Tuesday, May 26, 2015 to Friday, May 29, 2015
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

CTLO Presents Ed Talk Week 2015

Monday, May 18, 2015
Brown Gymnasium – Scott Brown Gymnasium

Jupiter’s Grand Attack

English Professor Awarded Feynman Teaching Prize

This year the Richard P. Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching has been awarded to Professor of English Kevin Gilmartin, who has taught at Caltech for the past 24 years.

Gilmartin was nominated for this prize by students in several different disciplines, who praise his enthusiasm and accessibility, his artful handling of classroom discussion and debate, and his patient tutoring in the fine art of writing. In teaching evaluations, students describe Gilmartin as "an eloquent lecturer" and a "supportive professor" whose "enthusiasm is contagious."

The Feynman Prize committee—tasked with honoring a professor "who demonstrates, in the broadest sense, unusual ability, creativity, and innovation" in teaching—was unanimous in its support of Gilmartin, describing him as "an example to the Institute of the possibilities for engagement, discovery, and growth through classroom teaching."

Gilmartin's classes are no steady trudge through lectures and essays. Rather, they are taught seminar-style with student presentations, classroom discussions, and field trips to the Huntington Library. Gilmartin notes that he is particularly interested in helping students understand the historical context in which works of literature are produced, a theme that dominates his scholarly work as well. For example, this semester in a course on the works of Jane Austen (English 127), students are dabbling in what Gilmartin calls "a fascinating print record" from the period, ranging from manuals of conduct for young women to instructional pamphlets on everything from dancing to gardening. "Through the wonders of digital media," says Gilmartin, "students can see things that they would have previously found only in a rare books reading room."

Gilmartin also has pioneered workshops with visiting poets brought to campus through support from the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences and the Provost's Office. "There's something remarkable about teaching a course where many of the authors that we read are still alive and are writing in ways that students feel are contemporary," says Gilmartin, "but then to have one of the writers actually present on campus has been a revelation for me and my students."

One of the Caltech students who nominated Professor Gilmartin for the Feynman Prize declares that he "vivifies the 'human' in 'humanities.'" She notes that teaching English can be an uphill battle at Caltech: "Despite a massive torrent of degradation inflicted upon the humanities by this sea of science-loving skeptics, Professor Kevin Gilmartin kindles a fire within each of his students to love English."

Gilmartin's impact on individual students is profound. As a Caltech alumna noted in her nomination of Gilmartin, "I came to Caltech believing that I was at best a mediocre writer and because of that, approached humanities courses with only a cursory effort. However, week after week, Professor Gilmartin would email me back with thoughtful and encouraging responses to my weekly write-ups. Gradually, I noticed myself spending more and more time on the assigned writings and speaking up more during class because, for the first time, I felt as if my opinions mattered."

Gilmartin himself, though certainly pleased by the award, is keen to share the credit with his colleagues and with Caltech administrators who have supported humanities programs in the classroom and beyond, notably with the recent development of the Hixon Writing Center. "I was closely involved in recruiting Susanne Hall as the director of the Hixon Center, and she has supported my teaching in extraordinary ways through her peer tutoring program," he says. "One of my most rewarding recent experiences as a teacher has been to see a number of students from my freshman humanities courses go on to become peer tutors in the writing program themselves."

Alongside his regular teaching, Gilmartin serves as faculty advisor for the student literary and visual arts magazine, Totem. Another Caltech alumnus credits Gilmartin for making it possible for Totem "to host a documentary and feature film director to discuss elements of cinema, and a JPL scientist who uses the art form of origami to do mathematical modeling." Gilmartin recalls that when he was first asked to be the magazine's faculty advisor in 2002, "I didn't know what a faculty advisor was expected to do." He learned on the job, and notes that he has been glad to help student editors with funding issues and to act as the magazine's "institutional memory" as senior editors and writers graduate and new editors and writers come in.

These and other Caltech students "make teaching easy," Gilmartin says. "Our students are extraordinarily bright, interested, and engaged. It's true that I've had to find ways to meet them halfway, and that's been a positive learning process for me as well. When classroom circumstances are right, their willingness to be engaged, their enthusiasm, their interest in literature and in challenging themselves is in no way restricted to the sciences."

The Feynman Prize has been endowed through the generosity of Ione and Robert E. Paradise and an anonymous local couple. Some of the most recent winners of the Feynman Prize include Steven Frautschi, professor of theoretical physics, emeritus; Paul Asimow, professor of geology and geochemistry; and Morgan Kousser, the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of History and Social Science.

Nominations for next year's Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching will be solicited in the fall. Further information about the prize can be found on the Provost's Office website.

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English Professor Awarded Feynman Teaching Prize
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In Our Community
Friday, April 10, 2015
Noyes 147 (J. Holmes Sturdivant Lecture Hall) – Arthur Amos Noyes Laboratory of Chemical Physics

Transforming Chemistry Education

Connecting Caltech to Local Classrooms

Science teachers across the country are constantly looking for new ways to develop lessons and experiments that will engage their students while also aligning with state-adopted education standards such as Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). By creating new interactive Community Science Events for local science teachers, and with funding from the Pasadena Educational Foundation (PEF), the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach (CTLO) is encouraging these educators to use cutting-edge laboratory research at Caltech as inspiration to make their K-12 lessons in STEM fields more creative.

The adoption of new state educational standards can translate into big changes in the classroom. The Community Science Events encourage teachers to implement these standards with lessons and activities connected to contemporary research topics, says Julius Su (BS '98, BS '99, PhD '07), CTLO program manager and event co-organizer.

The events, collaborations between Caltech, the PEF and the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD), begin with a public lecture by a Caltech faculty member, who presents an aspect of his or her research with popular science appeal. The first event, held at Caltech on March 2, featured a lecture by Professor of Physics Ken Libbrecht, who discussed his research on the atmospheric conditions that determine how and why snowflakes form the shapes that they do.

Afterward, volunteers provide lab demonstrations related to the presentation that can help the teachers translate the researcher's science into practical K-12 learning activities for the classroom. At the snowflake event, volunteers demonstrated how to make snowflakes using everyday items such as Styrofoam cups, soda bottles, and fishing line; how to fold snowflake origami; and how to build a cloud chamber for visualizing radioactive decay.

Samuel Garcia Jr (Pasadena City College) and Minh Pham (University of California, Riverside) make shaved ice and discuss light scattering with teachers. In back, Caltech graduate student Kelsey Boyle talks about the growth of sugar crystals.

More than 90 K-12 teachers from 35 schools in Pasadena and the surrounding area, along with 37 volunteers from Caltech, Pasadena City College, the Armory Center for the Arts, and other institutions, attended the inaugural Community Science Event.

At the event, teachers have opportunities to interact, asking the faculty member and volunteers questions about the featured topic. The teachers then discuss their students' needs and available resources before breaking into teams to create grade-appropriate lessons.

CTLO program manager and event co-organizer James Maloney (MS '06), who has been organizing outreach activities at Caltech for more than 10 years observed the importance of teachers at all different grade levels being part of the event. "We can take the core ideas from the event, find the common thread, and branch out grade-specific lesson plans," Maloney says. "The teachers are literally creating this big interlinked knowledge base right then and there."

Caltech graduate student Dan Thomas shows Ravi Dev Anandhan (Sierra Madre Middle School) a cloud chamber he built to visualize radioactive decay.

Su says this process of creating lessons falls within the recommendations of Common Core—a widely adopted set of standards for mathematics and language arts education in the U.S. "The Common Core places emphasis on 'the four Cs': communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. We've incorporated elements of all of those. We're bringing all of these teachers together to work on lessons, make interlinked content, and approach learning in a collaborative way using our technologies, activities, and resources," he says.

Because the Common Core also emphasizes the integration of science and math with the humanities and the arts, the Community Science Events will include visiting partners from the Huntington Library and the Armory Center for the Arts to add additional historical and cultural context for the presented science and to provide ideas for related activities.

Future events are still in the planning stages, but Su and Maloney hope to cover a variety of topics within earth and space science, life science, and physical science in 12 events over the next two years. The eventual goal is to use each event to touch on one of the 11 key areas outlined by the Next Generation Science Standards, which were developed by a consortium of 26 states, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Research Council.

The standards also focus on lessons that are relevant to real-world problems, and the event has a similar emphasis. "Caltech professors will be presenting results from their actual research, and volunteers will do related demonstrations that address real-world problems. Also, because the activities incorporate a lot of do-it-yourself technology, they emphasize the linkage between science and engineering," Su says.

Rita Exposito (Principal, Jackson Elementary School) talks with Alka Kumar (Arcadia Children's Education Center) about how water vapor in clouds condenses into rain droplets.

In addition to helping teachers adapt to the new standards, the interactive ideas presented at the Community Science Events will also spur ideas for fun and creative new classroom content—a benefit that both teachers and students appreciate.

"It felt so fantastic to develop lessons for my classroom that authentically mimicked the way 'real scientists' worked, doing research," says Suzanne York, a teacher at Sierra Madre Elementary School who attended the event. The events allow "students the opportunity for some real scientific content, while I worked on more of the pedagogical end," she says.

The events also "allow teachers in PUSD to work with Caltech scientists and see the various new technologies that are being developed," says science teacher Seung Seo from Marshall Fundamental High School. "This kind of collaboration is very important to the future of science education, especially for public schools with limited funds," she adds.

"The new Common Core and NGSS standards can often mean big changes—and sometimes challenges—for teachers. Events such as ours provide a way to put all these revisions in the hands of the teachers while also allowing them to take advantage of community resources around them," Su says.

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In Our Community
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Dabney Hall, Lounge – Dabney Hall

Caltech Roundtable: Writing Popular Books about Science

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 to Thursday, April 16, 2015
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

Spring TA Training

Monday, March 31, 2014 to Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

Spring TA Training

Monday, April 20, 2015
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

Want to know what works in teaching?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

Want to know what works in teaching?


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