Importance of good teaching style

Van was ever aware of the importance of good teaching style in the professors. He recalled one of the math professors from his own days at the university.

Math 101 was the introductory math course for the engineering program. Professor Gage taught all of the sections of this particular class to keep his hand in it, for his duties as the dean occupied the rest of his time. The man had the most prodigious memory because whenever a student had something to say Gage would memorize their name. The professor brought no notes with him to class for he had mastered the material. Whenever he spoke it was with such enthusiasm that there was some risk of receiving a bit of spittle if you sat in the first few rows of the classroom.

One day, with time on his hands, Van dropped by to say hello to professor Gage. He walked into the Dean’s building and asked the receptionist if “he was in.” She smiled graciously and gestured towards his open office. Van returned the smile and went to tap on the open door. The professor looked up, recognized Van at once, greeted him by name, asked how he was doing, and thanked him for dropping by. Such was the nature of this great professor.

For the last class of the semester professor Gage gave a special presentation on the Calculus of Variations. Its purpose was to derive a function that optimized an objective function. You could use it to prove that a straight line is the shortest path between two points, that the shape of the fixed-length curve containing the most area was a circle, or that a chain hung from two different points defined a catenary.

Van was utterly fascinated by the cleverness of this calculus. At once he could see its application to his favorite subject: power engineering.

John Blommers
BASc 1973