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2015 TeachWeek Caltech Open Classes

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Caltech faculty invite fellow faculty, staff, and students (graduate and undergraduate) to sit in on a variety of open classes spanning Caltech's divisions and levels. Each one features a distinct philosophy of learning and approach to teaching.

Tuesday 10/20/15   |   Wednesday 10/21/15   |   Thursday 10/22/15

Tuesday, October 20, 2015:

  • 9:00 - 10:25 AM, Noyes 147
    Inorganic ChemistryChemistry 112
    Theodor Agapie, Professor of Chemistry:
    "I am teaching Ch112, Inorganic Chemistry, for the first time this year. Thus far, I have been spending up to 30% of each class with groups of students working together on problems, and otherwise lecturing with some interaction built in. As a class, we are using the Caltech library's 3D printers to produce chemical models for students to use during in-class problem solving. In collaboration with the library staff, we are learning a lot about how to print better and more advanced illustrations. In the end, I hope students leave the class with a good ability to use symmetry to approach complicated problems in chemistry."

  • 9:00 - 10:25 AM, Dabney Treasure Room
    Knowledge and RealityHumanities/Philosophy 9 
    Frederick Eberhardt, Professor of Philosophy:
    "Knowledge & Reality is an introductory course in philosophy. While one could focus on the history of ideas, my main concern for this course is to sensitize students to the way we think and reason. What are our fundamental assumptions in our reasoning? What justifications can we offer for such assumptions? What implications can we reach from different sets of assumptions and what are their weaknesses and strengths? Answers that we may take as a given in scientific reasoning come under scrutiny in a philosophical course, even if no better answer is available. Initially it can be a frustrating experience for students to find that philosophy asks more questions than it answers, but I have often found that students relish the freedom to challenge accepted or standard accounts and appreciate the new perspectives the exploration of alternatives gives them."

  • 2:00 - 3:55 PM, North Mudd 215
    EarthquakesFreshman Seminar 16
    Joann Stock, Professor of Geology and Geophysics:
    "Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions constitute some of the world’s major natural hazards. What is the science behind prediction and/or rapid response to these events? In this class, we are grappling with the current understanding of the science, the efforts that have been made in earthquake and volcano forecasting, and real-time response to these events. We're also preparing for a field trip to visit faults and volcanoes in Southern California in November. On this day, we plan to work with stereographic projections, and learn to construct and interpret focal mechanisms of earthquakes, using 3-D props to see what the traces of fault planes look like."
  • 2:30 - 3:55 PM, Baxter 25
    OptionsBusiness, Economics, and Management 105
    Jaksa Cvitanic, Richard N. Merkin Professor of Mathematical
    "I have taught BEM 105 for the past 10 years and last year, I turned it into a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in edX. I continued to teach the Caltech class the same way last year, but this fall, I've adopted a 'flipped class' approach, in which Caltech students watch the lectures before class, and, in class, they give and critique of each others presentations, or work on problems that will help them with significantly with the homework, or delve into interesting, more advanced topics together. My main goal for the course is twofold: (i) for students to build enough of a technical background to be able to learn more about the subject after they’ve completed the course (ii) to get familiar with different perspectives on the course topics and to develop a flexible way of thinking and problem solving when faced with questions related to those."

Wednesday, October 21, 2015:

  • 11:00 - 11:55 AM, Bridge Laboratory of Physics 201
    Newtonian Mechanics, Physics 1a
    Ryan Patterson, Assistant Professor of Physics:
    "At the end of the day, being able to take a real life physical system, break it down into its component pieces, and answer questions about it requires physical intuition--it's not simply a mathematical task. In Ph 1a, we build that intuition during lecture through demonstrations: by seeing systems in action, not just through diagrams. This has the added benefit of keeping everyone excited to see the next crazy thing we will do. At the same time, students come to Caltech with a wide range of backgrounds in physics, so I try to give them a common foundation and also include nuggets that push the more experienced students, such as showing them how the principles they're learning appear in the latest papers or in modern physics research.”
  • 11:00 - 11:55 AM, Broad Center 100 (Rock Auditorium)
    Introduction to Neuroscience, Neurobiology 150
    Henry Lester, Bren Professor of Biology
    Ralph Adolphs, Bren Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience
    Students are developing a foundation for advanced study of the nervous system in this course, exploring the physical and chemical bases for action potentials, synaptic transmission, and sensory transduction; anatomy; development; sensory and motor pathways; memory and learning at the molecular, cellular, and systems level; and the neuroscience of brain diseases. Take a look at the course website to see what's going on this term:
  • 2:00 - 2:55 PM, Gates-Thomas 135
    Thermal Science, Mechanical Engineering 11a
    Melany Hunt, Dotty and Dick Hayman Professor of Mechanical Engineering
    "I've taught this class before and noticed that students often don't think of thermodynamics as the most exciting topic. The most important thing to me is that students get a chance to consider all of the compelling engineering problems they can solve using thermodynamics. I bring a lot of demos, examples, and devices into class, where they can experience first-hand how relevant this is for engineers. When we can go from the fundamental idea of conservation of energy, to seeing how engineers deal with issues of power, space, and design, it gets much more interesting."

Thursday, October 22, 2015:

  • 9:00 - 10:25 AM, South Mudd 176
    Applications of Physics to the Earth Sciences, Geological and Planetary Sciences 108
    Mike Brown, Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy:
    "Ge 108 is basically and introductory physics and differential equation class taught primarily for Geology graduate students. The class is entirely flipped: all lectures are available online and must be watched before class, and classroom time is taken entirely with students working out problems in small groups simultaneously on the board. In the three years that this class has been flipped, students have performed significantly better on all types of class assessments, and seem to enjoy and retain the material more."
  • 2:30 - 3:55 PM, Gates-Thomas 115
    Entrepreneurial Development, Engineering 102b
    Ken Pickar, Visiting Professor of Mechanical Engineering:

    "I have been teaching Entrepreneurship at Caltech since 2002. Students learn through experience--writing a business plan. Most of the ideas are based on Caltech technologies, which may (or may not) have commercial potential. In the class, students begin by accepting that the technology can do what is claimed and then ask, 'So what?' We get at the parts of the process students are least comfortable with--researching the market through interviews and visits to define who really wants the products afforded by the technology. They have to work in small teams, just like they would during the gestation of a new business, and you see that reflected in our daily activities in class."