blighter wrote:Out of curiosity, are we allowed to enroll in 5 courses in a semester, considering that they expect us to give our time for our TA duties?
Very conveniently, the physics department doesn't have labs during the week that it gives preliminary exams. Since I didn't study for the exams, this was very convenient. I really believe that most prelim studying is a waste of time. What people should practice is math. If you can do calculus and algebra, and know the outlines of physics, you can probably pass the prelims. On the other hand, if you know all of physics, but make too many algebra mistakes, you can very easily fail these exams. (Same thing applies to the PGRE.)
From what I've heard, I got good marks from the student evaluations. There could be a number of reasons for this. For one thing, I always had their labs graded "on time", that is, a few days after they turned them in. I believe that it's not uncommon for grad students to get several weeks behind in this. And I grade one problem at a time so that I know I've given the same grade for equivalent work. Also, since I'm older, I believe the students argue less with me.
I made sure that the students did their lab work in the lab. This is department policy but is not well enforced. So in most labs students rewrite their lab notebook and turn in these incredibly polished reports. I do not allow this. The result is that they waste less time on labs outside of class.
Our labs follow the pedagogical theory of David Hestenes (you might know him from the Force Concept Inventory). This guy is my hero and I teach classes according to his theory. Most TAs give a 15-30 minute talk before the lab on the physics. I believe that 15 minutes is too long to keep their attention, and 27 is too large an audience for optimal. So I give them a 2 minute talk and get them started. Then I walk around the room and give talks on physics to 3 to 6 students at a time. This way it's much easier for them to ask questions. And the whole class doesn't have to wait for the slowest listener. I break the talks into 5 minute chunks and so I have to go around 3 to 5 times to get it across.
And I require that the teams work together to answer the questions of the lab. I do this by assigning grades according to the worst answer a member of the team turns in. You'd be surprised at how efficiently this will make your better students work at teaching their team members. The idea is that learning is done best in very small groups (but not alone).
Another thing I did was to assign extra work in the labs in the form of competitions. These were an experiment to see if it would increase the interest in the labs. Our labs are broken into 9 groups of three students each The groups change members each week. I renamed the groups "teams" and created a competition. Sometimes this was just making part of their lab more obviously competitive than was stated, and other times I added an extra stage to their labs. For example, when doing the "freefall" lab, each team had a target and three tries to hit it. These seem to have been well received. But to set them up, I had to do extra work outside of class (i.e. preparing unknown masses, etc.).
So overall, the department doesn't have any problems with how I've handled my teaching duties. (Probably the biggest problem I've caused would be the messy desk, but they actually haven't complained about it yet.)
And I believe that teaching is partially vaudeville and try to make things entertaining. Typical demonstration:
"This week's lab is about oscillation and resonance. You will be causing a spring-mass system to resonate. A great example of resonance is chalk squeaking. I've gotten old enough I can't hear it any more, but I used to be able to squeak quite effectively, when I needed to attract the attention of the students." [Takes chalk and squeaks it across the whole board and back. Student's faces writhe in horror. They never imagined that a squeak could be that loud nor last that long.] [Instructor grabs jaw.] "Wow! That must have worked; I think I've knocked out one of my fillings. Anyway, as usual I'll be talking to you in groups, let's begin!"