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Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Nothing momentous to report, just a snapshot of my students working in the lab this afternoon.  No broken glassware, no spill, no disasters (that I’m aware of, anyway.)  Hopefully the results won’t be too wacky either!

The water they are analyzing for total coliforms and fecal coliforms comes from a site near the mouth of Martin Slough in Eureka.  The results will be used by the Capstone Project class (seniors graduating in the spring, working on their final project) to design a restoration that will include a wastewater treatment system for agricultural runoff on the site.  So it’s important that the Water Quality class pass good quality results to the Capstone Project students.

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I’m teaching two classes this semester: Environmental Impact Assessment, primarily for seniors; and Water Quality and Environmental Health, for second- and third-year students.  The water quality class is split up into two groups for lab purposes.  We took advantage of the unseasonably beautiful weather this past week to go do some field work along Jolly Giant Creek in Arcata.  That’s the kind of afternoon that reminds me why it’s so much fun to be an environmental engineer.

Both classes are really fun subjects for me.  I have a lot of good material to work from, and I’m trying to hone my teaching skills.  I’ve been reading Teaching Engineering, by Philip Wankat and Frank Oreovicz, a classic and solid reference on the topic.  My goal is to rely less on lectures and raise the quality of those lectures.  I need to use more diverse ways of imparting the course materials.

I’ve also been buffing up on my skills with the new information technologies we now have to assist with teaching, and particularly with Moodle, the chosen course management system at HSU.   The tool is interesting but I’m not certain it actually saves time, it just makes things more transparent.  Or not.

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Sigh.  Although my students do the best they can with the background they have, I continue to be stunned at the low requirements of the American education system. A sizable portion of college and university classes here are basically remedial high school. I’m getting lots of people in their second or third year in a four-year engineering program who have never had any statistics at all. They will have to take one stats class before they graduate, but it’s not prerequisite to many other classes so they tend to take it late in the program. It seriously limits their tools and understanding.

Let’s compare:

Requirements to graduate from Polytechnique of Montreal:

  • Need to have enough high school math, physics and chemistry to take the 2-year Pure and Applied Sciences program at a CEGEP (junior college)
  • There, 3 physics classes, 6 math classes, 3 chemistry classes, 1 bio class, plus 4 PE classes, 4 philosophy classes, 4 French classes, and some English (60 units total).
  • Polytechnique: 120 units of solid, wall-to-wall engineering.  No relief from any GEs or electives.

Requirement to graduate here:

  • No requirements on high school classes, though math, physics and chemistry are recommended.
  • 27 units of GE
  • 106 units of sciences and engineering including the same math, physics, and chemistry I had to take in junior college.

Conclusion: Canadian engineers graduate WAY more prepared.  I cringe when I hear people talking about how difficult the program or a class is.

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