Mark Edelman’s Teaching Statement


   In 27 years of my pedagogical career I taught courses of different levels in Astronomy, Physics, and Mathematics in two countries: Russia and USA. It was absolutely non-uniform experience.


  Starting from my high school years, when I was participating in two outreach programs

(the Gelfand’s outreach program at the Moscow University and the outreach program at the Moscow Physical Technical Institute), I have been tutoring high school students in Mathematics and Physics. I also led an outreach program at the Rostov Pedagogical Institute. Teaching at this level is really a pleasure, as young children usually are more interested, more opened for communication, and more receptive than most of adults.


  Lecturing at the Rostov Planetarium (1989-1992), I learned how to communicate with the audience which considers science as something lying outside of their carrier and major interests but also something exciting and worthy to paying attention and following its development. Some of the basic principles that I learnt are: a) it is more important with this kind of listeners to be more visually expressive than to be scientifically correct

(definitely, the incompleteness of images must be  mentioned and clarified in subsequent discussion); b) it is important to keep the number of topics for a single lecture small and to concentrate on a deeper and wider presentation of one or two objectives. What I am saying here may seem irrelevant to the college education, but I found teaching science courses for non-science majors very similar to planetarium lecturing. Since 2002 I have been teaching physics for non-science students at Yeshiva University each semester (there was also 2006 course of elementary statistics at NYU, but it was different as it was based on a strict curriculum). Of cause, there is a big difference in organizational structure between a planetarium lecture and a college course, but the basic principles of the presentation of material and communication with the audience are still the same. I want to believe that this approach contributed greatly to the fact that the number of students in my class each semester exceeded the maximum number allowed.    


  Higher level courses that I taught include Astronomy, Astrophysics, Statistical Physics, Thermodynamics, and Quantum Mechanics. Teaching at this level has one undeniable advantage – it helps you to refresh and deepen your own knowledge of subjects. Everything that was assumed to be right and left for the future thinking during your own studies must be cleared at this point – you must be able to perspicuously present the topics and contemplate on the difficulties that can be encountered. It was a pleasure to teach an elective course at the Cooper Union College, where most of my undergraduate students were already admitted to MIT or Ivy League colleges. There it was possible to concentrate on the most difficult parts of the curriculum and personal communications with the students. Teaching at the Yeshiva University was different because I had to concentrate more on the gaps in student’s mathematical education. In all cases the personal communication with the students in class and after class was one of the most productive elements of the teaching.


  In the spring 2006 I became involved in a project of creating an online Precalculus – Calculus course. The effects of interactive computer training were studied by psychologists and proved to have positive effects on learning in general. At present time the interactive computer training is widely adopted by businesses and industries.

It is clear that it also must play a bigger role in teaching at academic institutions. The CD version of the interactive software “Mathwise” from the UK Mathematics Courseware Consortium was adopted by the graduate school of Social Sciences at NYU. They claim that since they started using this course the rate of dropout on the advanced mathematical courses went down significantly. What I was doing, it was a creation a similar structured but absolutely independent from “Mathwise” online course. The advantage of an online course is that in addition to the network of internal links it also possesses a wide network of external links that is also extendable (the other obvious advantage is its unbounded accessibility). To create a really good online course requires a lot of efforts. I had to stop at a certain point and start looking for the financing of this project. To see what I have done so far, I can issue a password for my educational site:


   Let me finish with the statement that I have a very simple teaching philosophy. To be satisfied with teaching all that I need is to be prepared and to be in shape mentally and physically. So, I am always ready to spend extra time to prepare notes, some problems, read news, and stay with students after class as much as it is needed. It pays off, as in this way students feel your confidence and also they feel that they have opportunities to better present themselves, to better understand the requirements of the course and the demands of the professor. The following helps to achieve the goals: doing morning yoga, trying not to miss skiing in the winter, swimming during the summer, and listening to Dawn Upshaw in the Lincoln Center.