Undergraduate Teaching Assistant Program
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Why become a Physics UTA?
- Help your peers learn Physics.
- Improve your own understanding.
- Develop teaching skills.
- Increase the diversity of our instructional teams.
- Become an undergraduate leader!
The Undergraduate Teaching Assistant (UTA) Program provides an excellent opportunity for students to gain teaching experience in introductory physics courses. UTAs work with course instructors and graduate TAs to facilitate cooperative learning sessions (co-ops), labs, and study halls (a.k.a. homework parties), and thus serve as an integral part of the course instructional team.
To support UTAs in developing successful teaching practices, new UTAs participate in a weekly one-credit seminar course, Physics 4484: "Teaching and Learning Physics", which covers key concepts in physics education theory and practice.
Ultimately, UTAs help their fellow students to learn physics. In the process, UTAs improve their own understanding of physics while also becoming better teachers, better learners, and better communicators!
The UTA program involves three related activities requiring a total time commitment of roughly 6 hours per week. UTAs are assigned to one of the Physics Department's calculus-based introductory or intermediate courses (e.g., PHYS 1112, 2213, 2214; 2207, 2208; 1116, 2217, 2218; 3316, 3317, 3318, 3327). They co-teach cooperative learning sections and/or labs with a graduate student TA and/or staff course study halls for a total of 2 contact hours per week. Course staff may ask UTAs to attend weekly instructional staff meeting. New UTAs attend a seminar on teaching and learning physics, and the ~6 hours includes preparation time and the seminar.
Practice: Each UTA partners with a graduate TA to facilitate two one-hour cooperative learning sessions or one two-hour lab each week. In co-ops, Students work in teams to solve complex problems through deliberate practice. The UTA and TA ask questions to guide the students toward a deeper understanding of the subject, and also provide feedback to the lead instructor. Cooperative learning sessions generally take place between 8:00 am and 1:10 pm, and labs between 12:20 pm and 4:25 pm (also 7:30-9 pm on MW). Some UTAs, typically those with previous experience, may be assigned to help out at study halls: drop-in problem solving / homework help sessions, which typically occur in the afternoons and evenings on Sundays and weekdays.
Preparation: Discussion section UTAs should work the assigned co-op problems and discuss any important points with their TA partners or other course staff. Lab UTAs will preview the lab and be familiar with the lab manual and equipment for each lab. Course instructors may ask UTAs to attend regularly scheduled instructional team meetings, consisting of Physics faculty, graduate TAs and UTAs, to prepare for the upcoming cooperative learning sessions and labs and to reflect on the previous week's activities. UTAs are particularly sensitive to the struggles of their peers and so bring important insights to the faculty and graduate TAs.
Pedagogy: New UTAs enroll and participate in the 1.5 hour weekly seminar course – Physics 4484: Teaching and Learning Physics. This interactive seminar introduces UTAs to key concepts in teaching and learning and guides them through reflection upon their teaching experiences. The seminar also provides a peer support network with which to share ideas and strategies.
Credit: UTAs enroll in 2 one-credit courses: Physics 4484 "Teaching and Learning Physics", the seminar course; and Physics 4485 "Physics Teaching Experience", which documents your in-class teaching experience. These credits will appear on your transcript, but do not count toward graduation requirements.
Eligibility: Not a physics major? Not a problem! Our UTAs typically come from more than a dozen majors in any given semester. All freshmen through seniors from any school/major who have taken at least one of Cornell's calculus-based introductory Physics courses (2207-2208, 1112-2213-2214, 1116-2217-2218) are encouraged to apply. Those students with interests in teaching at some point in their post-Cornell lives, especially at the middle school, high school or college level, are particularly encouraged to apply. Do not worry if you did not earn A’s – everyone benefits from teaching experience, and we consider all applicants.
Now accepting applications for Fall 2021
Questions? If you have any questions, or would like more information, please contact Dr. Jim Baker.