Catalysts: A Conversation Series on Teaching

Upcoming TLS Catalysts

This is a monthly series of conversations with UofA teaching award winners on their trials and triumphs in teaching. Led by the award winners themselves, the series is meant to provide a forum for celebration, conversation and reflection about teaching practices. Everyone is welcome to come and learn from some of our best teachers.

Upcoming Session: Design of Multidomain Demonstrations

Date: September 26, 2014
Time: 1 p.m. - 2 p.m.
Location: Edmonton Clinic Health Academy (ECHA) LOWER LEVEL 1-150

In this session participants will explore the design, use, and pedagogical alignment of demonstrations with various domains of learning. Experiences of different demonstrations, their development, and integration of demonstrations with assessment will be shared. Participants are encouraged to think about concepts which they have always wanted to demonstrate, or share stories with the group about their own experiences with demonstrations.

Presented by John Nychka, Chemical & Materials Engineering.

John Nychka

John Nychka
Associate Professor (Chemical & Materials Engineering)
Associate Chair - Undergraduate Program  

Materials engineering professor John Nychka has earned the 2013 Engineers Canada Medal for Distinction in Engineering Education, the 2011 Provost’s Award for Early Achievement of Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the 2011 Excellence in Education Award from the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta, the 2011 Faculty of Engineering Undergraduate Teaching Award in Chemical and Materials Engineering, and a 2009 Teaching Excellence Appreciation Award from the Delta Chi Fraternity. Nychka publishes scholarly articles on engineering education and pedagogy, and has presented sessions on effective teaching strategies at the U of A’s annual Celebration of Teaching and Learning, at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, and at the U.S. Materials Education Symposium. Nychka has also mentored graduate students pursuing careers in academia through the Fraser and Shirley Russell Teaching Fellowship within the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering. 

Teaching Habits
Nychka’s second-year introductory materials engineering classes are highly educational but also involve showmanship. Striding into a lecture hall with a banker’s box with the words “What’s in the Box?” pasted to the side, Nychka tailors his course to immediately capture the attention of his students and challenge their understanding of the world. On any given day the box could contain a five-pound lump of Silly Putty, paper clips and a propane torch—anything, really. Nychka then conducts an experiment to demonstrate that materials behave in ways the students never imagined possible. For example, who knew that you can cleanly snap a six-inch thick brick of Silly Putty in half without stretching it? He has recently developed ‘What’s in the Box?’ kits for students to use in labs. 

Why I Teach
“I teach because I have much to discover. I want to discover better ways of learning, teaching, engaging students, and developing teaching materials. I want to discover how to create better pedagogy in engineering education. I want to be there when students discover the magic of materials science and engineering, in the classroom or in the lab. I want to see students' smiles when they discover that the world is not what they thought it was, that they understand it better, and that they are instantly different people— forever. Most rewarding for me is when students realize their new found powers will enable them to solve problems that don't yet exist. Discovery is why I teach, and also why I still want to learn.”