CUTF: Learning Through Teaching

Some people choose their major because of lifetime goals or interests; I chose my major because I thought my high school physics teacher was funny. Every class felt lighthearted and the topics were exciting. Further, I wasn’t required to memorize anything – I was tested on my ability to problem solve, not blindly spew facts or equations. A lot of people consider physics to be extremely challenging. I agree with this (shockingly), but I also think it’s possible to view this challenge through the lens of creativity and fun.

In the spring of 2021, my second semester of college, I had Dr. Tae Min Hong as my Physics 2 professor. His class, despite being virtual, immediately reminded me of why I like the subject. Lectures were relaxed and yet they taught a lot of material, homework consisted of interesting “puzzles”, and Dr. Hong himself showed quite a lot of care for us as students. My first (in person) interaction with Dr. Hong was prompted by him recognizing me on the street, not the other way around. Over the past year and a half I’ve begun to do research under Dr. Hong, and I’ve been an undergraduate teaching assistant (UTA) in several of his classes. I think that I’ve shown a pretty clear interest in being more involved in logistics and making topics interesting, and so, when applications opened up, I asked Dr. Hong if I could apply for the CUTF and we began to brainstorm ways to make Physics 1 more exciting!

It has been a very fun shift from student to collaborator with Dr. Hong. He is always willing to hear my opinions on a homework set, topic, or problem that I think might be interesting. As a result, we have had many conversations about the content of the course, and how we can convince more students to be interested or involved. For example, we’ve leaned pretty heavily into the idea of portals for a couple of homeworks because the concept of a portal between point A and point B can lead to some very interesting questions about energy conservation and projectile motion. These kind of questions don’t require a deeper mathematical understanding of physics; instead, they require students to grapple with concepts, topics, and physical logic. This has also helped to reinforce the topics for myself, as my office hours tend to be full of students asking questions far beyond the plug and chug mentality present in many introductory physics courses.

I greatly enjoy being a UTA. Being passionate about a subject is relatively rare, and being in the presence of someone passionate is very exciting. I recommend that anyone who enjoys a subject tries to become a teaching assistant or tutor for that topic. Simply send an email or say something if you already know the professor – more often than not, they will be ecstatic to have you on their team. I hope that, as the semester has gone on, students have seen my passion for physics and it has sparked a little excitement inside of them. After all, seeing the excitement in my high school physics teacher, Dr. Hong, and other professors/peers is what originally ignited my love of physics!

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