Juan Pestana Describes Winning Teaching Technique

Featured Faculty: Juan M. Pestana

“Soil behaves like people behave,” says Professor Juan Pestana, and his students laugh.

“And that laughter,” says Pestana, “is the emotional connection in the students that will help them remember the material.”

Pestana, a popular professor in CEE’s Geoengineering program and recipient of Berkeley’s 2010 Distinguished Teaching Award, explains the classroom setting is not like training an athlete. “We do not have the luxury of teaching principles over and over, the way you would train an athlete. I have one shot.”

To make that one shot count, Pestana makes connections. And one of his favorite connection techniques is the psychological analogy.

I say, “Look, you have a kindergarten teacher in her class and the bell rings. (At this point my students look as if to ask what does this have to do with anything?) “The teacher tells the students to go to the playground. What happens next?  Typically the teacher will grab two kids, one in each hand, and they will walk towards the playground together. The movement of the teacher and the two kids represents advection, meaning the contaminant moves at the same velocity as the water flow.

“But then of course, you have the kids who run on ahead. And there will be one kid lagging behind. That separation, those kids not moving at the same velocity as the teacher is? That is mechanical dispersion.”

Pestana adds, “I have students coming up to me years later to tell me they still remember the various processes of contaminant transport.”

Published 03/14/2011