Stefan Idziak: Blast Off! A Launch in the Right Direction
Stefan Idziak demonstrates the hair-raising effects of a Van de Graaff generator (with the assistance of Malibu Barbie)
Written by Sherry Lin, Special Projects (Teaching Stories), CTE.
Stepping into one of Dr. Stefan Idziak’s classes, you might suppose you are entering an educational playground – an environment without a sandbox, but equipped with a dedicated instructor who possesses a wealth of knowledge along with a variety of new and exciting show-and-tell toys.
“Is this a rocket?” Idziak asks his SCI 206: Physics of How Things Work class as he launches Nerf darts into the air; fires film canisters filled with baking soda and vinegar; and even propels himself down a corridor, secured to a mobile plank of wood with a fire extinguisher attached as fuel. Demonstrations like these are what make Dr. Idziak stand out as an instructor. Not only do his demonstrations excite his students, his eagerness to answer their questions piques their curiosity and ignites their desire to learn. Even with large classes of 200 students, Idziak does not seem fazed by the challenge of maintaining student engagement.
Idziak recognizes that the subject of Physics may not be a strong suit for many students. He sympathizes that material covered in his PHYS 112: Physics II course is dull at times, and compensates with active demonstrations that reinvigorate the students. Nicketta Lagadoo, an undergraduate who has taken both Idziak’s SCI 206 and PHYS 112 courses, notes that, “Dr. Idziak incorporates demonstrations that make the concepts easier to understand, especially the complex ones.”
Teaching, which Idziak considered an obligatory task during his graduate studies, has now become his keen interest. Although he acknowledges a few hiccups at the start of his career, teaching now appears to come naturally to Idziak. With his active learning techniques, intriguing demonstrations, video solutions for physics problems, and infectious enthusiasm, Idziak is hard-pressed to think of anything he would deem an insurmountable teaching challenge. One thing, he admits, is that he still gets jitters during the first few classes of the year, prompting him to playfully reassure his students, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to have a heart attack. I’m just still a really nervous teacher!”
What Idziak loves most about teaching is encouraging students to ask questions. He believes that every question is a good question, and if it gets repeated, “It means I just never explained it properly the first time”. John Rinehart, Idziak’s former teaching assistant, notes, “His well-prepared class demonstrations and clear pedagogy are a hallmark of what education in physics should be.”
Stefan Idziak's profile in the Department of Physics and Astronomy
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CTE has developed more than 100 Teaching Tips. Each one is a succinct document that conveys useful ideas and practical methods for effective teaching. Some of the Teaching Tips that are relevant to the strategies mentioned in this Teaching Story include the following: