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Teaching Assistant?

  1. Jan 9, 2015 #1
    Here in about a week and a half I will begin teaching 3 lab courses.
    I am very nervous!
    If you have been a lab instructor for a mechanics lab, about how much time did you spend lecturing the material?
    Were you nervous at first?
    I know I can go through the material myself without an issue, but teaching it to someone else obviously requires some formality and clear direction... did you spend a lot of time prepping the lecture portion?
    Any tips will most likely calm me down I'm sure.
    Thank you for all serious replies.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 9, 2015 #2

    Orodruin

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    I have never TAd a lab course, but I can share my teaching experience and in particular the first times.

    The first course I was a TA in was a relativity course and I spent the better part of a month reviewing the material and doing all of the problems in the course compendium although I had achieved the best mark in the very same course just two years prior. In retrospect, I was definitely overdoing it, but I think it helped me to feel more secure. Still I was very nervous when I started the TA sessions but it turned out very well.

    The same kind of nervousness came back the first time I was going to lecture a course. Again, I spent a good deal of time on thinking about how to handle the material.

    I think in the end, preparations do pay off but perhaps you do not need to be as crazy with preparations as i was. Students will notice a few main things which are important to convey: Interest in the subject, taking an interest in students learning, and yes to some extent being prepared. However, I do not think a good teacher is made by extensive infallible subject knowledge. If you have to tell a student that you cannot answer their question on the spot, do not feel bad about it. Tell them you will get back to the, and then do just that once you have discussed it with the lecturer or simply thougt about it properly.
     
  4. Jan 9, 2015 #3

    Doug Huffman

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    I taught OJT reactor safety review. One may be competent but one does not know - grok - a field until you have taught and dodged all the lead-pipes (loaded questions) your students can invent.

    A quick way for us to get in trouble was to try to BS through a question. Far better was to acknowledge lack of preparation and come back with a good answer.
     
  5. Jan 9, 2015 #4

    symbolipoint

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    Teaching is teaching regardless of your being professor, "teacher", "instructor" or teaching assistant. LESSON PLAN! Learn what this means and make them.
     
  6. Jan 9, 2015 #5
    I've TA'd a mechanics course three times before, and doing it two more times this semester. Mechanics is lots of fun to TA in my opinion - things are intuitive. Yes, you WILL be nervous - the important thing to remember is that no one really cares if you make mistakes. I always write things on the board wrong, grade reports slightly unfairly (take a point off for something on one person's paper, and not on another's, for instance), lose my train of thought when explaining things, the list goes on and on. At the end of each semester I give a short little survey and have the students give comments. Their number one comment is always "it's so nice to have a TA who cares".

    That's a long way of saying that the fact that you actually CARE is a very good first step. As for how long you should spend lecturing the material, I usually devote 5-ish minutes to going over the previous lab and answering questions about grading, then 15 or so minutes to describing the lab. I also talk fast when nervous, so that's maybe too short.

    Best thing to do is make a list of bullet points you want to cover when describing the lab. Derive all equations in advance (you'd be amazed how easy it is to not know what 4 divided by 2 is in front of ~40 people). You'll do great :)
     
  7. Jan 9, 2015 #6

    Choppy

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    Of course you'll be nervous. You'll be standing up in front of people and talking. If that doesn't make you nervous on some level, you should double check your pulse.

    Tips that I have...
    1. If at all possible run through the lab on your own ahead of time. Even the most straight-forward experiments have their own idiosyncrasies. If you can tackle those on your own, you can concentrate more on specific issues your students are having.
    2. Make your expectations clear. I usually gave out a rough marking scheme and established what I expected in a report. That makes the marking a lot easier and students tend to appreciate clear expectations. It also eases those conversations with the types who seem to think that a 9.5/10 will keep them out o medical school.
    3. Keep the lecturing to a minimum. The point of a lab is for students to get their hands dirty. Also, they'll appreciate the extra time.
    4. If you have to lecture, it can help to break it up. Instead of a 20 minute bolus of a speech at the beginning you can sometimes break up the talk into 10 minutes at the start and 10 minutes in the middle.
    5. Try not to give answers away. Be helpful, and do everything you can to steer your students in the right direction, but try to avoid spoon feeding them anything. In this respect students are like wildlife... once you start feeding them, they come to rely on it.
    6. Don't be afraid to let you passion for the subject show through.
     
  8. Jan 12, 2015 #7

    Andy Resnick

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    First things first- I assume this is the lab section for an introductory physics class (Physics 1)? College? High school? Other? Is the lab part of a lecture-based course, or is it a stand-alone lab class? Are lab write-ups due at the end of the lab or at the beginning of the next lab? If it is part of a introductory course, you should have a lab manager/supervisor that should be able to talk to you about all of these- for example, how much time you should spend explaining the lab.

    My $0.02 based on observing our lab TAs (intro physics): they lecture too much and don't know the equipment well enough. Make sure you can troubleshoot the apparatus and understand possible reasons for 'bad' data. Let the students struggle and intervene as little as possible. Be on the lookout for cheating- you will be surprised what students can do with a smartphone. And I agree with Choppy- communicate your expectations clearly (for example, what is your position regarding significant figures and error analysis?) and let your enthusiasm for the subject show.
     
  9. Jan 14, 2015 #8

    vela

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    Most important thing is to be prepared. You don't want to feel stupid in front of your class, and your students want to know their instructor cares about the class.

    Don't spend too much time lecturing. Keep track of the time while you talk to the class. It's very easy to talk too much. I'd try to limit yourself to 15 or 20 minutes at most. Remember that the students should be coming into class prepared, so you shouldn't have to explain the entire experiment to them. I'd focus on material they haven't seen before, like how to use the equipment. (So it's important that you do at least a dry run of the experiment beforehand so you know how to use the equipment.)

    The students often don't get very much out of a lecture, especially if they're freshmen. They'll learn more by trying to figure out how to do the lab. What I found really helpful when I taught lab was advising students on how to avoid common mistakes. While students need to freedom to experiment, you also don't want your students wasting an hour chasing a dead end or taking bad data. Make sure you check on the students during class to make sure they're on track and making progress.

    Before your first class, you should think about how you plan to run the course. What's the grading scheme? When are lab reports due? What do you expect the students to do to be prepared for the lab? How do you plan to deal with a cheater? (Hopefully, cheating won't be a problem, but if it happens, it helps to have thought about how you're going to deal with the dishonest student.)
     
  10. Jan 14, 2015 #9

    ZapperZ

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    This is highly specific to the school or the professor that you are TA'ing for. Ask other TAs, and ask the instructor on what you should do and how much you should cover the material.

    Secondly, if you haven't done so, go through the experiment yourself. You don't have to actually do all of it, but you need to at least be familiar with the type of measurement and instrument that the students will be dealing with. You do not want to start figuring out all of this in front of the students when they asked for your help.

    Finally, give some thought on the nature of the lab report that you expect the students to write. The clearer you are on what you expect from the students, the easier it is for them to navigate the course. You need to figure out how involved you will be when they are performing their experiments. Are you going to allow groups larger than 2 per set up? Are you going to care that a student just sits there watching his/her lab partner doing all the experiment? How are you going to deal with duplicate lab reports or cases of cheating?

    Etc etc... As you go along, you'll discover a lot of things that you need to consider and deal with.

    Zz.
     
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