I am a TA again this semester, teaching the first semester of Physics for Biology and Pre-Medicine, which consists mostly of mechanics. I decided to start keeping a weekly journal of the experience, how well I feel the students are learning, which things are working well, and what I need to do to improve.
Jasper over at Morning Coffee Physics apparently had the same idea that I had, and the class that he is teaching seems to be along the same lines as mine, so I will link to his posts for an interesting comparison.
Chad at Uncertain Principles is doing a similar thing for his modern physics course, so be sure to check it out for a look at what professors go through when teaching a lecture class.
The class is required for a variety of different majors in biology- and health/medicine-related areas, and is in many ways typical of “physics for pre-meds” classes offered at campuses all around the country. However, the course is nominally calculus based, unlike many versions of the subject that I am familiar with. (However, students can get by with very little knowledge of calculus, as most of it is contained in derivations, and even then, it’s mostly simple derivatives.) Also, the professors make some effort to relate the material more directly to biological problems, even if these efforts sometimes fall flat. I will comment on these efforts as they come up during the semester.
I teach two sections of 17 students each during a two-hour weekly lab and a one-hour weekly discussion session. The lab topics cover the standard introductory lab topics, but with somewhat of a twist: the labs are supposed to be collaborative problem solving, rather than strictly canned labs. This essentially boils down to the students having to decide how many data points they must take to confirm or disprove their prediction. In addition, we’re not supposed to tell the students exactly the equations that their data are supposed to fit, although later in the last semester, I often broke down and derived the equation for them at the beginning of the lab, and explicitly told the students to check these equations.
The discussion sessions are also collaborative problem solving endeavors. The groups are given a problem that is intended to be too involved for any of the students to solve individually. Through collaborations, approximations, and some prodding from their TA, the students are to do their best to solve the problem. If necessary, I will finish the session by reviewing the key topics the students were supposed to think about, and perhaps sketch a solution to the problem. About every third week, the problem will be the first question of their quiz, which they will complete on the following day.
Continue reading ‘Teaching Journal, Week 1′