Sunday, April 09, 2006

Excitement about teaching

I'm teaching two classes right now. One, an intro course, I've taught many times before. The other is a new-to-me course in an unfamiliar area. And both of these classes have me fired up about teaching, for very different reasons.

The intro class is fun for me partly because of the dynamic---I have some great students this term who are so excited about learning to program. But it's also partly because the new colleague has us all talking again about how to teach the intro courses. He's never taught them before, and in the process of helping him through his first intro course, we're reexamining how and why we teach the way we do. And that's led me to rethink some of the ways I approach topics: the sequence, the amount of detail. This in turn has led me to rethink what I do in the classroom, and in the process I've come up with some new ideas for how to introduce and reinforce topics. I'm finding new ways to experiment with in-class exercises. And I'm trying to lecture less and facilitate more. So even though I'm doing the same things I've always been doing, it feels different and new.

The new-to-me course is in an area that I'm becoming increasingly interested in, but have little experience in. I agreed to teach the course because I thought it would be fun, but also as an excuse to finally learn a bit about this subfield. Somehow, the fact that I have little prior experience in this area has been tremendously freeing. Since I'm learning this material along with the students, we get to explore and grapple with the material together. It's been a while since I've had to learn something completely from scratch, and it's fun to be challenged in that way again. It's also led to some surprising creativity: in reading through the material I'm assigning, I find myself coming up with great ideas for classroom exercises and homework assignments. Class prep is exciting because it's all new to me, and the material lends itself very well to classroom formats other than lecture--I don't feel like I have to lecture on this material.

One of my worries was that by revamping one course and having a new prep at the same time, I would spend all of my time on class prep. But what I've found instead is that I'm more deliberate about my prep---I spend my prep time more wisely than before. I concentrate more on what I want my students to learn that day and less on what the textbook says. I spend more time planning class activities and assignments than coming up with lecture notes. And oddly, I feel better prepared to teach this stuff.

Hopefully I'll be able to carry this excitement through the end of the school year!

No comments: