class should teach the skill and methods associated with the unit. Different forms of "units" are needed in order to create pictures in the students' minds. Lectures, discussion sessions, pre-lab observation sessions, labs, tutorials, writing assignments, and projects should all be organized into such units. Publications in physics-teaching research helped me develop those units 1-4.
A good class would maximize the overlap of the "stories" while building the bigger picture. That way the "toolbox of skills" is organized effectively. To build a bigger picture many students in my classes choose to do projects with theoretical and experimental parts. I believe that in a good college programs classes overlap a little, so that the students may combine their skills, and build an effective "toolbox" for life.
Students enjoy using newly learned skills. The step by step
approach lets the students enjoy new skills at every step. This joy is not of
the instant gratification type. Rather, it is more like fixing your own car and
then driving it, or eating a meal that you prepared yourself.
The effectiveness of this approach, which I found by trial and error, makes sense. In order to learn effective skills' one should have strong building blocks. Each lesson is such a building block, and in each lesson methods and skills are learned. In order to figure out which methods to use, pattern recognition skills have to be developed. Pattern recognition ability is what some people call experience. Experience is always developed by trial and error, but a strong background dramatically reduces the number of trials.
"One-on-one" Teaching Ability
The best results are always obtained through personal interaction. Look at your kids, brothers or sisters: most of what they learn is through interaction with parents and siblings. That's why I spent a large portion of my teaching career trying to perfect techniques for one-on-one situations. What I found out through many years of trial and error is almost obvious: (or as most of the students would now say: DAH...) The most effective methods require the appearance of equality. I try not to impose myself on my students. I am there for "the kid" in case he or she badly fall, or doesn't dare to get up. I try to encourage. When they are lost I try to show them several ways, but always make them choose the right way under supervision, then with no supervision. Until they learn, I let them fall and teach them the most effective way to get up. One of my peers told me that this is not only how kids learn to walk, its the way the scientific method "walks"!
I have extensive experience in teaching with the help of technology. I have been using Audio-Video systems and developing web-based courses since I started teaching. I advised students in numerical simulation projects, data-analysis projects using advanced software, and designing astronomical observations. See CV.
1.Arnold Arons, "A guide to Introductory Physics Teaching" Wiley, 1990; 2. McDermott, "Miliken Lecture 1990, AJP 59, 1991; 3. Halloun & Hestenes, " The initial knowledge state of college physics students", AJP 53, 1985; 4. Redish, "The implications of cognitive studies for teaching physics" AJP 62, 1994.