Busy couple of weeks…

…actually, busy couple of months. I just finished reading “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” by Richard Rhodes, and I can’t recommend it highly enough; it’s an amazingly engaging bit of history, well-researched and exceptionally written. And, of course, rather creepy to read.

It’s also got me thinking about an idea for a sophomore or junior-level physics course in nuclear physics, that would try to combine serious theory, engineering, experiment, and history; essentially following the early development of the subject, actually doing all of the major experiments (it’s one of the few fields of physics where that’s possible in a classroom setting), and getting the students up to the point where they understand both the technical and ethical issues associated with their field. I suspect it could be a great way to both really draw in the very serious students and to give them a much-needed parallelism of experiment and theory in a class.

(I remember that I didn’t get my first really interesting experimental physics class until my senior year. That was the year I got thrown in a lab with a bunch of spare parts and told to measure things. I remember building a gamma spectrometer and spending hour after hour looking for interesting things I could examine with it… and had I had a class like that a few years earlier, my life might have turned out very differently. Oh well… thus the urge to teach it to others.)

Also: It looks confirmed, my cousin Sharon is getting married in early June, so I’m going back to Israel for a few weeks. (Finally!) And my grandmother promised to teach me the basics of wood sculpture while I’m there. (And if it weren’t for the wedding being in June, I would probably go much sooner… dammit, I need a trip. Right now a few weeks in Israel and a few days on the side in Paris sounds really, really appealing)

Published in: on December 15, 2004 at 23:22  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , ,

Teaching math

A question for y’all:

Elementary mathematics (say, anything below calc) is a hard subject to teach because there are very few applications. It’s like several years of grammar without reading a single good book. I’m trying to find some good topics that can get a student interested in the subject, without requiring extensive background knowledge. So far, I’ve thought of:

  • Classifying strangely shaped polyhedra, and thence into problems in geometry,
  • Computability theory – recursion, Godel’s theorems, and so on, maybe using Godel, Escher Bach as a text
  • Something involving fractals – but what?
  • Probability, and teaching them why not to draw to an inside straight.

Each of these seems like they would only work for a fraction of students, and all seem a bit half-baked. Those of you with math backgrounds, or those of you who have recently been taking classes at this level, or for that matter everyone: What are the topics in math that interested you the most that don’t require full command of differential equations?

Published in: on June 14, 2004 at 19:50  Comments (4)  


I just got a phone call from one of my old students, who was in my Quantum class maybe 4 years ago. Apparently he’s visiting in town, along with another of my former students (who’s here now as a grad) and they wanted to take me out for a beer now that I’m no longer a TA.

You know, things like this just make me realize how cool teaching is. Especially when your students grow up and succeed.

Published in: on August 11, 2003 at 17:34  Comments (1)  


Apparently last week wasn’t my last class. In fact, I have to teach a class in 1.5 hours.

Published in: on June 4, 2003 at 13:25  Comments (1)  

Um… wow.

I didn’t realize this until the end of class today. Today was my last class to teach at Stanford, and the last one I’m going to teach in the foreseeable future.

It’s pretty hard to describe my current emotional state. I really hope my kids turn out well. I’m not sure how I’m going to function without teaching more of them.

But it’s an immense change. I didn’t really expect that today. It’s like signing off, turning off the lights, and heading off – but more so. In some ways I’m feeling accomplished, that I’ve done fairly well as a teacher, and my students (7 years’ worth of them now! Some of my students’ students are graduate students already) have done well; I’m immensely proud of all of them, and I can still remember them in ridiculous levels of detail, what each one was good at, and so on. So in that sense, it’s a bit like getting promoted to a new and very different rank; I’ve successfully done these things, left a real impression, and am going on to something new.

But mostly, it’s just an incomprehensible shift. I’ve been a teacher for a long time now, and stopping that is really difficult to fathom.

I need to get some new students, of some sort or another.

Sorry, I’m rambling at this point. I can’t really write a coherent sentence right now. But… um… wow.

Published in: on May 28, 2003 at 16:55  Comments (8)  


Random bit of dialogue with one of my TA’s during our grading session tonight:

Kathryn: “Your computer is named olorin? You are such a geek…”

Me: “Wait a moment. You know that reference, and you’re calling me a geek?!”

Have I mentioned that I have really cool TA’s?

Published in: on March 21, 2003 at 01:04  Comments (5)  

good moment

I’m grading papers right now, and I just had a student who’s been having some trouble despite working hard completely nail a really difficult problem set. It looks like a bunch of things just clicked.

It’s a really cool feeling when that happens. There’s a sense of accomplishment to having one’s students succeed. I think it’s one of the things that keeps me teaching.

Published in: on December 8, 2002 at 22:11  Comments (5)  

ah, bootstrapping…

OK, so I finally gave in and set up a livejournal. Its purposes are still quite experimental, since I’ve never really used one of these before.

But note: after spending 5 hours in a lab with a giant blue neutron source and 20 freshmen, it’s very hard to think of something coherent to write.

Not like I’d necessarily have something coherent to write otherwise, but it’s worth noting nonetheless.

OK, this has been a test. Continue about your normal business.

Published in: on May 22, 2002 at 01:30  Comments (5)  
Tags: ,
%d bloggers like this: