Gintaras Duda - Passion for Teaching Statement

Dean Zollman, a pioneer in physics education research at Kansas State, related an anecdote during his acceptance speech for the Robert A. Millikan Medal that I’d like to share. Dean’s daughter, about 8 years old at the time and wandering around the physics department with her dad, saw a huge lecture section full of students. She asked him what they were doing, and he replied, “Why, they’re learning physics, of course.” To which she replied, “Do they just sit there?” To an 8-year-old child, the problem was obvious. I share this because I think it perfectly illustrates some of the problems with teaching at the university level and frames my philosophy as a physics teacher. Research shows that students do not learn by just sitting there. Period.

To that end, in my teaching, I use a combination of active learning techniques and a judicious application of technology to maximize student learning. Since cognitive science research has shown that learning requires mental effort and active participation, all of my courses use active learning strategies. In teaching introductory physics, I use the Personal Response System (clickers) and a think-pair-share strategy to instantly poll students’ understanding and to help them teach each other. I have used “just-in-time” teaching in upper division courses; students complete warm-ups online before coming to class so that I can instantly focus on what they don’t know rather than what they already understand. I have also implemented project/problem-based learning in several of my courses and have experimented with context-rich problems in introductory physics. I also use computer modeling, Java applets and simulations in my teaching.

One final aspect of teaching that I am extremely passionate about is public outreach and the dissemination of science to general audiences. I’ve found that the middle school level is where a lifelong interest and love of science can be kindled. Hence, I’ve focused significant professional effort to run after-school science clubs and other outreach and help develop the teaching methods of middle school science teachers. For example, I received a Summer of Innovation Grant from NASA to help middle school science teachers in Omaha use NASA materials to more effectively teach science.

What I did not count on was how my university-level teaching and research would be affected by my outreach. I have been challenged and inspired to offer courses to non-science majors at the introductory level, to teach a course for non-science majors in the honors program on the history and development of cosmology, and to drastically increase my attention to student writing and communication skills.

To conclude, my general teaching philosophy is simply this: that teaching well is serious, scholarly work, and students need to be active and responsible for their own learning. I have also come to realize that a good teacher is one who always seeks to grow and who admits that one can always be better. I am, in a sense, infected with a pedagogical wanderlust and am always searching for new and more effective methods to teach physics to my students. After 10 years of teaching at the university level, I remain as passionate and as excited to teach physics at all levels and to all audiences as the day I began.