22.S902 | January IAP 2015 | Undergraduate

Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Geiger Counters

Instructor Insights

Keeping Students Interested, and Talking

In this section, Michael Short shares his strategies for keeping lectures engaging and for encouraging intergroup communication.

Using Props

"I also don’t use a laser pointer. Instead, I use a piece of a nuclear fuel rod."
—Michael Short

I use physical props to keep lectures engaging. For example, when I lecture about nuclear decay energetics reactions, I select an isotope for which I have a physical source available. I pass the source around as I discuss the reaction. Students get slightly irradiated as they sit in their seats. Their adrenaline level rises because they don’t know not to fear it yet. They’re really paying attention as they pass the source to the next person!

I also don’t use a laser pointer. Instead, I use a piece of a nuclear fuel rod. This allows me to say, “Oh, by the way. Feel this.” It’s not steel. It’s zirconium. Students can’t believe how light and flexible it is. Students love knowing there are physical props in the lectures that help them understand the content of the class.

Animating Slides

I put a lot of time into creating animations in PowerPoint. OCW users will see this in the lecture slides—especially in the slides pertaining to the theory of Geiger counters. It’s all animations! I even made a pseudo oscilloscope that shows a trace and a phosphor on the screen—all through PowerPoint animations.

There’s a huge difference between presenting a graph statically and including an animated white box (large enough to cover everything but the axes) that reveals the graph slowly. It takes so little effort and it turns the graph into a movie. As the graph is being unveiled, an educator can narrate the graph. For example, one might say something like, “You can see here as the trace draws live that first the pulse goes really high, and then as it deionizes it goes really low.” I get a lot of positive comments from students about animated slides.

Separating Friends… by Just a Few Feet

When we designed the course our goal was to pair SUTD students with MIT students. But, instantly, when students sat down in pairs, the students from Singapore sat together, the freshmen sat together, and the graduate students sat together. When that happened, I said, “Now, everyone switch to someone you don’t know.” I made this choice because when you put “BFFs” in one group, they only work with each other. But, when you put them in separate groups, it forces intergroup communication. When one partner can’t explain the topic to another, that partner’s friend will pick up on it and provide help. The groups work together a lot more when friends are sitting just a few feet away from each other at separate tables. As an educator, I’ve learned very quickly that if you split up best friends, interdisciplinary communication increases.

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January IAP 2015
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