November 7th, 2019

The Focus is You: Kathleen Koenig

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focus is you: kathleen koenig

Although Kathleen Koenig was terrified of public speaking as a student, she now teaches lecture classes with 135+ students. As an associate professor in the Physics Department at the University of Cincinnati, Koenig says her former teachers would never have envisioned her in this role.

Q: What would your students be surprised to find out about you?

Koenig: My students would be surprised to find out that I am actually pretty shy and from grade school through college absolutely dreaded speaking in front of others.  I now teach large lecture classes with 135+ students and have come to learn to enjoy being in front of the class guiding student learning.  My former teachers would never have envisioned me in this role though and I can still remember my terror in middle school when I learned I had to do a 3-minute speech for English class!

Q: How do you keep things fresh in the classroom?

Koenig: I absolutely love to show selected Youtube videos in my physics classroom to keep students excited about the material and also bridge the content to everyday life.  I particularly like it when the video lends itself to my pausing it so I can ask students to predict an outcome.  Often students’ intuition is such that many predict incorrectly.  I then have students discuss their ideas with their peers and make a second prediction before showing the outcome on the video.  This is usually followed by “ah-ha” moments of understanding, and without my asking, students who were correct frequently jump into conversation with those around them to explain it again.

Q: If you could pass on any wisdom to your students what would you share?

Koenig: I share this with my freshman STEM majors every year.  I am not sure where I first heard it, but it is very powerful. There are three things every student should get out of college to set oneself up for a content life.  First, find what it is you absolutely love.  It could be a subject of study or it could be a process such as problem solving.  Second, get good at it.  Do everything you can to master it.  Third, figure out how you can use your passion and newly learned skills to make the world a better place. 

Q: What constitutes as a “good day” in class?

Koenig: A good day at school is one in which everything flows. That is, my mini-summaries of the homework readings are met with students nodding their heads in agreement,  the majority of students then actively engage in discussing the conceptual clicker questions or problems I give them to solve, and the demonstrations I do are met with smiles and laughter followed by the majority of students answering related clicker questions correctly. And perhaps most importantly, a good day is one in which I get through all the planned material and activities and have enough feedback from students to know that they both enjoyed the class and learned what I expected them to learn.

Q: What is the hardest thing about being a teacher?

Koenig: My biggest challenge with being a teacher is reaching every student.  I teach large lecture physics classes and my students are diverse, not just in ethnicity and socio-economic status, but also in math literacy and scientific reasoning abilities.  Most are freshmen living away from home for the first time and many are struggling with issues that interfere with their ability to focus on learning, such as financial worries, concerns related to first generation college students, and mental illness, to name a few.  I have been teaching for 25 years and although I work to continuously improve my teaching to support student learning, I think my biggest challenge is reaching each and every one of my students and providing them the support they need to be successful.