I never liked doing “seat of the pants” stuff, as Tony Macoun would put it, but that’s how it was being an administrator with a full-time teaching job. I ended up in administration because I was good at making lists. This isn’t really true, I was good at using a computer to make lists. It’s not that difficult really but don’t tell anyone. A few basic ideas about how things relate to one another and you’re off. Simpler than physics, no equations between the relationships.
I remember commenting to a young teacher, Mark Pulfer I think it was,” preparation is cheating”. Sorry Mark hope you never took my advice. Having worn through the seat of several pairs of pants I decided that my days as list maker were over.
I became a teacher because I liked teaching. Another lie. I became a teacher because my dad got me the job, anyway it certainly wasn’t a love of lists that brought me into the profession. No more lists meant more time to think about teaching. Students I taught in my “list years” may not realise it, but I wasn’t thinking about physics much between classes. With a SMART board I could see where we left off last lesson and simply continue.
I’ve always produced all my own resources, in the early days it was with Banda and Gestetner. Banda was my favourite because you could handwrite on the skins. Get some of that blue stuff behind your nail and by the end of the day your whole body would be blue. Text books were for students, never really used one until I wrote one. “It’s cheating, Mark”. Producing tests and homework sheets for students is a thankless task. I once spent about 100 hours copying exam questions into a database, no one thanked me, in fact few students even looked at it. Opening it up to the world made it all worthwhile – tens of thousands of eager minds desperate to get some additional help.
I remember English teacher Brian Kern doing some writing. He said it was for fun. I laughed. Well it’s polite to laugh when someone cracks a joke. He wasn’t joking. How can it be fun to write? I discovered by writing a blog, it’s still online, mainly stories about going to the toilet and climbing. A publisher came across it and asked me to write a book. Not sure how stories about my friend who had shoes that never wore out gave her the idea that I could write a text book but it did.
To write the first book I just sat down and pretended I was faced with all my previous students, what would they ask me and how would I answer. Maybe I should’ve looked up some facts but I didn’t. Learnt my lesson for the second edition. Pants wearing thin again.
An eagle just flew past my window, long hours at the computer are made possible with a view like that. You don’t have to be outside to be outside in Fjaler.
One of the great things about teaching in international education is the workshops. Paris, Barcelona, Berlin. At Atlantic College there was a chemistry teacher called Geoff Neuss: he wrote books, chemistry students will know that. He also ran workshops for teachers, off to different cities all the time. I wanted to be the Geoff Neuss of physics.
I thought leading workshops for physics teachers would be difficult but it’s not, teachers all know what it’s like to be out there and appreciate the effort you put into preparing material. I had lots to share so made a simple website. Love at first site. I never thought anyone would pay for it but they did and now 510 schools share the material produced in my study at Haugland. You do need a certain level of confidence; it’s like climbing a hard route. If you don’t think you’re good enough nobody else will. I was once having a particularly hard time on a climb in France and shouted, “Come on, you’re supposed to be Chris Hamper!” It took some time before my friends stopped repeating that one.
I was extremely well-prepared, had been teaching the same stuff for years, loved being in front of the crowd, make them laugh and the physics goes down more easily. We all make the odd mistake and go blank now and again, but when it happens too often the confidence starts to go and everything goes to pot, electrical circuits become spaghetti and equations won’t stay still long enough to rearrange them.
In a way discovering I had Parkinson’s disease was a relief. Phew, at least I don’t have some incurable, degenerative neurological illness. Just a minute – I do! Well it was a relief anyway. Parkinson’s is well known for making you shake, walk with a stoop and have an angry looking face, but did you know it makes your handwriting small? I don’t think I’ve got to that stage yet. When I do, everyone will get small Christmas cards. Yeah, like I ever write Christmas cards.
There is a lot of nonphysical stuff associated with Parkinson’s, and it all gets worse when even a little bit stressed. It’s hard turning up for class when you cried in front of them yesterday, but I don’t intend to give up that easily so set about creating a digital guide through the course. All I have to do is be there to set up equipment, answer questions and mark tests. The physics they learn by making observations, doing experiments, building simulations and solving problems. It took about 4 hours to prepare each hour of lesson time, but now it’s done. My job is to set the scene, make it a good learning environment, be there when needed but don’t worry if not. Not as easy as it sounds.
When you get used to working long hours, it’s difficult to stop. Finishing one project leaves time for another. I used to do some private tutoring, always start with a problem.
A boy throws a ball off a cliff with velocity………
What’s a cliff?
What do you mean by a vector?
Why is the height negative?
I always end up giving the answer when I should be alluding to it. Explaining the physics that’s needed without the spoiler. Not enough patience. How about a virtual tutor? A set of web pages leading through the steps in the solution with diversions to get explanations where necessary.
We had to build our own editor interface but after almost exactly a year, just as my Vimeo subscription expired, it’s finished. The people in the drawings aren’t random they are my present students. They don’t realise it but they help me make it.
Next project is “Piglics” the whole syllabus explained with pigs, but that’s another story.
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