August 1994



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Karen L. Johnston

At North Carolina State University, we take both a broad view and a long view of preparing graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs) in physics for teaching. Our multi-faceted program includes instruction and orientation for the situational training needed to make the transition from undergraduate student to graduate teaching assistant as smooth as possible, as well as instruction that embraces a longer view of the graduate student as the next generation of physics academicians.

University initiatives and programs with a general focus are designed to appeal to students across disciplines while our departmental program engages graduate students in student-centered reflective activities on teaching physics. The university-sponsored orientation program provides a glimpse into the teaching culture at North Carolina State University. The program includes workshops for all new graduate students on topics relevant to their new responsibilities in graduate school and optional programs to introduce aspects of graduate student life, such as fellowship opportunities and professional travel stipends from the Graduate Student Association. This one-day program is conducted prior to the beginning of classes in the fall semester and is mandatory for new graduate students for the first time in the 1994-1995 academic year. The semester-long departmental educational begins with a half-day program including a welcoming reception, departmental orientation and safety program. TAs are assigned laboratory teaching or tutoring in our Physics Tutorial Center or Physics Courseware Instructional Laboratory. A twelve-week program focusing on numerous aspects of physics teaching, required of all new TAs, is conducted in the fall semester. Graduate students meet once per week for one hour and engage in discussion, activity-based workshops and reflective processes intended to develop their skills as reflective teachers. While some of the activities address immediate situational issue facing the TA in his or her assigned duties, the underlying foundation for all discussions is effective teaching practices in the physics classroom/laboratory. Topics such as developing questioning skills, problem solving, learning styles, evaluations (student and self, including videotape analysis), student preconceptions, and testing are covered. All topics are placed in the context of the teaching of physics and include a wide variety of activities and practices that mirror the role of the teaching physicist.

The departmental program has evolved over the past twelve years. Several faculty participate in teaching particular topics. Research in physics education provides the background for most topics. Resources such as Arons' book, "A Guide to Introductory Physics Teaching" and publications from the American Journal of Physics and The Physics Teacher, along with chapters from Teaching Physics for First Time Teachers (in progress) serve as background reading in our program.

Karen L. Johnston is Professor of Physics at North Carolina State University where her research focuses on Physics Education.