Teaching and Learning


I've just spent four days sitting in meetings in which a succession of engineers, biologists, and chemists spoke. During all but one of those presentations a few experts in the audience paid attention while the rest of us fought to stay awake and wondered how many of our finite number of heartbeats were being wasted on this.

And then... and then, on the last day, the next-to-last speaker was a Teacher; he had the gift. And the audience was spell-bound, and we were like my god-- I understand him, and we looked at each other wide-eyed and knew we were all thinking the same thing.

As paranoid as I am about writing about my work, I have to tell you who he is: he's Dr. Vince Ortiz, a prof at Auburn University. Earlier in the week we'd all introduced ourselves and he realized how many of us weren't chemists, and he, he alone, decided to amend his presentation on the fly by using a white board to supplement the material on his powerpoint slides, to explain what he was doing for us non-chemists. He wasn't really animated; he didn't even smile. He used his hands a bit, but mostly he just spoke slowly, explaining things in simple terms.

He talked about Schrödinger's Equation and how he was attempting to solve it computationally, and he talked about harmonic oscillators and hyper-surfaces and infinite sets of basis functions, and we were like why oh why couldn't he have been my chemistry professor in college and we all came away a whole lot smarter and knowing we'd witnessed something rare and wonderful.

Only one speaker followed him. As this hapless fellow walked to the front of the conference room, someone in the group said "You're in trouble now that we all understand this stuff," and we all laughed.

August 2009

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