Thursday, September 3, 2009

Teaching Experience, 2

Alright, so teaching is much much more complicated than tutoring, granted, but it's where I get my practice in the craft at this point in time. And as it's easier, it's a good place to practice, because I get to directly see results. It probably also helps that the people I tutor come willingly and are paying for their classes. So, it's like baby-teaching. Nevertheless, it's a good field to practice and develop my teaching skills, so I'm still labeling it "Teaching Experience"

Today, we covered Unit Conversions and basic chemical nomenclature. Nomenclature is hard to teach because there aren't any real patterns to pick out, and there is quite a bit of data to memorize. As such, you just have to memorize by use, so the best way to teach it is to do it. In a tutoring session, that seems difficult, but upon reflection now, I think naming drills may have been the ideal solution. Must pocket this idea for the future.

Unit Conversions are fairly simple, but they still stump a lot of people. So, like most people, I use the picket-fence method, AKA Dimensional Analysis -- However, I've found in teaching that the use of big unfamiliar words gets in the way of the concept, so it's usually better to introduce the concept first, and then the big unfamiliar word attached to that concept. There isn't a real reason I can think of why, other than the big unfamiliar word sounds scary, so those who are low on confidence (like those who like to go to tutoring sessions) will often shoot themselves down before the concept is introduced. Further, something else that I've found great for tutoring is to start doing the work on the board, but only write what is stated by the students. That way they have to do the thinking, and you're not stuck there giving another lecture that the students have already heard. It's a bit silly to do that in a tutoring session, especially when the lecture didn't get through to them. Sometimes I throw hints in there, or to make things easier I'll explain a single step and do it so they don't become frustrated, but overall I find letting students do the work teaches them better than doing it for them.

Also,I love having more than one student at tutoring. I haven't experienced this until recently, as I'm only recently in a position where we have open tutoring. But today, when one student understood the problem and the other didn't, the first student jumped right in to answer the other students question: So the first student was reviewing the material while the second student was having it explained in a way that maybe is a little simpler than I'm explaining it -- I'm used to dimensional analysis, as well as Chemistry in general, so the terms I'm used to working in may in fact be above the head of those taking Freshman Chemistry. In fact, not just may, but ARE. That is one of the great difficulties in teaching -- you become proficient in a subject, but it becomes difficult to explain the subject because in becoming proficient you generally forget some of the simple steps in between that you used to have to take consciously in order to solve problems. Or you just assimilate simple terms into more complex terms in order to store a greater amount of information. Then you have to unpack all that knowledge, and lead people along step by step from the beginning while not intimidating them, entertaining them, and being there friend while still maintaining a position of authority and respecting their values and way of thinking but modifying it in such a way that they become better thinkers and learn the actual subject matter.

Fascinating. Difficult. Rewarding. Undervalued.

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