Quotes From Students: The Paradigms Experience

“The paradigms helped me understand the material better through visual aids and computer simulations. When you see it graphically, the physics of the problem becomes clear and gives life to the derived mathematical expressions. The project also helped students learn how to teach one another. Due to the rapid pace, everyone at some point in the program found themselves lost in the material. This provided multiple opportunities for fellow students to teach concepts.” —Tyson Olheiser, graduate student in physics at University of Illinois

“The Paradigms program was very good about teaching me to use my resources, whether it be professors, texts, or journal articles. The program overall built my confidence because it was challenging. In retrospect, having the shortened, more intensive classes kept us on the ball more. Subjects were fresh and there was those elements of excitement and uncertainty going directly from finishing a difficult Paradigm to starting a new one with a new professor.” — Megan Kalstadt, graduate student in Bioengineering at Arizona State University

“Prior to these classes, my only physics had been a first year calculus-based intro course. The experience in Paradigms was a complete departure from this. There wasn't much in the way of plugging things into formulas, but rather a focus on how to attack problems as a physicist would attack the problem. There was one other thing about the paradigm courses that really impressed me, and that was the way it drew all the majors together to work on things. There is nothing like this in mathematics, and it impressed me greatly.” — Sam Cook, graduate student in mathematics at Oregon State University

“One of the best things about organizing the classes by “paradigm” rather than by application was that each concept was applied to different areas of physics in rapid succession. This encouraged me to see each concept as a useful tool rather than as a math trick specialized to a narrow set of problems. Learning this way was extremely exciting and I remember toying with the application of basis functions, vector fields and canonical ensembles to diverse things like taste, color, economics and evolution. I learned faster in paradigms than at any other time in college.” — Ethan Bernard, graduate student at Cornell University

“The paradigms program exposed us to the necessity of time management and prioritization. We always had something due, and we needed time everyday for something that was due or to simply catch up. This is immensely useful now that I am in grad school. As we had the class everyday, it was generally easy to follow from one day to the next. When I have 3 to 5 days between classes, I have almost no recollection of the specifics from the previous discussion.” — Rachel Bartlett, graduate student in Medical Physics at the University of Wisconsin

“Coming from the Paradigms background, I immediately felt comfortable working in a team atmosphere: sharing ideas, problem-solving, double-checking your work with others. The other benefit of the Paradigms program I have found was becoming accustomed to the quick turn-around between projects. Since the classes were only 3 weeks long, you got used concentrating heavily on one area, then switching focus to another concentration. This, I have found, is exactly what the production environment is like.” — Mike Joyer, engineer at aerospace company

The Paradigms curriculum constructed my knowledge from a fundamental level, with each paradigm building on the last. The emphasis on big-picture learning and universal problem-solving carries over in my graduate studies today. Additionally, I feel the pace and difficulty prepared me for the challenge of graduate school. —Loren Linden-Levy, graduate student in physics at University of Illinois

“I can do all this stuff, but it's just applying it to what's actually going on that's hard.” — a student in the Waves paradigm, referring to the lab on waves in a coax cable.

“It was a great joy to observe some of the classes in the paradigms program in physics at Oregon State University. My first impression was WOW and very cool! Just entering the room was an experience. The room had a very pleasant, engaging layout that elevates the student to a higher level. It is a complement to the student that shows they are respected. Besides conveniently dividing the class into groups, the round tables also created a more friendly environment. Your teaching was just a delight! It was enjoyable, enriching and engaging – so much so that I noticed I took very few notes, if any at all, during class as my attention was swept up into the presentation. I loved the approach of having the students learn to “think like a physicist”. And the idea of teaching the students strategies they can use when they get stuck in solving problems was really smart. Your frequent interaction with the students during class made me feel more like a part of the conversation rather than a bystander. The labs and other group exercises added a dynamic dimension to the class while providing an opportunity to explore the material more deeply and sharpen interpersonal skills. I noticed that there was a strong and constant emphasis on the students’ presentation skills, whether written or oral. This encourages students to take pride in their work, to pay attention to what is needed to communicate effectively with others, and to make a professional impression. Having the class meet daily and requiring the students to check the website daily mimics the workplace where it is important to stay on top of what is going on and collaborate with others. The constant demands on the students keep them focused and driven. It feels like trying to keep three balloons up in the air at the same time by tapping each one repeatedly until the end of the course. It takes a stick to sloth, that’s for sure – there is no rest for the weary here! But I felt like the class moved at a good pace for six credits.

As for the material itself, I loved the way the class broke through traditional lines of division to emphasize concepts that are common across many fields. Studying oscillations or waves, for example, gives the students a much better grasp of the fundamental concepts and associated mathematical techniques found throughout physics. This really helps the student in forming an understanding of how things behave fundamentally and forms a strong foundation for later studies. Using concept maps and drawing attention to symmetries and parallels helps tremendously in linking concepts together to form a deeper and more integrated understanding of the material. In one way, the class moved through material more slowly than traditional classes in order to probe the fundamentals more deeply and prepare a strong foundation. On the other hand, the class moved more quickly as it did not distract the students with an array of details and other items that are often thrown in alongside fundamental ideas. This gives the students a clearer picture of what the key principles are and focuses their attention on learning them well. It’s the fundamentals that the student must be able to recall clearly and without fail ten years into the future as the details naturally fade with time.

I was particularly impressed with the homework. The homework problems were carefully crafted to make the most of the student’s time and draw attention to areas that every student will eventually stumble over so that those items are smoothed out now. There was no waste of a student’s time with “busy work” and no simple glossing over or sampling the material.

Overall, I was really impressed with the paradigms program. It is a very dynamic and demanding learning experience that nurtures student development in a variety of areas besides technical skills while meeting the needs of the student in a respectful and uplifting manner. It is difficult to pinpoint just what it is that makes the program work so well. Just as many colors of light are needed to create a “rainbow” effect, I think the effectiveness of the program comes more from the harmony created by its various aspects than from this or that particular technique. Compared to classes I’ve had in the past, I felt like the paradigms program presented a clearer view of the key concepts, encouraged deeper thought of the material, worked the concepts harder, and removed major stumbling blocks that would otherwise have limited the student’s ability to work out problems.

Thank you again for letting me sit in a few of your classes. It was great fun and is a great program!” —Kirstie Finster, Fall 2014

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