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2019 Distinguished Teaching Award: Professor Robert Littlejohn, Physics


– You could major in physics, because you wanna get a good paying job, but I don’t think that’s
really why most people do it. I mean, physics brings out
idealistic feelings in people. You find out how the universe works. It’s just amazing. It’s one amazement after another. The depth and the beauty of nature as presented is indescribable. And the only way to truly appreciate it, is to learn the physics. – Quantum Mechanics can
be seen as a cornerstone of our knowledge of the universe. (laughs) Yes. – When you first learn a subject and you see how beautiful
it is you want to be able to share it, and I think that’s a, fundamentally, a major
motive in wanting to teach. This course started in fact by using a textbook that was actually rather poor. So, I worked on finding
better ways of explaining what was in the book, and
that’s lead ultimately to the currently typed up notes. – I think for me the materials are more accessible based his notes. In his notes, basically all math details are really explicit, so
it’s not to hard to follow. – I don’t have to worry
about, catching every word, and scribbling it down in my notebook, and instead I can just sit there and pay closer attention to what
he’s saying and the concepts. – I take a special pleasure in being able to explain physics in
geometrical language, which is often times very beautiful. The geometrical angle is one
that I’ve always personally, it’s always been active in my own mind, and I use it as a means of conveying the physical ideas to
students when I teach. – He is uniquely aware
of what types of things students often will struggle with, because of how long he’s
been teaching it for, and he understands it so
well that he’s able to, find ways to help us understand it, by connecting it to things
we’ve learned previously. – Actually I don’t think
I’ve honed my craft, except to try to be more aware of how well I’m connecting with the students, their abilities and where
they’re coming from. – Well first of all, I go
to office hours most weeks, because I’m usually confused,
‘specially by the homework. He’ll expand on what we
can do with the result, and what’s next, and that really adds a depth of understanding that
helps moving forward as well. – A person can’t learn physics
by sitting in an audience and watching a smart
guy at the blackboard. Most importantly is working
through problems on their own, and figuring out, how to
put the pieces together to make the answers come out. That’s were the real
learning occurs, is in that. – I think the question
you’re always asking in a class like this is,
“What does this lead to?”, and “What can use this for?”, and that sort of generates
a expanding tree of things that can be calculated and
things that can be predicted. – A good advice for a young physicist, is don’t believe anything, until you’ve worked it out for yourself. You’re likely to come up with a different perspective on it if you do. I’m not someone who thinks, that all you need to do
is to learn how to think, I think you need to have
something to think about. The quality of a course can
be determined by the quality of the material the students learn, in other words, it’s what
they learn that counts. If the students like my class, I want them to like it because
they learned something, they hopefully learned a lot.

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