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Sometimes Sharks Travel in Packs: on Group Teaching

by Audrey DeVault

Building a 6-week course from the ground up is a significant undertaking. It’s not something that fits in easily with an already busy schedule, and as such, when my co-teachers and I first considered teaching a course through HSSP, we were hesitant. 

We are all rising sophomores at Caltech, and many of us have full-time research positions for the summer. After factoring in summer courses, other part-time jobs, and socially distanced visits with friends for sanity, we each only had a few spare hours per week. 

This is where group teaching came in to save our schedules and make our class something truly special. 

If we were to have taught our class, Cool Theories in Math & Physics by Caltech Students, with less teachers, it would have certainly been harder on us. Group teaching has allowed us teachers to do all sorts of other things during the summer. For those curious: 

Max is researching an interferometric technique for exoplanet astronomy that blocks the light from the star and enables the direct imaging of exoplanets at closer proximity to their stars than ever before by conducting computer simulations.

Gabby is determining how sensitive the Cathode Strip Chamber (CSC) (the endcap muon system in the Compact Muon Solenoid at the LHC) is in detecting long lived particles that decay in the CSC.

I am working with NASA’s NuSTAR space telescope to search for pulsations in the hard x-ray range of pulsar observations utilizing new clock corrections that yield unprecedented levels of precision. .

Dividing the work has allowed us to work on our research and HSSP concurrently, without sacrificing the quality of either. 

While a lighter workload is a fairly obvious benefit of group teaching, something much more important has become clear in hindsight: Teaching in a group didn’t just make things easier, it made things better. 

Our teaching group is the second largest at HSSP this year, with 5 teachers. While we know that it is more common to teach in pairs, our experience with group teaching has been amazing, and we urge others to give it a try. Beyond lightening the individual load, it allowed us to make our class much more diverse, complex, and polished than any subset of us could have accomplished. 

Every Friday night, the 5 of us meet up for a practice lecture where the 1 or 2 people teaching the next day’s class perform a full dry-run of the material. We found this to be an extremely effective way for the presenters to hone the material and teaching style, and for the remaining teachers to gain a better understanding of the subject so that they could aid in answering questions during the real lecture. 

I asked each of my co-teachers about their experience with teaching in a larger group and they each responded with their own unique perspective: 

“The best part about teaching in a large group is that it is easy to get many perspectives on the lecture material and approach to the material from the other teachers. I found that this helped our group immensely with choosing what topics to focus on, and how we could build upon the material we were teaching while still covering our wide variety of subjects.”

Maximilian Adang

“We were able to teach a much larger assortment of topics given our wide array of unique and particular passions within math and science. Since we were able to divide up the various lectures, it gave us ample time to strengthen and review our lectures, adding more detail to the topics and transforming our teaching to be more interactive and fun for the students. As a team, we were able to combine our interests to teach new topics previously unreachable.”

-Ely Jrade

“Teaching in a large group has made our course the best possible version of itself- with so many talented and smart collaborators, we were able to present the most interesting subject matter in the clearest way.”

-Gabby Dituri

“It has been an incredible opportunity to be able to teach a summer class with my fellow co-teachers. Being able to work closely with my friends made the course not only enjoyable to teach but also an important experience in collaboration. Working with a relatively large group of co-teachers also made sure that our content for each lecture was well reviewed and relevant.”

-Eitan Rapaport

Teaching in a group, especially with friends, has made our time with HSSP extremely fulfilling. We have learned so much from each other and have produced a class we are all fiercely proud of. I encourage any future ESP teacher to give group teaching a try, even if they aren’t suffering from an overcrowded schedule. Once you find a good group of people to work with, collaboration yields nothing but benefits. 

P.S. Given that this year’s HSSP mascot is a shark, I think it’s worth noting that many types of sharks work together in large groups to hunt and socialize- If great whites can do it, so can you!

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