# Wen (Rick) Zhou

Department of Statistics
Iowa State University
riczw@iastate.edu

Home > Teaching

### Previous teaching

Before starting my excited adventure on statistics, I have beeing teaching mathematics for almost six years at Iowa State University, from which I have constructed my own philosphy of teaching and learning. Regardless of the subject, the purpose of teaching and the job as an instructor is the same: helping the students to learn the subjects efficiently and enjoyably. This principle embodies my teaching philosophy. One key for that purpose is: allow me to quote Professor Luc Tartar's words:

...Why and When I had introduced an idea...

----Luc Tartar

I have been teaching (stand alone) many courses from undergraduate algebra to differential equaitons and Laplace transforms: Math 140 College algebra
Math 151 Calculus for business and social sciences
Math 160 Survery of Calculus
Math 165 Calculus I
Math 166 Calculus II
Math 181 Calculus and mathematical modeling for the life sciences I
Math 265 Calculus III
Math 266 Elementary differential equations
Math 267 Elementary differential equations and Laplace transforms
Stat 330 Probability and Statistics for Computer Science

Efficiency is not the same as inculcating students with formulas, theorems or definitions and endless notations. I believe science is not merely the formulas or theorems, but a continuous quest for light. As a teacher, my job is to show students how to find the light. In my math classes, instead of throwing out the abstract concepts and complicated terminologies, I often start with stories and practical examples. Examples always hold students' attention, stories stimulate their interest. When I taught ninety students in the Calculus for Life Science course, instead of introducing and solving dx/dt = ax(1-x/L)x on the blackboard, I explained elementary cell division to them. Most of them had already done laboratory experiments so I asked them to describe their own observations in vitro with mathematical language. Many students worked diligently on the question and suggested some interesting approaches. Likewise, when I taught solving second order linear O.D.E. in Differential Equations course, I encouraged the class to pretend to be a group of 18th-century researchers, described the interesting history of that time, and then asked them to solve from a very simple case to the general problem. They all get into the mood and tried hard, they found it easy to understand characteristic equations and performed
satisfactorily. In addition, the students concentrated on the lecture and they remembered the
material. As a result, students can think about and attack the problem by themselves. This not only improves problem-solving skills but helps them learn how to learn and think scientifically.

Students should enjoy learning math, stats, physics etc. and solving problems. However, some
students, especially those who are learning calculus for the first time, are confused even when they understand the materials that they have learned in my class. Nevertheless, this is not limited to my Calculus, College Algebra or Differential Equations courses; a similar situation arose when I was appointed to mentor graduate students to prepare for their Qualifying Exams on Numerical Analysis in the summer of 2008. I have observed that many students lack the ability to learn complicated or unfamiliar knowledge by using analogies and inferences. To overcome this, I first need to build their confidence in their ability to arrive at their own solutions and answers. I explain to the students that every complicated problem actually comes from a very simple one. Then, I ask them to recall some basic but relevant concepts, to identify the known and the goal, guide them from the familiar to the known and then from the known to the goal, and finally ask them to summarize the whole procedure and try solving another problem to clarify the concepts that they have learned. In this way, students not only acquire knowledge of mathematics, but also problem-solving skills that they can apply to other subjects. Meanwhile, the students can built confidences on learning math and enjoy learning.

Teaching is fun and also intriguring. Professor Don Sarri used to tell me: the best way to learn is to teach. That is true, indeed.

[Top]