UD physics prof wins state teacher of the year
BY JOHN YOCCA
Administrative News Editor
Smashing melons in class and building small electronic devices to the theme of
"McGyver" isn't a standard way to teach a physics class.
However in the case of physics professor George Watson, who was named Delaware's Teacher of the Year, these active-learning teaching methods are of practical use.
"Active learning is anything different than a lecture," Watson said. Active learning includes the use of technology in teaching, including the World Wide Web, and involving the class in more discussion than straight-forward lecturing.
"I'm very surprised to win this award being that I'm so young," the 42 year old professor said. "I was just promoted to full professor two years ago."
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement of Science and Education, who selected Watson, officially announced the award yesterday afternoon.
According to Margaret Anderson, interim dean for the College of Arts and Science, Watson won the award for his excellence in teaching.
"We know him to be a fine and innovative teacher." she said. "He's on the forefront of using technology in classes."
Watson is also in charge of the Institute for Transforming Undergraduate Education which educates other teachers in the area of technology.
"He has a very far range of impact for undergraduate students both through his work with faculty and students," she said.
This semester, Watson is teaching Physics 345, Electricity and Electronics, which is a 75-minute class. "As you know, 75 minutes can be really long," he said.
To help keep the class flowing, Watson likes to stop lecturing and pose a problem for his students to think and conference with each other, he said.
"I call it Think/Pair/Share," Watson said. "The problems are usually concepts rather than calculations. By discussing it with their peers, it lets them talk out the problem in their language rather than mine."
Watson said this method helps his teaching as well because he can alter his lesson plans to accommodate for students who might not understand the concepts. The discussion takes only five minutes out of the class, but Watson said it seems to work and the students enjoy it.
"The best days are when half the class agrees on one answer and the other half agrees on another," Watson said. "This leads to some great discussion."
Watson also utilizes the Internet, which plays a major role in helping the students in his class, he said.
"In the fall of '95, I started putting the materials for my class on my web page," Watson said. "I put class notes, homework hints and study tips on the page."
Watson said this is active learning because by posting the notes on the Web, students can print out the notes before class and make amendments to them during lecture.
Also, students can pay more attention to the lecture instead of worrying about getting all the notes down during class, he said.
Junior Chad Stover, who had Watson for Physics 208 last semester, said he's a really different professor from others he's had.
"He really tries to get the students into the class," Stover said. "He tries to be humorous and make jokes that have some relevance to the class."
Stover recalled when Watson wrote out a formula on a honeydew melon and then crushed the melon so the students would remember it.
Watson, like the comedian Gallagher, brought in newspapers and plastic wrap for the people in the front row.
"To this day I still remember the formula," Stover said. "4 pi r2 - the surface area of a sphere."