I believe that teaching, and specially teaching Physics, is an art. Not everyone can teach, like not everyone can sing, or jump. However, there is a big difference between a teacher, a singer, or a jumper. If you do not sing well, you will never sing in public even if you know by heart all the songs of the Beatles. In the same way, if you do not jump at least 1.5 m high, you will not participate in any serious athletic competition, even if you have been training all your life. However, teaching is different. Many people believe that because they can remember some formulas and laws, they have the ability to teach Physics. That is the reason why so many students consider that Physics is boring, or incomprehensible, or even unnecessary.
A teacher is a person born with a natural ability to teach. Therefore, you cannot teach a person to be a talented teacher, the same way as you cannot teach a person to be a talented singer or a professional jumper. That is why I do not believe in teaching rules. Many books have been written about pedagogy and the process of teaching. But, I have noticed that, quite often, the authors of these books are better with the pen than with the chalk. Therefore, when I speak about my teaching philosophy, I do not pretend to set any kind of universal rules. These are simply my rules.
After more than twenty years of teaching experience, I can stress some fundamental points that have been the key factors in my teaching philosophy:
· Physics is important in everyday life
· As important as laws and concepts, are the units and the orders of magnitude
· Learning Physics does not mean remembering formulas and laws, but finding answers to specific questions.
Perhaps, the order of these factors could be inverted, but that is not important. The important fact is that if you disregard any of these points, you cannot obtain a well-formed student. Let us say, for example, that you are teaching Optics, and you prefer spending most of your time talking to your students about the microscope, while spending a small amount of time explaining how the human eye works. It is quite possible that your students will consider Optics unnecessary.
Or, suppose that you are teaching Thermodynamics and you talk to your students about the heat of vaporization of water, but your students do not know how to calculate approximately how many joules are needed to boil a litter of milk. It is quite possible that your students will consider that Thermodynamics is boring.
Or, suppose that you are teaching Nuclear Physics, and you spend a lot of time talking to your audience about the neutron-proton dispersion, about the dependence of the spin, and about isotopic spin, but your students do not know how to calculate approximately how many protons or neutrons there are in a human body. It is quite possible that your students will consider that Nuclear Physics is incomprehensible.
My last point concerns the role of the experiment in the process of teaching. I did not include it as a new factor in my teaching philosophy because it is self-contained in the third point. The result of a good experiment is the answer to a well-formulated question. I do not like sophisticated experiments. The experiments must be simple, as simple as the ideal answer to any question must be. Furthermore, you do not need a big laboratory to do good experiments. The best experiments are those performed by the students themselves. As the Russian proverb puts it, “It is better to see one time, than to listen a hundred times”. The experiment is the best way to prove to the students that everything you are explaining makes sense.
Those are, in general, my viewpoints about teaching physics.