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TAing next week, any suggestions?

  1. Aug 18, 2007 #1
    So I'll be starting my first TA appointment this coming week (the first recitation I teach is this Tuesday). It's the first time I'm doing it, but seeing as how I'm trying to get into a teaching career after my PhD, I actually want to do a good job. Any suggestions from experienced teachers?
     
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  3. Aug 18, 2007 #2

    Doc Al

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    What course will you be TAing? One (obvious) piece of advice: Solve the problems yourself ahead of time. You're going to get all the tricky questions that the professor didn't have time to answer or just blew off. You may be the only hope they have, so know your stuff. :smile: (I suspect you'll do an excellent job!)

    I had a great time TAing, back in the day. Have fun with it.
     
  4. Aug 18, 2007 #3
    Hi Doc Al, thanks for your suggestions. I'm TAing recitations and the lab for the second semester calculus based course (it covers E&M, waves and oscillations, and optics).

    I do have one specific question. The lecture professor has asked each of us to write a 10-15 minute recitation quiz for our students every week. Grade-wise the quizes aren't that significant, since they account for about 5% of the final grade. But one thing that's concerned me is whether I should write easy or challenging quizes. I figured that difficult quizes would more effectively prepare my students for the exams, but on the other hand, I'm also told that poor scores can discourage them as well. Would you say that it's a good idea to write quizes that are more difficult than the exams?
     
  5. Aug 19, 2007 #4
    I took the course youre describing last year. As far as the quizzes are concerned, if you gave them hard quizzes, it might make them study more in the beginning, but in the end, I know of friends/people who just didn't come to recitation because of their lower quiz scores. Think about it this way, they figure that they're doing badly on the quizzes, so what's the point of going and wasting 1 hr of their time, when they can be sleeping/eating/drinking/whatever.

    If you give easy quizzes, it might boost their morale, but you won't be able to get them to learn most often.

    My TA last year (in 2006) was excellent. He was very friendly... remember to SMILE! That helps a lot, it can sorta comfort your studets. Talk with them, laugh, but get down to business as well. Also, if I were you, I'd just tell them that you're available any time, if they need help. It shows them that you care, but I garuntee you that hardly anyone will come anyway. Also, you should do tons of examples, it seems like thats the way to go in that class. What he did was briefly went over the topics (2-5 min), then did problems. Also waht might help, if ou're really devoted is to provde a quick summary sheet for each chapter, of the basic topics/theories/equations. It might help them for the test.

    Anyway, good luck, it'l be fun.
     
  6. Aug 19, 2007 #5

    Gokul43201

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    Learn your students' names quickly. A seating map (what I use) or photographs will help immensely.
     
  7. Aug 19, 2007 #6

    robphy

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    Some suggestions:

    establish some authority early on [e.g., students should: arrive on time, give you full attention when asked, not read the paper, not talk on a cell-phone].

    since you represent the prof and the department, try not to contradict them and their policies... If you think something is wrong with a policy, get advice from other TAs and the prof first.

    be in touch with the way they are being taught by the professor and the textbook... use the same notation and strategies... of course, if you have a better way, you can try to teach that as well [or at least frame it in terms of what they are learning]

    if you make a mistake or don't know something, tell them so and that you'll get back to them... don't BS... they'll know it.

    when you do the problems yourself [ahead of time], try to think about why you did the step you did.... and try to anticipate what the students might do... consider alternate approaches... How can you convince your students that the method and the answer are correct?

    in my opinion, achieving the numerical answer is not as important as the method of solution and the physical interpretation of the solution. If you can, you might want to emphasize the algebraic solution over the numerical one.

    there are situations in which it's good for you be asked to do a problem on the spot [i.e. not ahead of time]... "Could you do problem 4, which isn't on the homework?"... use this as an opportunity to share with your students what you are thinking about and how you struggle to solve the problem

    I think it's helpful to identify the nature of the student difficulty... is it a problem in math [e.g. finding the components of a vector] or a problem in physics [e.g. drawing the correct free body diagram]? (Problems in math are not necessarily your [and your professor's] problem... maybe they should have learned it in a prerequisite math course. Of course, you might have to still teach them that math [maybe from a physicist's viewpoint].... but don't let the recitation turn into a math course... focus on the physics. Don't let physics get bashed because of student shortcomings in math.)

    my $0.02
    good luck... and have fun
     
  8. Aug 19, 2007 #7
    from a student's pov, i would love for a TA to be serious. i wouldn't mind having an overall hard quiz to help me prepare for my exam. also, perhaps you could do a few example problems with every step shown, then after that, do it your way ... i love to see how ppl who truly know what they're doing solve problems.

    i like to go from A to C, but of course, i need help being able to go from A to B first.

    good luck, you'll do great!

    also, be organized! it's very irritating when time is wasted, i could be using that time hitting on some girl or something.
     
  9. Aug 19, 2007 #8

    JasonRox

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    Boring.

    You already have authority because you mark their homework. No need to be a dictator. Gain respect and respect will lead them to arriving on time, paying attention, not using cellphone and etc... I've never heard of a respected dictator before. Think about it.
     
  10. Aug 19, 2007 #9

    robphy

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    I'm not saying be a dictator.
    I'm saying set the ground rules that this is a situation for learning physics... and yes, frame it as a situation involving respect of the TA and of the fellow students.

    Case in point: if homework is to be submitted by a certain time, stick to it.... maybe let a couple late ones slip by in the beginning. If you are not somewhat assertive when you need to be and have no control of your class, things won't run well. It's hard to enforce an old policy, if you've let it slip by throughout the semester.


    My suggestions are inspired by my experience as a TA [among other TAs] and as a professor. They have worked well for me.
     
  11. Aug 19, 2007 #10

    JasonRox

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    Same here.

    I'm strict with my grading. I might have maybe changed my marking like only twice as a TA. They normally go to the professor because I know I am consistent and such. My professor noticed and really liked my consistency.

    Anyways, I was chill with my seminars. My students liked it. I got positive feedback e-mailed to my professor and the whole faculty found out about it, which was sweet.

    My main goal is to make myself approachable for questions. Most TA's think they are, but 99% of them are not. I'm very sociable so I guess students like that.

    I hope to have more fun as a TA this year. I'm excited for it.
     
  12. Aug 20, 2007 #11

    robphy

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    One more thing... over the course of time...
    it's a good idea to get some good teaching experience while in grad school... and it helps to get non-trivial teaching experiences and get recognized for it.

    Examples: opportunities to lecture, to teach in the summers... do labs as well as recitations... do different types of courses... try to earn "Outstanding TA"-type awards, etc... on occasion, participate in HS teacher training and other outreach with your department... develop your own teaching materials [notes, solutions, tutorials, webpages]... attend AAPT conferences. Of course, balance all of this with your graduate work and research.

    In my opinion, you will increase your market value when searching for a job in academia [at least for positions that place some emphasis in teaching].
     
  13. Aug 20, 2007 #12

    JasonRox

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    If your goal is to teach, you should do all that.

    My schedule is busy enough. I've got my professor to book me rooms to do free exam reviews and such, but that's all I can do. I don't plan on teaching, so I'm happy with what I do. I got 2 different courses done so far, and maybe by the end of the year it'll be 4 different courses.

    When I say busy, I mean busy with more than just school work.
     
  14. Aug 20, 2007 #13
    gee now i know what i did wrong in my ta appointments...
    So...here's what NOT to do:
    Skip steps in your derivation (written on paper beforehand). You will definitely be asked how you got from this line to the next and then you'll have to struggle with some disgusting geometry or something and the kids will thinnnk you're dumb but you're not, just beyond such trivial tripe and further you are nervous...And don't underestimate the value of "the final answer" and stupid constants that arise in physics problems like the mass of the earth, etc. These things have an enormous significance for the undergrads.
     
  15. Aug 21, 2007 #14
    Thanks everyone for the suggestions. It's helpful to get input from TAs/professors as well as current undergrad students. Anyway I teach today; I'll try to keep all of this in mind!
     
  16. Aug 21, 2007 #15

    Doc Al

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    quiz ideas

    I think robphy has given some excellent advice here!

    Regarding the quiz, here's an idea that I found useful. Take a relatively hard (but instructive), multistep problem and have the quiz lead them step-by-step through the solution by asking a series of pointed, but relatively easy questions and sub-problems. This would serve both as a review of basic principles but also as a way to teach a bit of problem solving strategy.

    Don't be afraid to toss in a few multiple choice questions now and again. You can make the answers as clever and instructive as you wish. I found this especially useful when dealing with concepts that are easily confused--it really wakes them up and nails the point home.

    These quiz ideas might be a bit too easy, but the students just might learn something. Make the quiz part of your teaching strategy.
     
  17. Aug 21, 2007 #16
    I was thinking the same thing, glad to hear I was on the right track. I actually prepared a multistep practice problem for them today. It's a bit difficult (basically I've asked them to find the gyroradius of a charged particle in a homogeneous magnetic field), but I plan to go through it with them, so hopefully it shouldn't be so bad.
     
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