TEACHING OVERVIEW

My teaching philosophy is centered on developing students’ critical thinking abilities.  Physics is a difficult subject because of the dual challenges of conceptually understanding the problem/ experiment and then employing high-level math and appropriate approximations to solve the problem.  In both elements of the problem-solving method, the student must logically break down the physical situation, understand the underlying mechanisms, evaluate what information s/he has, and then produce a solution or some sort of insight.  At the center of this process is critical thinking, which really cannot be ‘taught’ in the traditional sense, but instead, must be developed.  Given the nebulous nature of most scientific questions, this skill seems to me to be one of the most important that a student can hone.

 

In my classes, we work on critical thinking by first tackling ‘typical situations’ covered in lecture.  Once those techniques and methods are mastered, we then move on to atypical/unconventional situations that must be solved via critical reasoning through a ‘logic chain’.  In these problems, each link of this chain is (loosely) tied to material covered in class, but the end solution/insight is oftentimes counter-intuitive and unforeseen.

 

Beyond this priority, I also believe in producing a classroom setting in which students feel comfortable failing and then retrying problems.  Success is easy to handle, but failure, especially at the very beginning of the course, often results in students losing confidence, turning disdainful of the material, and/or becoming disheartened.  Given that much of physics is often masked by (initially) daunting mathematics and cloaked in difficult concepts (e.g., what really is a quantum mechanical wavefunction?), students will confront failure sooner or later.  My philosophy is to have those stumbles become learning opportunities, not end-of-career moments.  By making students comfortable with initial failure but future success, I believe they can more easily focus on the science, rather than succumb to grade obsession or learning paralysis.

Quantum Mechanics I [PHYS 4310]

This advanced undergraduate course covers the basics of quantum mechanics from the nature of the wavefunction up through spin angular momentum.  Canonical concepts like the infinite square well, the finite square well, the parabolic potential, three-dimensional spherical potential, hydrogen atom, quantized orbital momentum, and spin are all covered.  Typically, we also have time for a small digression into tunneling using the WKB method.

Ultrafast Spectroscopy [PHYS 5130]

This advanced graduate course presents an overview of ultrafast spectroscopy, starting from the two-level atom, progressing to population inversion and lasing, and then moving to ultrafast pulse generation techniques, mathematical descriptions, and scientific uses.  Other advanced methods, such as terahertz generation and measurement and attosecond science will be covered if we have time.

Studio Engineering Physics II [PHYS 1220]

Engineering Physics II is a sophomore-level class intended for students who have taken or are concurrently taking PHYS 1210 (or Statics) and Calculus III.  We cover the fundamentals of electricity, current, magnetism, and thermodynamics.  Given the intensive nature of this class and the breadth and scope of the material, it will be taught using an interactive format, where labs, discussion, lecture, and demonstrations will be integrated into each 100-minute class period.

William D. Rice

Department of Physics and Astronomy

University of Wyoming

1000 E. University Ave.

Laramie, WY 82071

wrice2@uwyo.edu

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