Getting Graduate Students Comfortable with their Power

A little background: within Physics 691G, we do a two-week unit on issues of identity in the classroom. We segue into the unit by thinking about the challenges in evaluating teaching which is done in the context of the new grads observing more experienced TAs. After we explore the challenges of evaluating teaching, the new grads complete an worksheet based upon an exercise developed by Kirsten Helmer of TEFD. In this assignment, the new grads must they explicitly consider their positionality along multiple axes. We then spend two weeks looking at case studies of various interactions within the classroom. During the first week, we investigate situations where the new grads identity as a student is salient. The second week, we move to situations where their identity as instructors is more relevant. In that second week, many of the new grads seemed uncomfortable with the power that being in an “instructor” role bestows.

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Getting rid of the importance of “explaining”

Just like last year, I am currently teaching Physics 691G – Graduate Student Professional Development Seminar. This course has multiple goals that it pursues through the lens of TA training:

  • Making sure our new graduate students are ready for those first few days of TAing
  • Provide an opportunity for new graduate students to reflect on their new identity as they move from students to research colleagues
  • Provide an opportunity to explore the ideas of modern research-based pedagogy
  • Provide an opportunity to explore some professional development skills such as presentation giving which are deeply connected to their experience as TAs

This is quite an ambitious list for a course that meets for one-hour per week and also, by design, tries to keep the outside-of-class workload down (new graduate students are busy after all!). One thing I am noticing in particular this round as I have continued to refine the course is the persistence of the idea that explaining content is a teacher’s number-one job. An idea that is clearly challenged by the modern literature’s focus on the importance of student construction of knowledge.

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Professional Websites as an Assignment

As the new semester starts, I am once again teaching P619G – Graduate Student TA Training and Professional Development Seminar. This course for the professionalization of first-year UMass-Amherst physics graduate students; we strive to give our new graduate students tools such as time management and presentation skills that they can use throughout their careers. To help with more immediate concerns, these skills are taught through the lens of TA training. Presentation skills can easily be taught through the practice of giving mini-lectures in lab sessions, for example. How could these skills be documented by graduate students in a useful way? Could we do something similar for our undergraduate students, who also have a freshman seminar?

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Brokk’s reflections on AAPT Summer Meeting 2018

During my AAPT SM18 experience, I focused on presentations and posters from three main areas in which I have deep personal interest: IPLS/curriculum development, diversity/equity in physics, and self-efficacy/attitudes. In addition, I attended several sessions related to areas of interest for our department, specifically on integrating computation through the curriculum. In this post, I will synthesize and reflect on my take-aways from the conference. I saw a lot of good talks. As such, this post is somewhat long.

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UMass-Amherst Goes to AAPT SM18!

Jake Shechter presenting at AAPT SM18
Jake Shechter presenting at AAPT SM18

Brokk Toggerson, Chris Ertl, David Nguyen, and Jake Shechter are currently presenting their work at the AAPT Summer 2018 Meeting in Washington, DC.

Chris Ertl, is presenting on the fully-online labs he has been developing for the online versions of Physics 131 and 132.

Brokk Toggerson is presenting a poster on Physics 131, a poster on P132, and a presentation on P390T.

Jake Shecter is presenting on Physics 691 on Graduate TA Training and Professionalization.