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My philosophy of effective teaching consists of two aspects: assisted learning and independent problem solving. Assisted learning is to use social interactions to provide students with appropriate support as they work on challenging tasks. Independent problem solving is essential for each student to experiment various ways of coping with new learning tasks, to apply knowledge rather than memorize information, and to improve critical thinking skills. In my opinion, a successful learning process should take place first in effective assisted learning (interpersonal learning) and then in independent problem solving (intrapersonal learning).

I believe scaffolding students based on individual needs and interests is an essential teaching strategy. Here are specific things I would do to scaffold a student. A vague, difficult concept can become clearer if it is being explained with examples or illustrated with something visual. To elicit deeper thinking, I would ask students open-ended questions. The opening question of my tutoring, for example, is typically used to bring students mind to the learning context. It is often related to such topics as popular news, familiar natural phenomena, daily activities, or interesting stories that are relevant to the learning task. To further challenge students, I encourage students to raise questions that will help guide students to extended learning opportunities. Finally, I always leave time for practice at the end of each learning session. The goal is to help students review what they have just learned and enable me to obtain on-site feedback on the effectiveness of my teaching.

Understanding the academic and cultural backgrounds of students is one of the most important aspects of teaching. For instance, teaching physics often involves a lot of mathematical derivations. The students mathematical background often determines how detailed the derivation should be so that my explanation is neither boring nor confusing. If the student lacks the mathematical knowledge to understand the derivations, I need to first find out exactly where the students math level in order to decide how detailed my explanation should be and what information could be skipped from the explanation. Understanding the diverse backgrounds of students is really important, especially when helping in the fields of mathematics and physics.

My teaching philosophy is rooted in my extensive educational experiences at two universities in two countries. At Nanjing University, a leading institution in China, and then the University of Delaware, I worked as Teaching Assistant in four undergraduate physics courses offered to both science and liberal arts majors. These four courses covered general physical science education and introductory and intermediate physics. My responsibilities included teaching labs, leading discussion sessions, and grading students assignments. Supervising undergraduate students research was also part of my teaching experiences. As a senior Research Assistant, I supervised undergraduate students who volunteered to participate in the research activities of my laboratory. My work included introducing to them the research projects in the lab, teaching them how to use apparatus, advising on their research work, and discussing their progress with them. Being both a teacher and learner of physics, I was placed in a unique situation to understand the challenges and needs of students and to improve my teaching accordingly. In fact, my teaching style and strategies have been evolving as I learned by studying and observing my supervisors, my peers, and most important, my students.

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Lai’s Qualifications

Education & Certification

Undergraduate Degree: Nanjing university - Bachelor of Science, Physics

Graduate Degree: University of Delaware - Doctor of Philosophy, Physics


Sports, music, travelling, and reading.

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