Session X4: Programs to Prepare Teaching Assistants to Teach

(co-sponsored by the Forum on Graduate Student Affairs and the Forum on Education)

Peter Shaffer, Session Chair, University of Washington

The invited session "Programs to prepare teaching assistants to teach" at the 2008 April APS Meeting illustrated three systematic and ongoing programs for the professional development of graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants (TAs). Each invited speaker described a program designed to leverage the standard departmental teaching assignments to help prepare TAs - not only for their current teaching responsibilities – but more broadly for their future roles as instructors of physics.

Preparing Undergrads to Teach (Well)

Steve Pollock, University of Colorado

Steve Pollock described a comprehensive and wide-ranging program for "learning assistants" (LAs) that encompasses not only several science departments at Colorado but also the College of Education. The LA program provides an opportunity for undergraduates who are interested in teaching at the K-12 levels to learn about physics education and obtain first-hand teaching experience in the small group tutorial sections offered by the department. Faculty in the College of Education augment this experience by connecting the teaching experience of the students to research on how students learn and what is currently regarded as "best practice" in K-12 classrooms. This program, which has proved popular among undergraduates, encourages them to think seriously about careers as precollege teachers.

Professional development of graduate TAs: The role of physics education research

MacKenzie Stetzer, University of Washington

MacKenzie Stetzer discussed the extensive TA preparation program associated with the introductory calculus-based course at the University of Washington. This program, which is based on Tutorials in Introductory Physics, is required of all graduate students in the Physics Department during their first year of teaching. The TAs are provided with a structured teaching experience that helps them understand some of the specific problems that introductory students encounter in learning physics and illustrates ways of teaching that have proved effective in promoting student learning. The effect of this program has been extensively documented and has formed the basis for similar programs at other institutions.

Preparing and Sustaining Teaching Assistants

Ken Heller, University of Minnesota

Ken Heller presented an overview of the long-term, systemic approach that the Department of Physics at the University of Minnesota has taken to the preparation of teaching assistants. A primary goal is to make the experience valuable for not only the teaching assistants, but everyone involved in the course. The teaching assignments are designed to emphasize the role of the TAs as coaches for the students. The TAs are supported by a five day orientation, a weekly seminar program, a system of mentor TAs, and ongoing meetings with the course instructor to help ensure that their actions as TAs are an integrated part of the course.