Saturday, September 25, 2010

Six methods for Successful Learning

In a recent article by Roald Hoffmann and  Saundra Y. McGuire in the September-October issue of the American Scientist, the magazine of Sigma-Xi, we are given a list of valuable methods of successful learning and teaching. The full article is found here. The learning strategies are:

  1. Take class notes by hand, don't rely on handouts. Each evening, rewrite your notes, compressing and adding to make sure that you really understand.
  2. If you miss a class, get notes from a friend that you must copy and work through. Again, avoid class handouts as the sole source of information.
  3. Form study groups and mix individual study with group study.
  4. Treat textbook examples as worked homework problems. Master the method, not simply the solution. Practice working problems without assistance (as in an exam setting).
  5. Teach the material to others.
  6. Set your goals realistically.
You will recognize here several notions that are often repeated to our physics students. The sooner you can master these techniques, the more quickly you can master physics. One interesting technique for doing well on exams is to practice making your own version of the exam. What would the instructor ask and why? What is important to know to master the material? Asking yourself this sort of questions and figuring out the answers is a valuable technique for mastering the exams and the material.

The teaching strategies are also important and can give a learner good ideas about how to best learn. See the article for more details.

Friday, September 24, 2010

JMU Physics now making book cover art!

Dr. Brian Utter recently authored a chapter for a new book on soft condensed matter physics. The book, Experimental and Computational Techniques in Soft Condensed Matter Physics is being published by Cambridge University Press. An image from Brian's lab has been featured as the cover of the book. In the image, the propagation of stresses through a network of polymer particles can be seen by using polarized light. More information about the book can be found here.

Well done by Brian and his students.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Open House

Today we had the first of two open house days for us folks in the STEM fields. These events, created by the good folks in admissions offer the opportunity for prospective students and their parents to visit JMU and see what we are all about. We open the labs and give tours. There's a time to hear a set presentation about the department. All around, it is good time to meet and greet.

While there was over 1000 students plus their parents here, as usual, few were interested physics. Best estimate is that fewer than 20 students and their parents visited our department, probably closer to 15. While this sounds like small numbers, it isn't so bad. Consider: our freshmen class runs about 25-30. If 15 come now and again on December 4 for the next open house, that's a pretty good turn out.

It is always the case that our best tool for recruiting is one-on-one contact. Having a chance to talk with these 15 or so students today is a good way to increase the likelihood of getting them to come to JMU. If today we encouraged a few more to apply for admission, then we have another chance to get them on campus during the scholarship exam season. Another chance to communicate one-on-one.

We continue to build a strong program and today's effort is part of this process. A politician once noted that 99% of everything that is done during a campaign is a waste. Think of the money we could save if we only did the right 1%. The problem is that no one knows what that right 1% happens to be. The same is true of recruiting.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fall Picnic

Today there was glorious weather for the annual fall picnic for PandA. We had a great turnout with at least six freshmen attending (maybe more) and goodly cross section of the upperclassmen. Costel Constantin took charge of the ritual cooking of the of the burgers and 'dogs and a fine job was done. There was lots of games and fun with the students enjoying themselves with the faculty children as well as each other. See more of the fun and games.