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Computer science concepts can be confusing, but Joseph Halpern finds it fun to help students understand them. "I get a kick out of convincing students that what they thought would be incomprehensible really makes sense," he says.
A good puzzle can spice up what might be an otherwise dry lecture, says Halpern. "I'm still basically a talking head at the front of the class, but I try to find interesting examples and puzzles and problems that aren't necessarily in the book to get students thinking," he says. "I suspect I use puzzles and paradoxes more than most people."
Over the years, Halpern says his teaching style has become more relaxed. "I've probably loosened up a bit, telling stories about the history of the field and using puzzles—going beyond standard textbook material," he says.
There's no magic tricks to help a struggling student, says Halpern. "The first step is to let them know that I know they're struggling, and I'm there to help," he says. "But then they have to do their part—extra homework, reading the lecture notes, watching another video, going to more office hours. I can provide some extra help and extra homework, but then it's up to them."
Halpern warns new faculty against trying to cover too much ground in one course. "Doing a little less, but doing it well, is typically better than covering a lot of material," he says.
Teaching so many students over the year has shown Halpern the need to tailor his approach to fit a wide variety of learning styles. "There are many says both to understand and misunderstand," he says. "That means you have to explain things different ways, especially the important things."