How to teach a (physics) course: Feynman’s view

During my graduate studies, I was fortunate to study at different universities in different countries, and I started to develop a rough guideline for myself on how to teach a course or write a lecture note. I took almost 15 graduate courses on different topics on mathematics, physics, earth science, electrical engineering, and computer science in Canada. During these years, I have listed whatever I found annoying in different classrooms, to make sure that I would not repeat it myself.

Recently, I came across an interview with Feynman on origins of “The Feynman lectures on physics”, in the book entitled “Feynman’s Tips on Physics: Reflections, Advice, Insights, Practice“. I have the older version of this book which, unfortunately, does not have those interviews with authors of the books. It is a fun book and I encourage everyone who is passionate about teaching physics to read it.

My list of guidelines has a lot in common with what Feynman pointed out, although it does not exhaust my list, he pinpointed the main concerns. I hope that every teacher would take into account these points before going to classroom.  I will present the point (more or less) the same way Feynman explained in his interview:

1) Do not teach anything that you have to teach over again because it was wrong, unless you pointed out it was wrong. For example, if the Newton equation is approximate, inform students from the beginning about the range of validity of every equation.

2) The lectures should be enough for advanced students, also an average guy should understand it, so  try to invent.

3)  There should be clear distinction between what is understandable from what has been taught so far, and what is not.

4) Ensure that each lecture stand by itself. It is not a good idea to say that, the time is up and we will continue this discussion next time.

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