What makes a bad sentence?

I have been struggling with my “Chinglish” to recognize what makes a bad sentence. Every time I write, half of the sentences are grammatically correct but are not “good” from the eyes of native speakers. It is exceedingly bad when I write scientific papers. Usually a statement about a specific discovery in physics can be quite long due to the subtle details and complex logic structure of the reasoning. But ideally, one can always break down a longwinded idea into simple and digestible pieces, each offers readers delicious and relaxing bites of the unfathomably complicated bulk of the science feast. So when I failed to write simple sentences, my desperate attempt to straighten myself out could somehow reveal my nationality! This is the power of language: how you speak/write actually affects and reflects how you think!

So in that sense, I am also asking the question: what makes a bad communicator. A sentence is bad only to the eyes of beholder who don’t understand it or appreciate the beauty of the logic. A bad communicator might have a twisted logic that seems quite natural to oneself, but appears horrendous to others. I am therefore wondering what makes me sounds like a monster to the common people?

This is fundamentally a very hard problem since nobody likes to dwell on these self-conscious thoughts. I always thought Mother Nature/God has made me into a perfect blend of genius and imperfectness which needs no more dramatic retouch to make sense.

But sometimes, as Isaiah Thomas said, one has to let go some part of oneself to truly grow into something great. So, from today on, I am embarking on this journey of letting go of my bad writing style/habit in English. I have consistently good test scores in my Chinese writings through out my school years, so there is no reason I cannot write well in another language. I hope the particular piece of gene controlling the English writing is the same as that controlling the Chinese writing. Otherwise, one could always wait for a nice mutation during my long years of life, exposed to the all-penetrating cosmic rays and X-rays from the sun, that is to come.

I will keep recording my learning and self-discoveries through this channel. But for now, back to correcting my own bad writings! Peace out.

Session 4: Interactive Teaching and Active Learning

We learnt in class today why should we do active learning and how? There are a couple of good reasons.

  1. It increases student retention of materials.
  2. It calls on the student to participate in his/her own learning.
  3. It allows instructor to assess in real time the classrooms grasp of concepts.

Active teaching is in between traditional teaching and mastery teaching. In mastery teaching, each student is tested, taught and tested again with a feedback mechanism that improves the teaching method to perfectly fit for student’s progress and learning style. It is however impossible to realize in large scale, and active teaching is a step towards this direction that gets students more engaged with a more interactive and more versatile teaching method. See below for a statistical result for what students are happy to learn during a 50mins class. Lecture cannot last for more than 20 minutes without losing student’s attention on average: this calls for a mix of different in class activities, i.e. active learning events, to get students engaged with. The data is taken at a young group of students and thus cannot speak for higher level learners such as graduate or post-graduate students. But it is a diagram to keep in mind when designing a relatively demanding class.


Session 4 Readings

  1. Encouraging Student Participation: Why It Pays to Sweat the Small Stuff

By: Maryellen Weimer, PhD from the Teaching Professor Blog. Faculty Focus website: http://www.facultyfocus.com/, September 18, 2013.

  1. Carleton College – What is Interactive Lecture 
    from: Carlton College website
  2. Large-scale comparisons of science teaching methods sends a clear message 
    Wieman, Carl E., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PNAS, 2014 111 (23) 8319-8320; published ahead of print May 22, 2014, doi:10.1073/pnas.1407304111

The first material encourage us to sweat the small stuff: details on how and when to ask students questions, how to connect with them and solicit timely feedback on the teaching styles. These are very subtle but important thoughts every lecturer should give and practice. It’s a thought provoking piece of work that I will read again before I teach a large class.

The second material can be found at http://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/interactive/howto.html

which explain in depth what is active learning and how to apply it:

“Interactive lectures are classes in which the instructor incorporates engagement triggers and breaks the lecture at least once per class to have students participate in an activity that lets them work directly with the material. The engagement triggers capture and maintain student attention and the interactive lecture techniques allow students to apply what they have learned or give them a context for upcoming lecture material”

Engagement triggers could be anything that tangentially relates to the teaching materials but can capture students’ intention easily, including a recent campus news or a personal story.  And the activities that follows require a thorough expertise of the subject to apply the interactive techniques, such as: clickers, think-in-pairs, brainstorm, in class demonstration and experiment.

The third material is a review paper on recent studies of effectiveness of the active learning. The take home sentence for me personally is a great summary of what it actually take for good active learning:

“Good active learning tasks simulate authentic problem solving, and therefore teaching with these methods typically demands more in- structor subject expertise than does a lecture.”

Session 4: Interactive Teaching and Active Learning

Post-Session Assignment

  1. Refer to the ILO you selected for your 1st microteaching session.
  • Describe how you will use a specific interactive technique(s) to help students achieve this ILO during your final 6-minute microteaching. This should include details about how the activity will work in the microteaching (e.g. How will you introduce the activity? What prompt will you give students? Will students work alone or in pairs? How will you wrap up the activity?, etc.)  Consider other planning details (e.g. Do you need to rearrange furniture? Will you have to bring materials with you to facilitate the activities?, etc.)

According to my learning ILO for the uncertainty principle class:

students understand the mathematical principle behind the uncertainty principle, can derive the uncertainty principle of any given discrete measurement operators and infer the measurement variances, can identify conjugate measurements among a given set of measurement operators.

Considering the limited time for the microteaching, I will assume the content of uncertainty principle is well covered in the previous class, and this short activity is to engage active thinking on solving the problem on the spot using what we learnt.

The activity is a card game: I will prepare 7 cards with different kind of Stern-Garlach experiments setup. Assume there are 7 students in the class, each one will be assigned a card to begin with. They will write down the measurement operator of the corresponding experiment on the card. The second step is they pass them down to the right hand neighbor, who will first grade whether the previous card owner wrote the correct measurement operator, and then write down the uncertainty relation of the corresponding operator regardless whether they are correct. In the third step, they pass the card again to the right hand neighbor, who will decide whether the uncertainty relation of the corresponding measurement operators are correct. Finally all the card will be graded by the lecturer on each decision, which will count towards their homework scores.

I do need to rearrange the furniture since it will be a card game with circular dynamics. Every student will be able to work with at least 6 other students directly and indirectly, so it will be a good measure of how often and at which step of the derivation students tend to make mistake.

  • Consider an interactive technique(s) you might use to support this same ILO if you were teaching a full-length class period. Describe what you might do differently given more time.

My in class activity for the full length class will be: group students in pairs, between each pair, each designs a new pair of conjugate measurement operator that hasn’t been taught in class or in textbook, then they exchange their answers and examine whether her/his partner’s measurement operators are legal and if they are provide the corresponding uncertainty relation of the measurement.

In class survey of their progress in the problem solving to adapt in time the speed of the class. This activity will take around 15mins in total with five minutes on each side and then five minute for them to discuss and then present.

This in class activity help students to apply their learnings for higher level tasks that require deeper understanding of the knowledge: to be able to design new problems based on the existing knowledge.

Active teaching techniques are the most difficult to master, as pointed out by Carl Wieman, but it is an ultimate test on how creative and thorough, we as teachers are.


Session 3: Students as Learners, You as Teacher

In this week’s session, we focus on how to better understand how we as teacher can help students as learner to learn better by boosting their motivations, understanding their learning styles and adopting various teaching activities to best meet the education goal and students’ full potentials.

Pre-session Reading:

  1. National Center for Educational Research (2007).  Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning. Washington, DC: Department of Education.
  2. Lang, J. M. (2008).  Students as learnersOn Course: A Week by Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.  [pp. 152-177]
  3. Glen, D. (December 15, 2009).   Matching teaching style to learning style may not help students.  The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  4. Kirk, Karen (n.d.).  Student motivations and attitudes: The role of the affective domain, Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carleton College

The first reading by NCER is an obligatory reading for everyone, while one the three that follows is chosen based on last name. I was assigned to read Kirk’s paper on student motivations. We then shared in class with each other what we learnt and liked the most about three optional readings. I like the format of this interactive pre-session assignment, which not only takes some burden from student off but also forges a habit of collaboration among students. As a matter of fact, I am in a couple of such reading groups with fellow graduate students in physics and find it both simulating and efficient for getting my feet wet in brand new fields of research.

The most impressive reading goes to Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning by the NCER. I like it so much that I downloaded the PDF and plan to upload to this website for everyone who don’t have the access. The article is a well written, comprehensive and scientifically rigorous and sound piece of art. It aims to discuss all actionable ideas that teacher should integrate into the teaching process based on experimental studies of how students learn.

The paper offers seven recommendations with corresponding degree of experimental support ranging from Low, Moderate to Strong. I appreciate how educators for educators are especially more cautious on what they are teaching the teachers how to teach: the effect can be exponentially amplified generations after generations. It is easy to blindly pass down some subjective beliefs without giving the complete context and experimental evidences, which most bad teachers do. Consider it is an article by the national center of education research, such level of scrutiny is largely within expectation.

The two recommendations that resonate with me the most are the ones that are Strongly supported by the experimental evidences:

  1. Use quizzing to promote learning.
  2. Ask deep explanatory questions.

Within the first recommendation of quizzing, pre-question and post-exposure are equally important: ask  simple but important  questions in class before the teaching inspire students to re-evaluate what they already know and what their blind spots are; arrange quiz or homework assignments after the class reinforce the student’s learning. This is well integrated into two other recommendations with Moderate experimental supports:

  • 3. Space learning over time.
  • 4. Interleave working examples with problem solving sessions.

Learners move through different stages of intellectual developments. And each one of them came to class with a pre-assigned mental model: how their pre-concept on the teaching materials are like. Experts have highly hierarchical mental models organized around core concepts which are interconnected, novice might only have sparsely connected facts which are compartmentalized.

Ask deep explanatory questions is a magic trick that every teacher should use but not everyone could master it, just like real magic. I am lucky in life, to have had teachers who are acute observers, sharp interrogators and loving mentors.

My first physics teacher in middle school is famous for demonstrating hard problem solving in class. I still clearly remember myself came up to the blackboard in front of the whole class to show how to measure the diameter of a pingpong ball with normal rulers.

My high school teacher, who changed career decision is again a habitual questioner. On the first day of the class, back in 2005 in a sweaty classroom packed with 60 eager and ambitious young mid-school graduates, who were anxious to know how hard high school class can possibly gets, she elegantly held up a physics textbook, and asked us to open the same book on our desk with her,

“what do you see, is there something odd that gets you thinking?”

We are not expecting such ambiguous question right off blank sheets of our new schoolers’ minds. The whole class is silent for a minute, my heart was racing super fast, a thousand possible answers blasted through my mind in my eager attempt to be the first student who answer a question correctly, but nothing made sense for a satisfiable answer. Nobody eventually brave out for any solution, and she smiled and then open her eyes wide open, which gets everyone’s curiosity out in the loss,

“Why are there white space of around around 4 cms wide on each page of the book? It’s for you guys to write down your own baffling questions and exciting discoveries that make this book truly yours.”

The intensity of her intellectual scrutiny and sincerity of her love for knowledge moved me into tears, I was crying out of joy in my first physics class of high school in the first couple of minutes. I never thought it would be of such immense pleasure to ask questions, a good question will teach us better than any answers. I cry every time I recollect that moment of my life, including this moment on the interweb. That was just the tip of her questioning iceberg.

Every class since then is a class loaded with competitions between students to get her endless reservoir of questions right. She ask questions before, after or even long after we learn some physics discoveries by the ancient Europeans. She lead problem solving sessions after the class in our spare time to train us in national high school physics competition. We solve problem in front of her while observing how she came up with even more quizzes. In all occasions, deep and explanatory questions are her secret weapon to get us thinking, integrating and realizing what we have and haven’t fully understood.

That is a long personal evidence for why asking deep explanatory questions are great for teaching and learning. As a summary, we learn from both the pre-session reading and in class the following eight actionable teaching guidance:

  1. Space practice over time.
  2. Alternate between worked examples and practice problems.
  3. Support verbal description with practice.
  4. Connect abstract and concrete example of the concepts. Provide real world examples.
  5. Using quizzing to promote learning.
  6. Ask deep explanatory questions.
  7. Students who feel that they belong have greater intrinsic motivation and confidence.
  8. One’s prior knowledge influences new learnings.
  9. College students move through stages of intellectual and ethical development.

Some important take away from the in class learning, for me are the idea of student centered learning and the benefit of diverse teaching methods.

Why should we care about cognition learning theories which put students in the center of the course design? Our instructor showed two pictures, in one a wild flower was blooming out of a lifeless concrete, in the second, an ocean of flowers are blossoming in a sunny hill. She use this to illustrate how student centered teaching is like farming: you can mass produce good education and thus good learners!

But my question in this regard come again: how to both inspire students in all training and offer better opportunities for faster learners? The solution might be to use diverse teaching method that fits not just on average but everyone. It is hard to distinguish faster learner from fastest learners anyway, since everyone is constantly sharpening their own learning skills, and it is not fair for teachers to get into their way of un-bounded self improvement. As a result, adapted and changing teaching method, that mix simple and straightforward review sessions through quizzing or problem solving with more in depth research project or harder and optional homework assignment will motivate students both internally for intellectual achievement and externally from peer collaboration.

Finally, for a preparation of teaching philosophy, this class gives off a nice clue for our final draft: How you teach, why you teach the way you do, how you know your way works?

MicroTeaching Lab 1—-Too little time too many words to utter

Microteaching Lab is an opportunity to teach a 6 mins class and practice and integrate what we’ve learnt so far. The teaching is videotaped and will be watched afterwards for post-session homework. Before we delve into my exciting six minutes, let’s first look at the pre-session assignment on the detailed requirement on the teaching lab. My favorite part of this is on how to efficiently evaluate and communicate with each other about their performances.


As we will continue to discuss in the program, you should think of in-class time both as an opportunity to present content to students and as an opportunity to give students practice and feedback on their learning. For the first microteaching, we’d like you to focus on presenting content to students. For the second microteaching, we’d like you to then design an in-class activity that will give students practice with that content and provide both you and “your students” feedback on their learning. Sessions 3-5 will help you prepare for you second microteaching. For now, focus on your first microteaching, applying what you learned in Sessions 1 and 2. You should also consider the following Microteaching Components.

Your lesson/presentation can be a “chalk talk” or include a PowerPoint/Keynote presentation. The delivery medium should be appropriate for the content you are presenting.

Your teaching presentation will be recorded, including Q&A and instructor/participant feedback that follows. Please plan to bring a laptop to your microteaching session so your facilitator can easily transfer the digital file to your computer. Or you can use your smart phone to record your presentation. If you prefer this recording method, please be sure to free up ample memory in your device for about 10-12 minutes of video.

Goals for the Session

  • Participants will provide insight to presenters regarding how their teaching is perceived by others.
  • Participants will observe and evaluate other styles of teaching and practice sharing their observations constructively with others.Presenter Information and Session Preparation
  • Each participant should plan to begin the presentation with an explicit statement of the intended learning outcomes. Intended learning outcomes can be written on a board, distributed on sheets for the audience, displayed on a slide, or stated at the beginning of the presentation.
  • Each presenter should:
    o clearly state measurable, specific and achievable ILOs for her/his session o consider the structure as well as the content of her/his presentation
    o utilize the elements of effective presentations

• Group members are expected to participate actively in others’ presentations in two ways:

o Playing “students”: asking questions, and/or answering questions the “teacher” asks.

o Writing down any comments they would like to make during the feedback period.

Comments should focus on evaluating how well the Intended Learning Outcomes articulated by the presenter at the beginning of the talk have been fulfilled. Audience members can also comment on other aspects of the presentation that they may deem important.

Sharing Feedback & Criticism

“Own” your messages. State your reactions with “I” rather than “you” as audience reactions vary. By owning your own reactions, you allow for the possibility of different responses. (You might invite other reactions as well.) Examples: “I appreciated the way you explained topic X,” or “I was confused when you said . . . because . . .”

Be specific and concrete. While it might be nice to know that someone liked your introduction, it doesn’t tell you very much. Instead, one could say, for example, “I liked the concrete illustrations of the theory X,” or “I liked the way you included your own background and interest in the introduction.”

Focus on presentation behavior, not on personality characteristics and judgments. For example, say “I would have liked more eye contact” rather than “It’s clear you’re really not interested in us since you never look at us.” Also, limit comments to behaviors that are changeable. Distracting gestures can be brought under control.

Calling attention to a stutter, however, is probably not helpful in a public setting.

Distinguish between observations, inferences, and judgments. All of these have some role in evaluation but they are quite different.

  • Observations have to do with what we see and hear; inferences and conclusions we reach based on those observations and judgments and/or evaluative response.
  • Listeners observe differently, and, more importantly, draw different inferences and judgments from what they see and hear. Therefore, start by reporting your observations and then explain what you inferred from them.
  • Speakers can hear a great deal of feedback on observations. Inferences and judgments are better received when the observations they are based on are clear. For example, “I noticed that you made eye contact with the students, which made me feel that you were genuinely trying to engage their attention.”Balance positive and negative comments. Try to emphasize the positive aspects of a presentation that the presenter can build upon constructively in the future to improve his/her style.


I will not upload my six exhilarating minutes of teaching for a small group of five here due to my lack of eye contact with the camera and the unfinished content that could leave any viewer either in dying desire to find out more or utter confusion and disgust.


Since my reflection on the teaching footage will be presented later, let me recall briefly my personal experience during the teaching presentation first.

The class is focused on the experimental evidence and mathematical formulation of uncertainty relations. My biggest mistake is to think I could fit both in a six minutes class. Human brain is one funny machinery,  it inflates time when one is talking to oneself, and when you try to convert your thought stream through physical control of your mechanical body motion, time flies by without notice. One possible explanation is: the part of brain that processes and derives new informations is less active when the body is moving at the same time(speaking), and the cognitive function slow down which is manifested as a loss track of time. Long story short, I went over the material again and again each within just a couple of minutes, but when I actually put myself by the blackboard, the content of my teaching material suddenly soak up the time I have faster than I can prepare for it.

So…I barely finished Stern-Garlech experiment before time was up. Was a bummer how I failed to trim the content of teaching to slow down the pace and communicate better with the student. But on the bright side, I learnt one of the most important lessons by teaching the lesson: do more thinkings on the presentation means than the content, less is more!


Reflections on your microteaching presentation

After you complete your microteaching session, please critically review the video of your presentation (don’t be too hard on yourself). Send an email (within 3 days of your presentation) directly to your instructor with the following information:

  1. What are three (3) things you noticed that you did well?
  2. What are three (3) things you will continue to work on? 


3 things I noticed I did well from the video footage of my micro teaching are:

  1. My tone is very enthusiastic and exciting. My sound is definitely loud enough.
  2. I looked like I was solving the problem myself. This is also the kind of gesture that gets me interested in getting engaged with lecturer back when I was taking classes: an improvisational problem solving session is always more intriguing than a review session. I never liked the class where teacher is simply recounting what she/he already knew without reformulating the problem for student and solve it with them.
  3. I designed a sequence of experimental settings where students can go through with me in deducting what will be found at the measurement end. This simple strategy can easily capture student’s attention and break down the complex topic into more tangible pieces.

3 things I will continue working on.

  1. I haven’t had much eye contact with students and the speed of my speech is usually either very fast or stuttering.
  2. I like to delve into the detail of the algebraic explanation first as to sacrifice the time for bigger physical picture which might be more important for students to absorb during a lecture.
  3. I wasn’t taking everyone with me: some students were left at the bus stop. Did not ask enough questions and then re-adjust according to student’s reaction.

Love my classmate’s comment: props for you trying to teach the whole quantum mechanics in six minutes.

Teaching Certificate Report Session 2

Times flies, now we are two weeks into the program and have only one week before the first micro-teaching lab, woohoo! And this week covers the details of how to teach in classroom: all the details that students will keep a close eye on. My favorite sentence from the class is: I took off my bangles today before class since it will distract you guys! Let’s delve into the homework first.


Pre-Session Assignment:

Watch the first 24 minutes of Lecture 2 of Sylvia Ceyer’s 5.111 class

  • Identify some specific techniques and strategies that the instructor uses to engage the class. You do not need to post your observations, but come to class prepared to discuss them.

Anyone can watch this video by googling her name and class name followed by MIT open courseware. Prof. Ceyer is a very active lecturer who run around the classroom like participant in “dancing with the stars”. Moreover, she reminded me a bit of Richard Feynman who like to recall history and break down experiments into tangible physical models. I enjoyed watching the part where she re-enacted the classical version of Rutherford’s experiment in measuring the atomic nucleus of gold with alpha particles. She cheated at the end by not calculating the actual number was a little bit disappointing, however.  Her articulation is outstanding, which resonates with my reading material below.

Session 2 Readings

  1. Improving Presentation Style 
    from: Washington University in St. Louis Teaching Center website.
  2. Week 3:  In the Classroom: Lectures 
    On Course: A Week by Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching. Lang, James M. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA (2008). pp. 63-88.
  3. Preparing to Teach the Large Lecture Course 
    Gross Davis, Barbara. Tools for Teaching, Jossey-Bass, (1993) pp. 99-110.

I particularly enjoyed the second material where James talked about his experience of listening to two priests of distinct preaching styles: one is more stiff in formats and seamless in structural planning, the other is more spontaneous and casual, but both are enjoyable, at least to James’s standard. He continue to expand on the importance of switching different teaching styles, even teaching personas while teaching. The reason, if not obvious to beginners, is that not all students are the same, but all are to be taught by the same teacher, and the only way to meet such diverse need is to have diverse teaching methods. 

The frist and third material offers a complete package of advice towards vocal, verbal and visual effects in teaching:speak louder than you like to, articulate verbs and nouns, speak more, write less, engage students every other 15mins (which is their longest attention span….which is very pathetic I think if the statistics is taken from American undergrads), etc, etc,. The third material is a little bit too comprehensive, that specifies even when and how should you walk around in the classroom. As was mentioned by James Lang, there is no one correct teaching method, and thus all the course materials should be taken with a grain of salt. I do find it amusing reading these materials, from a physicist’s perspective, how lack of evidence any of these “teaching” are based on.   


Post-Session Assignment – Part A

Considering what you’ve learned to this point in the program, plan and outline your first microteaching session.  The outline should include the following aspects that contribute to the organization of an effective lecture:

  • Goals & intended learning outcomes: Articulate ILOs that are specific, measurable and reliable
  • Opening/attention getter:  Use strategies to capture students’ interest; connect to previous lectures, if applicable
  • Overall organizational structure of the body of your lecture:  Proceed from point A to point B, etc. in a way that is easy to follow; make connections between points explicit and logical
  • Closing:  Summarize main or key points; connect to future lectures, if applicable

I will take “uncertainty principle” of Quantum Mechanics I for example.

Goals & ILO:

students understand the mathematical principle behind the uncertainty principle, can derive the uncertainty principle of any given discrete measurement operators and infer the measurement variances, can identify conjugate measurements among a given set of measurement operators.

Opening/attention getter:

1. Ask questions at the beginning of the class: what does it mean when two matrices do not commute with each other, any guess? 2. Heisenberg’s joke about speed ticket on the high way. 3. The history of ever increasing and then decreasing and then increasing accuracy limit of human measurements.

Overall Structure:

1. History of measurement accuracy.

2. Harmonic Oscillators.

3. Commutation relations and Fourier Transform.

4. Uncertainty relation.

5. General uncertainty relation for continuous/discrete variables.

6. Applications.


Uncertainty principle describes the basic feature of observables in quantum mechanics, and offers a framework of evaluating the accuracy of measurements. It is the tip of the quantum iceberg, where non-local correlations manifest itself in observables that cannot be measured simultaneously. It also paves the foundation for understanding different symmetries of different quantum systems.


Post-Session Assignment – Part B

Pick one or more strategies/ideas from this session that resonated with you. Reflect on how incorporating this strategy/idea into your teaching will impact your students’ learning and/or attitudes. For your own use, consider adding your thoughts and reflections from this session to the documentH you began building in the assignment from Session 1 to continue adding relevant information for your teaching philosophy.  It is only necessary to submit your reflections from Session 2.


This session is about details during teaching in the classroom. A good lecturer starts by clarifying the goal of the class and critical structures of the lecture: how to kick off, when to take a break, when to engage student and integrate the knowledge into their exercises, when to summarize and arrange homework. Before each class, there are endless many strategic things to do to prepare for a better class: visit the classroom before hand, do breathing practice, do a survey on the students’ background… During the class, it is even more strategically demanding: students have limited attention span but unlimited expectations on teacher’s logical flow, how to lead the students through the ever increasing complexity of knowledge without draining them out?

One idea, that keeps me calm and clear-minded through out this all-consuming thought of being a good teacher in class goes back to James’ personal reflection in the Church: there is no one perfect teaching method, but to think for the students and plan without losing one’s grip of the fundamental understandings. Once we prepare ourselves with a clear goal and well construed course material, all the left is to communicate and re-adjust. A good teacher is not just an actor, but a communicator and a beacon, she/he inspire the students to look for the most exciting frontier of the expansion of human knowledge and how such adventure into the unknown is carried out. 


Teaching Certificate Report Session 1

I am taking a Teaching Certificate course this semester, which aims to give a quick introduction to the responsibilities, techniques and educational tools needed to be a great lecturer. My goal for this class is to learn from the perspective of a designer and a teacher how knowledge is formulated, structured, trimmed, popularized, and then eventually passed down from one generation to the other. This is in stark contrast from what I am used to of being 20 some years as a passive receiver of knowledge. And to me it is an exciting opportunity but also a daunting endeavor. I hope this class can show me some short cut crystalized through years of scientific study in educational methods, and can provide me a small platform to gain first hand experience.

The class not only have seven weeks of lecturers, but also include microteaching lab where students design and then present their teaching philosophies and teach small sample of their intended subject. This definitely go way beyond what a normal teaching assistant for a graduate student was required to do. And I hope I could enjoy and learn from this seven weeks of intense training.

So, let’s see what the first week’s homework AND my homework solution is like! Isn’t it exciting? There are two assignments per class, one before the class one after the class.


Pre-Session Assignment

  1. In preparation for the workshop, please complete the readings below.
  1. Generate a list of topics from a course that you would like to teach (it may be helpful to review textbooks/readings you would use in the course). From this course selection and list of topics, you will be creating Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) that will carry through all assignments in this program, including your microteaching presentation.  Because you will continue to develop this course through the assignments that follow for each class, be thoughtful about selecting a course you find interesting.  You do NOT need to post your list on Stellar, but please bring it with you to class as it will be an integral part of an in-class exercise.


Session 1 Readings

  1. Aligning Teaching for Constructive Learning 
    Biggs, J. B. (2005). Aligning teaching for constructing learning. Higher Education Academy Discussion Paper.
  2. Backward Design 
    from Chapter 1 of: G. Wiggins & J. McTighe in: Understanding by Design. Expanded 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA:
    Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development pp. 13-23 (2005).
  3. Preparing an Effective Syllabus 
    Slattery, J. M., & Carlson, J. F. (2005). Preparing an effective syllabus: Current best practices. College Teaching, 53(4), 159-164.

Session 1 – Designing a Course and Constructing a Syllabus

My list of courses I’d like to teach are: Quantum Mechanics I, Quantum Mechanics II, Quantum Computation I, Quantum Computation II, Condensed Matter Theory in Quantum Information Science. The last one is made up by me and is the class I would like to open when I am appointed as a new faculty member!

My list of course Quantum Mechanics I topics are:

1.Fundamentals: Linear Algebra1(vectors, matrices, Hilbert space); Linear Algebra 2(eigenvalues and eigenvectors, Unitary matrix, Hermitian matrix); Linear Algebra 3 (Ket bras and Operators); Stern-Garlach Experiment; Measurements, Observables and Uncertainty relation; Position, Momentum and Translation; Wavefunction.

2. Quantum Dynamics: Schrodinger Wave equation; Different pictures: Schrodinger, Heisenberg and Interacting; Harmonic Oscillators; Propagators and Feynman Path integrals.

3.Angular Momentum: Rotation Commutations and Angular Momentums; spin 1/2 system; SO(3) and SU(2); Eigenvalues and Eigenstates of angular momentum; Orbital Anular momentum;Clebsh-Gordon coefficient;  Spin Correlations and Bell Inequality.

4.Symmetries: Symmetry, degeneracy and conservations; Discrete Symmetry; Continuous Symmetry.


Take away from Reading 1:

The ‘constructive’ aspect refers to the idea that students construct meaning through relevant learning activities. That is, meaning is not something imparted or transmitted from teacher to learner, but is something learners have to create for themselves. Teaching is simply a catalyst for learning.”

It’s a goal oriented teaching philosophy where the course design, course participation and course evaluation are completely aligned from the very beginning. This is the ideal outcome, which however hard it is to achieve in reality, is the guiding principle in designing every single step of the course to avoid passive learners and superficial learning ( or they call it declarative knowledge instead of functioning knowledge). To specify the high level expectation of learning outcomes:

“Incorporating verbs in our intended learning outcomes gives us markers throughout the system. The same verbs need to be embedded in the teaching/learning activities, and in the assessment tasks. They keep us on track.”

And in order to achieve such outcome, teaching activity has to be aligned. The good news is, in class lectures do have opportunities to foster active and independent learnings according to this study:

“In fact, problems of resourcing conventional on-campus teaching, and the changing nature of HE, are coming to be blessings in disguise, forcing learning to take place outside the class, with interactive group work, peer teaching, independent learning and work-based learning, all of which are a rich source of relevant learning activities.”

Finally it’s a great reminder that assessment is the beginning of a class for student, not only in the sense of learning method students choose to maximize their scores, but also the next chapter of their learning that’s outside of the course: will they continue their interests and extend their knowledge in higher level courses? will they choose a career based on the current course? Uncountable possibilities could be easily erased by a mindless final exam or poor grading system.


“As Ramsden (1992) puts it, the assessment is the curriculum, as far as the students are concerned. They will learn what they think they will be assessed on, not what is in the curriculum, or even on what has been ‘covered’ in class”

Take away from Reading 2: Backward design is about learning how to be more thoughtful, and specific about the purpose of teaching and what they imply. The writer focuses on what makes a good course designer: identify desired outcome->identify learning evidence -> design the learning experience. The article provide a UdP template, which is convenient for teachers to play with. Backward design might be natural for a senior teacher to apply since they are more than comfortable with the course content and possible outcomes of different goals of teaching, and they can easily run the simulation in their head to design the course backward. For beginners, however, who might not be super familiar with even the content of the teaching, such backward method could be hard but maybe even more beneficial: it forces the lecturer to think through the whole process, in a “client-centered” manner. 

Take away from Reading 3: A clear and comprehensive review of what syllabus is and its significance in teacher-student relation, teacher-university relation and teaching outcomes. I definitely would read the article again before I design my syllabus.

Post-Session Assignment – Part A

This assignment is designed to help you begin developing a syllabus for a course you will be designing throughout this program.  While the final product of this assignment is not a formatted syllabus, the exercises will help guide you through the beginning steps of constructing a syllabus.

  1. Refer to the list of course topics you revised during class.  Complete the exercise of prioritizing and clarifying your course content.
  2. Create 5-10 COURSE-LEVEL Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) based on your selection and characterization. Post only your ILOs, including the name of the course for which they were written, to Stellar.

Answer for 1: According to the class material, we can re-organize the course topics according by assigning priorities ranging from worth being familiar with, important to know and do, to critical skills and core concept. So the four topics of my Quantum Mechanics I can be prioritized as:

critical skills and core concept: 1. Fundamentals.

It’s important for students to be fully equipped with  tools in linear algebra, to be able to apply the methods in linear algebra to solve unknown quantum mechanical problems. 2. Quantum Dynamics. It is the core idea of quantum mechanics that differs from classical mechanics: understanding wave function and how to formulate and solve the quantum dynamics through Schrodinger equation. 

 important to know and do: 3. Angular Momentum.

It’s not only one of the first experimental evidence of quantum mechanics in experiment, but also the beginning of understanding more deeply about symmetry and the underlying algebraic structures of conservation laws and finding such laws through Schrodinger equation. Student should be able to solve the eigenvalues and eigenstates of any given angular momentum operator and able to transform one eigenstates to the other of a different representation through CG coefficient. 

worth being familiar with: 4. Symmetries. Although it’s the introduction level Quantum Mechanics, it is worth while for students to be comfortable with analyzing the symmetries of a given system, which will be crucial later on for more advanced class using quantum mechanics such as solid state theory and quantum field theory.

Answer for 2: ILO for quantum mechanics I.

1. Fluently apply linear algebra to solve the dynamics and eigenstates of simple quantum mechanical systems.

2. Understand angular momentum and the rotation transformation generated by angular momentum, can solve the eigenstate of a given angular momentum and perform basis transformation of different representations.

3. Can identify symmetries of a new quantum mechanical system, define measurement operator of a physical measurement, solve its commutation relation and derive the corresponding uncertainty relation.

4. Able to predict the measurement outcome probability as a function of time if given the initial state, the Hamiltonian and the measurement operator. 

5. Able to solve the quantum dynamics of a mixed state evolution under the given Hamiltonian.


Post-Session Assignment – Part B

Pick one or more strategies/ideas from this session that resonated with you. Reflect on how incorporating this strategy/idea into your teaching will impact your students’ learning and/or attitudes. Your final assignment in this program will be to write your Teaching Philosophy Statement (TPS).  In each post-session assignment, you will be asked to complete this exercise.  Consider creating a single document (for yourself) to which you will continue adding your thoughts and reflections about teaching as the semester progresses.  When the time comes to draft your Teaching Philosophy Statement, you will have already documented some useful information to include in your TPS.

Part B of this assignment should be included at the end of the document you create for Part A.

Teaching Philosophy Statement from Session 1:

Positioning myself as a new student to Physics trying to get an A+, what bothers me the most would be how this lecturer intended to score us. Just like what was mentioned in the enlightening piece by John Biggs on “Constructive Alignment”: 

To the teacher, assessment is at the end of the teaching-learning sequence of events, but to the student it is at the beginning.

This is strikingly true and unveils the major potential conflict between teacher and students in a worst case scenario: a “bad” lecturer can easily let the assessment slip away at the end of the semester thinking it’s just one last task of the semester while “bad” students who haven’t paid enough effort to the class consider assessment is the last strew of opportunity to get away with an A. The gross effect might either be the assessment only includes lowest level of evaluation in understanding that give a flat grading for those who love to just memorize everything, or students who did pour loads of effort and have in depth research into the course material did not get a good enough score due to the mis-aligned assessment from the intended teaching outcomes.

An even trickier problem that hasn’t been addressed by now, but is of critical importance for encouraging and nurturing students’ learning, is how to give grades to different types of talents: memorizing and story telling ability, in depth deduction and reasoning, in breadth connectivity and creativity…, if any student becomes the master of even just one of the talents, it might be enough for them to be successful in certain field of study. So as a lecturer, it’s both hard and dangerous to label the students with these talents without doing potential damages to their personal developments, but also important to help them realize their unique talent early on in their career as students: after all, teachers are not teaching the students not only how to learn but also what to learn to fit their own interests. Different career requires different expertise and different way of thinking, lecturers should not easily discourage students, but to encourage them to find their way of working out a problem with their most comfortable approach.

This is one of the problems I will continue learning through out this program.


To be continued and Happy Valentines day!



How hard is it to write a popular article or a “popular” scientific paper

This is the post excerpt.

I have been pondering about why I seem to hate writing scientific papers. By deduction, writing article for general public should be equally unpleasant. Looking deeper into my unconscious inclination, maybe it’s less to do with what I’m writing, but more to do with what I expect my readers’ reaction that kept me from enjoying the process of writing. So I decided to write a blog where nobody know who is writing it, but someone googling the correct keyword will benefit from my random thoughts as well as concentrated effort in writing a better article or paper.


For the first time, while writing the above paragraph did I realize how non-trivial it is to articulate subtle points of my thoughts. And that’s why I look up to Scott Aaronson a great deal in his humorous, clear and charismatic writing style. He not only conveys the outer loop of his logical argument very well but also focus on magnifying the inner loop of learning process by himself. The latter easily resonates with readers who as intellectual beings might have her/his adventure into similar topics before but didn’t gain the same magnitude of clarity, depth or hilariousness. As a result, both the familiarity and the surprise harmonically combine to attract and keep readers’ attention for a lot longer.