A Passion for Teaching Astronomy and Physics
Of all the natural sciences, the one with which students most readily engage is astronomy. From an early age, children are fascinated by the night sky – an interest that often endures for the rest of their lives. I take great pride and pleasure in being able to communicate my own passion for astronomy to others, and am a strong believer in the idea that students are more likely to engage and succeed when they study a subject they find interesting and exciting. As such, when teaching astronomy, I endeavour to enthuse my students, and to show them just how fascinating our universe can be.
One of the key goals of university level physics teaching is to train students to think in a very specific way. Physics graduates are trained to think critically about problems and to develop innovative and imaginative solutions. These skills apply across the breadth of physics and astronomy, and are transferable to a huge variety of different careers, making physics graduates among the most employable of all university leavers. When teaching physics, I therefore encourage students to develop the critical analysis skills that will benefit them whatever their chosen post-university career.
Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate enough to study and work at some of the world’s most highly rated teaching institutions. As I student, I was an undergraduate at the UK’s top physics teaching university (Durham), and studied for my D.Phil. in the department of Theoretical Physics at the University of Oxford. At both institutions, I was exposed to a wide range of highly successful teaching techniques, and gained a great appreciation for the different skills that come together to make an excellent educator. My experience working at the University of Bern (teaching in a foreign language) and the Open University (teaching through distance learning and at nocturnal, week-long residential schools) required me to develop a wide variety of innovative teaching techniques. On the basis of my excellent teaching skills, I was hired to a full time teaching role at the University of Durham as a Teaching Fellow, a position I filled for a year prior to my appointment at UNSW.
Whilst in Bern, I worked closely with two Ph.D. students on both general planet formation and a giant impact explanation for Mercury's unusually high density and small size, obtaining results that contributed to the successful and timely completion of their Ph.D. projects. I also gained teaching experience through the supervision of lab sessions and problem classes (which were held in German).
During my time at the Open University (OU), I worked as both demonstrator and tutor on the residential observational astronomy school “Observing the Universe”, based in Mallorca, and was also employed as a pre-school advisor and project marker for that course. In addition, in 2009, I acted as a supervisor and mentor to a new demonstrator on the course. In 2008, I worked as a critical reader for a new first-level course, “Understanding the Weather”, which is now in its fourth presentation through distance learning. Additionally, I worked as an Associate Lecturer on the 2008 and 2009 presentations of the OU's second level Astronomy course, “Astronomy”, which required me to teach, again through distance learning, a group of 22 students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds, spanning many decades in age. This work was hugely rewarding, but unfortunately I had to resign from my position before the 2010 presentation of the course as a result of accepting a Teaching Fellowship at the University of Durham. In 2008, I chaired a committee that judged a series of lectures by the second and third year graduate students within the Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space & Astronomical Research (CEPSAR) at the OU, and awarded a prize to the best speaker. I also attended professional training courses at the Royal Society, in London. The first of these was focussed on improving general communication skills, whilst the second provided intensive training on interaction and communication with the media. I gave annual graduate lectures on both "Planet Formation" and "Solar System Dynamics", as part of the on-going professional development of CEPSAR’s graduate students. I also organised an induction day for CEPSAR’s intake of new graduate students in October 2008.
In October 2009, I began work as a Teaching Fellow in the department of Physics at the University of Durham. In this role, I acted as tutor to five groups of first year students (38 students in total), planning and leading weekly tutorials for each group as part of their on-going academic development. In addition, I supervised lab sessions on a wide variety of topics for both first and second year students, four afternoons per week. I provided high quality feedback to students on their submitted coursework, regularly assessing the work of those I supervised in lab sessions. I prepared exam questions, and voluntarily re-wrote a number of lab scripts for the second year “long lab” experiments. I organised a highly successful "Supported Progression Week", in which a number of local A-level students spent a week studying, full time, within the department. This allowed them to gain first-hand experience of university life, and enabled the department to assess potential future undergraduates. On the basis of the assessment I organised, the department made reduced entrance offers to a number of those students, in order to help encourage increased participation from the local area. Several of those students are now enrolled in the university’s Physics degree program. The Fellowship afforded me the opportunity to further improve my teaching skills and gain a breadth of experience in a wide variety of physics-based education, and proved a thoroughly enjoyable challenge. In addition to my internal teaching responsibilities, I worked closely with two of the OU's Ph.D. students on the dynamics of exoplanetary systems. Those students have both since successfully completed their Ph.D. work, with our collaborative efforts forming a key part of their theses, and our collaborations have continued since my move to the University of New South Wales.
Since my arrival at the University of New South Wales, in October 2010, I have endeavoured to maintain my involvement with high quality teaching. In 2011, I gave lectures as part of the first presentation of the new third level course “Astrobiology: Life in the Universe”, and worked as a tutor on the first level course “Introductory Astronomy and the Search for Life Elsewhere”, a role I have revisited in both 2012 and 2013. In the winter session of 2012, I gave 19 lectures on Classical Mechanics in the first year course “Physics 1A”, and also gave lectures as part of the third level courses “Astrophysics” and “Astrobiology: Life in the Universe”. During summer session in 2012-13, I taught the 36 hour lecture course “Higher Physics 1B”, a role I greatly enjoyed.
Copyright (c)2009 Dr. Jonti Horner & JustHost.com | Design by Free CSS Templates.