Dan Garcia's First Discussion Section Thoughts


This is a letter I wrote to my advisor after teaching my very first discussion section, 9/5/92. It was through this experience, and others like these, that I been convinced that teaching is my true calling. The course I was teaching was Computer Graphics (cs184) at the University of California at Berkeley.

Letter to my advisor, 9/5/92


I am so bubbling with this that I just had to tell you.

On Friday at 4pm I began my first discussion section *ever*, which was scheduled to run until 5pm. It was optional, and the students were supposed to bring questions from the first homework so that I could help them with it. Well, 5 people showed up, and I had them sit in the front so the class wouldn't seem so empty. I proceeded to give them hints about the homework, how to approach the questions, and the like. I ran a bit late -- 15 minutes past the official end of class. So, at 5:15pm (on a Friday, mind you) I announced that the class was 'officially' over and that anyone who wanted to leave could if they wished.

Nobody moved.

I began to segue into fractals and fractal geometry and how that related to computer graphics. Most of them didn't know a lot about fractals, so I basically gave a short history of them, taking most of the information from two lectures that Dr. Benoit Mandelbrot had given in the Spring. I interjected little snippets about my early MIT scheme course in which we wrote a fractal generator for our first assignment. I looked at my watch just to get a sense of how late I was running.

It was 6pm. I had been teaching for 2 hours.

I was having a *blast*, and didn't want to stop. I very easily could have ended class then, but I was really feeling a connection and they appeared to be having as much fun as I was. I continued to discuss fractals and why they were so cool and how simple they were. I mentioned Sierpinski's triangle and we talked about why it's impossible to find an absolute perimeter of England. They would ask questions; I would ask questions; it was totally fun. I looked at my watch, to get a sense of when I should begin wrapping things up.

It was 6:45.

I spent 10 minutes summarizing and then thanked the class. I'd had a great time. I figured they'd walk away and get something to eat. Not a chance.

They *all* came to the board and continued to ask questions for another 20 minutes.

I arrived home, exhilarated but truly exhausted after teaching for 3 1/2 hours. After dinner I realized that this had been an almost spiritual experience, one of those rare times when the students' and teacher's interests are perfectly aligned. I intend to remember that day for the rest of my life.

I cannot wait until next Friday.

Dan Garcia
Saturday afternoon, 9/5/92

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