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Any teaching advice or tips?

  1. Sep 23, 2006 #1

    JasonRox

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    I just got a TA position and I have to teach for one hour a week in a seminar room.

    So, any tips?

    I'm sure I'm fine at presenting. I've taken Drama Class and so I shouldn't be that nervous.

    I'm going to go through the problems myself and solve them myself before going so that way I know everything about it. I have a solution manual to look through too.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 23, 2006 #2
    Yeah, quit while you can! :wink:
     
  4. Sep 23, 2006 #3

    shmoe

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    Make sure you know the material backwards and forwards. Mistakes on your first day and they'll lose confidence quickly. They can tell the difference between the TA asking "So does anyone have any suggestions on where to start problem" being asked to encourage class participation vs the TA being stumped. Something about smelling the fear in the TA's voice. They can smell fear. A good tip if you are stumped is to have a drink with you. Drink it to give time to think and relax. I recommend rum, or maybe a coke. Or a rum and coke.

    You shouldn't use the solutions manual in class, again, loss of confidence. this shouldn't be a problem with adequate preparation, which you seem to have planned. You can show them you have supreme confidence in your abilities by bringing your solutions manual and lighting it on fire. They like fire.

    A typical format for tutorials is having the TA answer problems that the students request. this is swell as long as your class is at least half alive and asks for enough problems to fill the hour, but it's a good idea to have something ready in case they just stare at you blankly. Alternatively, you can just stare back at them blankly for whatever time you have left. Next week they'll come with problems to keep "that crazy staring guy" from staring at them again. Or they might not come at all.

    If the front of the room and blackboard is on a raised section of the room, like a 6" platform is common in some small classes, try not to fall off it. Seriously, try not to fall off it. I mean this. I wish someone had warned me about this.
     
  5. Sep 23, 2006 #4
    I was going to warn him to check his zipper, teeth and nostrils. and make sure they are up, clean and empty.
     
  6. Sep 23, 2006 #5

    Gokul43201

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    Jason, are you doing recitations?

    Who are your students going to be? Your technique needs to be tuned to your target audience. The approach you use for math majors will not work with pre-med majors.

    And skip the rum...not a good idea, if you ask me! :biggrin:
     
  7. Sep 23, 2006 #6

    JasonRox

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    Well, I haven't talked to the professor yet, but I should be at the beginning of this week.

    I have some pre-chosen examples the professor wants me to go through, and so on.

    Yeah, I'm not going to use the solution manual. Only for correcting homework because I can't solve every problem there is. I have a life.

    It was the class I wanted because I'm strong in it and I understand it. I could have taken things like Calculus, but I have my weak spots and I'll admit it. I'll probably do it next year though.

    I'm actually not sure where the class is actually, but I'm sure it's not on a stage. :smile:
     
  8. Sep 23, 2006 #7

    shmoe

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    I've never heard of a university in Canada having recitations. We don't have mountain lions up here either :tongue:

    Seriously, what to you consider to be a recitation as opposed to a tutorial? I've only heard the term recitation from grad students from the US and could never sort out if there was a difference.

    Vodka then?
     
  9. Sep 23, 2006 #8

    shmoe

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    A stage would be safer! It's the small platform thats only a few inches that's the problem. Very easy to forget it's there because you aren't that much higher off the ground.

    The front of the room is filled with hazards you aren't even aware of as a student. Power cords for overheads are good to trip on. hard chalk exploding in your eyes. TV's in the upper corner of the room to bang your head on. Female students with googly eyes, plunging necklines, and ill fitting pants that don't cover their underwear. It's a good day if you don't have to be carried out on a stretcher.
     
  10. Sep 23, 2006 #9

    JasonRox

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    Yeah, I can see the girls as being a problem. :devil:
     
  11. Sep 23, 2006 #10

    Gokul43201

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    I'm guessing it's the same thing.

    That's what we call a reciatation.

    Canuks drink vodka?
     
  12. Sep 23, 2006 #11

    Moonbear

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    A tutorial usually means one-on-one instruction. A recitation means a scheduled class to go over homework problems, or any other problems. The idea is that the lecture just includes presentation of the material to a huge class, and then the recitation goes over homework problems and answers student questions in a small class (maybe 20 students instead of 200). It's also where quizzes are given.

    And...:rofl: about falling off a stage. I've never managed that one, and never thought to caution anyone about it. Though, apparently, when I was giving my proposal defense (we had to formally present our research proposal to the entire department for critique, not just our committee; I've never seen that done anywhere else), apparently my mentor thought I was going to fall off the stage...he said I kept walking so close to the edge, he was just sure I was going to walk right off. I guess he wasn't aware I had done a lot of performing in choirs, standing on tiny platforms and comfortable knowing where the edges are. :rofl:

    I think the most difficult thing to learn when starting out teaching is to know when it's okay to just say, "You know, that's a really good question, and I don't know the answer. If you'd like, I can look into it further and let you know next class," and when you're going to look like a total idiot if you don't know the answer. But, yes, as Shmoe already stated, students can sense fear, so if you really are stumped, there comes a point where it's better to just admit it than to keep trying to bluff. It does nobody any good for you to keep going in circles with a problem, and they'll lose all respect if you waste their time that way. I had a TA like that, would just keep going and going, and we could see he was just looping back to earlier steps and going absolutely nowhere. For the most part, we stopped attending class and just showed up on the days when there were quizzes. There was really no point for us to be there when he had no idea what he was doing and wouldn't even admit he was stumped.

    The other thing you'll want to learn to do is to explain the same point in several different ways. If you only know one way to explain it, when that doesn't make sense to a student, you need to be familiar enough with the idea to rephrase your explanation so they will get it. I'd suggest presenting the material for your first class or two to someone else, and let them ask questions, etc., and have them give you feedback. When I started out as a TA, we did this. All of the TAs for the course met once a week too, and actually did the labs we were teaching so we knew where there were likely to be glitches. If that's not an option, you could always ask someone else to just sit in on your class and give you feedback on what you could improve, because there's always something to improve. Even seasoned lecturers can use a little feedback from time to time to remind them of things they've begun to forget to pay attention to when giving a class.
     
  13. Sep 23, 2006 #12

    JasonRox

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    Good points.

    I've been stumped before when I tutored and I wasn't afraid to admit I didn't know. The students I tutored really liked me. One time, I didn't even apply to be a tutor and people called me. Friends told friends, and that was the story.
     
  14. Sep 23, 2006 #13

    Moonbear

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    :rofl: I'm short, so I've actually been in classrooms with pull-down screens for the projector where I couldn't reach the handle! It's not a problem if there are chairs that move, but when it's a room with all the seats bolted in place, I've had to beg for help from a tall student to get the screen down. :rofl: Other things to check out in advance are where the light switches are if you will need to dim them to use a projector. If the room has a white board or black board that has any sort of motorized controls on it, or if there's a screen that hangs in front of the boards that's motorized, find out where the switches are and which is which (you'd be amazed at how many knobs, dials, switches, and assorted other controls there are in the front of some classrooms...you'd think you were sitting at mission control for NASA!). Also, if you're using a white board or chalk board, bring your own dry erase markers or chalk...NEVER count on there being any left for you. There's nothing like finding 10 dry erase markers left on the tray by the board, only to find out that every single one of them has gone dry, at which point the only thing to do is slit your wrists and write in blood. :uhh: ...or find the secretary who is the dry erase marker queen...you should know who that would be in advance too.

    You just had no idea the perils of teaching that have absolutely nothing to do with the material you're presenting, did you?
     
  15. Sep 23, 2006 #14

    Gokul43201

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    Doing a recitation for a class of 20 or so is a whole different ball (or puck) game that one-on-one tutoring. Be prepared for at least 10 pairs of totally blank eyes.
     
  16. Sep 23, 2006 #15

    JasonRox

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    I never assumed that it was the same ball game. I just gave that as an example that I have admitted that I was stumped before.

    I know another student who's a TA for another class and admitted he was stumped for half the questions. I wouldn't take a course if I was weak in it. I don't know, but I would consider that to be a very bad start, but who knows, I might get even WORSE!

    Just playing. Should be lots of fun.
     
  17. Sep 23, 2006 #16

    shmoe

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    At the other end of the spectrum are the poorly maintained ancient rooms. Swtiches that haven't performed any function for years. Overhead screens that take 5 minutes of coaxing to get them to go up 3 inches all the while threatening to fall off the ceiling and KO you. Flickering lights. Strange fan like noises starting and stopping for no apparent reason. Grumpy students in desks that are so small they won't even fit an 8.5 by 11 sheet of paper. Those bolted desks, but missing the entire desk parts, i.e. just some large bolts sticking up from the floor (or maybe enough of the desk is left behind to impale yourself on).
     
  18. Sep 23, 2006 #17

    JasonRox

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    I guess the challenge isn't teaching, but actually surviving! :surprised

    It's no wonder that teachers/professors are the first ones out of the classroom!
     
  19. Sep 23, 2006 #18

    Moonbear

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    :biggrin: Some days it sure seems that way.

    And, I really do want to know who designed those desks that look like they're only 6" wide, and who decided it was a good idea to buy and install them in classrooms, because they both need to be clubbed repeatedly about the head.

    On the topic of survival, one of the grad students just passed his qualifying exam this week. He commented, "At least it's finally over," and I responded, "No, it's just the beginning." He protested that a bit, and I explained further, "That was just the test to prove you're masochistic enough for us to let you keep going." :devil: I just had to share that, because the first day teaching can sometimes feel like that too.
     
  20. Sep 23, 2006 #19

    Integral

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    I have scanned the thread and seen some excellent advise and some points that need to addressed.

    I believe in your first post you commented that you would not do all of the problems,... That you had a life..

    I guess you are not a grad student then? :biggrin:

    In all seriousness... Do as many of the problems assigned to the students as you can. Should be easy for you, if they are not, then you REALLY need to do them.

    When I ran into a rough spot in solving a problem, I would often take a seat along with the students, and attempt to solve the problem with them as if in a study session. This was a effort to draw them into a problem solving mode. It worked with some, not so well with others.

    I did not catch what the class is you will be a TA for.
    You did say it is not calculus.

    Good luck
     
  21. Sep 23, 2006 #20

    Moonbear

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    Another strategy to get the students interacting more, and to help them really learn, is to have them do some of the problems. If one person doesn't know how to do it, but someone else does, let them teach each other. But, you're still going to have to jump in on the ones that stump everyone, so make sure the hardest problems are ones you can readily solve.

    If you're grading, and notice that a lot of people got a particular problem wrong, make sure to dedicate time in the next class going over that one. That is really what they'll want to know so they can understand their mistakes and get it right the next time...especially if the next time is on an exam.

    If you notice they're confusing two different things frequently, then go through examples of them side-by-side so they can see where the differences are. That was actually something I was surprised nobody had thought to do before when I was TAing biology...of course that's different than math, but there were always a few organisms that were commonly confused because they looked pretty similar under a microscope, so I just got two slide projectors and put up pictures side-by-side and went through all the differences. I could just see that "aha" moment on a lot of the student's faces when I did this. But, for example, if there are two types of problems that get commonly confused, you might want to work them both out side-by-side on two boards in the room and point out why you solve one in one way, and the other a different way.
     
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