"Teaching should be such that what is
offered is perceived as a valuable gift
and not as hard duty."
- Albert Einstein
My approach to teaching is motivated by my belief that all of us have an innate sense of curiosity and a desire to learn. Few things are as self-affirming as meeting the challenge to acquire new knowledge, skills, or understanding of novel concepts. This natural interest needs to be nurtured to flourish. My goal is to create an environment that fosters student-centered learning by emphasizing student participation and by minimizing obstacles that interfere with students' desire to learn. These obstacles include a failure to appreciate the relevance of the material to their own lives, anxieties about making mistakes, and lack of opportunity to apply knowledge in a way that stimulates critical thinking. Active participation in learning, inquiry-based approaches to new concepts, and teaching others are critical components of the learning process.
The ability to capture the true inquisitive nature of science and share with the students my passion for the discipline is essential for my success as a teacher. Beyond fostering an environment of interest, I strive to provide a structured and organized classroom that stands as an example for each student. College must be a place to challenge students and force them to achieve their potential, while providing all of the tools necessary to do so. Therefore, I make every effort to ensure my students understand the concepts of the course and work with them both one on one and within group settings. Assignments that test the boundaries of students' knowledge are a measurement of progress. Integration of projects into the syllabus further their understanding that science is also a profession.
More than deliver content, my goal is to empower students to acquire new knowledge on their own. From my experience, many students are used to passive scientific learning, but to become a scientist, they must become active and constantly question their surroundings. One great opportunity for a student to investigate the science is through the study of the electromagnetic theory. Teaching Electromagnetics at CCNY involves lecturing and preparing class material, guiding the students through complex vectors, Maxwell's equations, boundary conditions, wave equation, uniform plane waves, polarization, propagation in lossless and lossy media, Poynting vector, reflection and transmission of waves at normal and oblique incidence, transmission lines (propagation, SmithChart, transients).
As a laboratory instructor, I am fortunate to have worked in an environment that can, by its nature, provide the perfect setting for "hands on" inquiry-based learning. My ambition as a measurement laboratory instructor was to change the students' perception of their role in learning so they too become investigators. I believe that by showing students how to answer their own questions about science through experimentation, they are shown how to continue a lifetime of learning. Teaching in the Measurement Laboratory involved the supervision of experiments performed by the students, test instruments, virtual instruments and computer instrumentation, electric and electronic circuits. Students developed an ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice, competence in computational and simulation. Laboratories can incorporate student involvement in every aspect, provide the opportunity for group learning, and foster teamwork. By working in teams, students are no longer isolated in the learning process; they have access to each other as both teacher and pupil in a smaller, more personal setting in which fears of mistakes or failure can be minimized. In laboratory group assignments, I divide my students into small, permanent groups at the beginning of the semester. I challenge the groups with in-class assignments in the form of questions or problems that require them to share and apply knowledge or skills recently acquired or stimulate them to consider critically topics that I am about to introduce in lecture. Since good scientists must also be good communicators, I stress the importance of writing. I favor the use of research reports over completed notebooks as a way of monitoring student progress in lab, and believe that students learn writing skills best when they are given the opportunity to correct mistakes and address criticisms before being assigned a final grade. Therefore, whenever possible, I allow students to submit their papers to me for review before turning them in for a grade. It is my belief that grading constitutes the best opportunity to provide this feedback.
Rather than thinking of grading as a burdensome duty I like to think of it as writing a letter to my students who asked for advice. In grading, I reward accuracy and skillfulness, but most importantly, improvement. This approach-manifested in thorough, personalized, and constructive comments - is the type of feedback that motivates students to constantly give their best. In turn, to keep on giving my best as a teacher, I also provide opportunities for my students to comment on my performance.
In the last five years I have also been an active lecturer within the Mathematics Department of LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC) and Electrical Engineering Department at City College (CCNY) of City University of New York (CUNY). In the process of improving the effectiveness of my teaching and the attempt of refining myself I have been participating in various professional developmental programs in both. Activities included college-wide workshops and seminars, and sessions organized by the Centers for Learning and Teaching. Through these programs I had the chance to give my students the opportunity of building their own e-Portfolios at the college. Students discovered how to create websites that present their educational goals and achievements, as well as to learn more about themselves as learners and as people. The use of e-Portfolio encouraged students to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, analyze their work and evaluate themselves. The LaGuardia Center for Teaching and Learning Faculty Development Seminars offered a powerful means for the faculty to support the students in launching their carriers.
As part of the curriculum within LAGCC, I taught a variety of mathematics classes including algebra, statistics, precalculus and other subjects. In my classes I created a very friendly and open environment encouraging students to feel comfortable and free to ask questions leading to a very active learning environment. By assigning group projects and activities, the exchange of ideas allows students to interactively participate in the class. Short essays, reflections on assigned work and even casual conversations during class are instruments I use to probe my students' background, peek at their thinking process, assess their progress, and gradually discover their learning styles. Knowledge is socially constructed and interaction is the place where learning happens. In a classroom open to discussion, students can learn that collaboration is essential for the advancement of scientific understanding. By setting clear goals and expectations for each exercise and making myself available to my students both in and outside of class, I create a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. My students always know what is expected of them and that they can get help when they need it.
In the future I will continue my professional growth and develop new project-oriented courses and computer aided laboratories. I intend to stay engaged in this developing process both for the benefit of my students who will continually be exposed to more refined teaching and for the benefit of myself as I become the best teacher I can be.
Daniela Viviana Vladutescu
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