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my other thought!

March 9, 2010

Wow, I’m spamming y’all today.
I remembered my other thought! I had a grand total of one useful discussion leader when I was in undergrad. As for the rest, I skipped whenever attendance wasn’t required, and usually found something else to do when it was. Discussions sucked majorly. This makes being a discussion TA interesting, because I’ve got such a small pool of good ideas (and the good discussion leader was in literature…those techniques aren’t so good for gen chem). So I’m curious, tell me about discussions that have worked for you, or techniques that you have used as a discussion TA. What techniques work well? What kept you interested? What personalities seemed helpful? What level of material should be presented? Do you like question and answer, or lecture, or something else? Long detailed responses would be wonderful…
Ironically, I’m asking this tenth week, with only three discussions left this quarter. Still, it’d be nice info for the future.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2010 5:57 am

    First, how did you go into the future??? (The header on the post says March 9th and it’s still the 8th…)

    Second, while I never actually had discussion TAs as a student (only profs in grad school, and no discussions in undergrad), I remember reading a study somewhere about how discussion sections are FAR more effective if you have students do problems in small groups, but only if those groups are “mixed” in ability. That is, the best students get better by being in groups with low-to-middle students, and struggling students get boosted by being in a group with high achievers. But then you have to assign groups at the outset based on pretest scores…

  2. Amanda permalink
    March 10, 2010 4:19 am

    I never had TAs (well until grad school) so from a student perspective I don’t really know. But from teaching 4 quarters of it and begging my students to give me helpful evaluations I think that the favorite way to do them are groupwork of 3-4 (I usually end up making them since the students are incapable of making their own groups) and they each get a problem “assigned to them” they have to put on the board. I wander around pestering them to make sure they know what they are doing for 20-30 minutes and then we go over their answers. I used to make them present their questions but the students told me on Midterm evaluations that they really couldn’t understand their fellow students so I now I do the presenting. Plus this makes a good threat so I don’t have to pick people to write their answers. The phrase “well if no one wants to put their answer on the board I’ll pick people and they get to explain it to the class too” is the most effective ever at getting volunteer writers. It took me awhile to get to where I remembered to explain all the steps that I would if I were writing it myself though. Having the answer in front of you actually makes explaining it harder.

    I like worksheets that have sort of trick problems to them. Things that if they showed up on a test and I was in a hurry I’d get wrong. Since profs. seem to do that way too much of the time its better to be tricked in a discussion than an exam. I try to make sure that they have the common mistakes in them. Such as remembering to make the delta E negative when a photon is emitted on a rydberg equation. Also I think its a good idea to make the worksheets longer with added questions to work on outside of class. When I taught 1C they didn’t have much…guidance from the professor so they loved having extra problems that might be more like what is on a test than Wiley.

    I totally agree with the study Erik remembered. I think its why I manage to keep quite a few students in my classes that really don’t need to come to do well in the class. They seem to enjoy helping the other students. But I don’t think you need to assign groups based on previous scores. I normally get a good mix of abilities just by randomly grouping them together based on where they are sitting. I do have one class that has a group that has too many smart kids but I usually know which problem is too hard for the rest of them to do in the allotted time so they get the hard question of the week.

    The one annoyance I have with this method is that a lot of groups will stop working and start copying after they get their one problem done. Usually I can make enough light jokes about it to get them to work on the rest of the worksheet without having to be harsh about it. However it still bothers me that I have to make a point of telling them to do the rest of it.

  3. March 9, 2010 9:06 pm

    Haha apparently it was set to UTC. I think I’ve got it on Pacific time now.
    Wait, no, check that. I’m magical. I went in to the future, Because I’m that awesome.

  4. March 9, 2010 9:08 pm

    Excellent long reply.
    I never do group work. I always hated doing it, so I assumed that’s how it was for everyone else. Good to know that it does actually work for some people. I’ll have to keep that in mind for next time I teach. And they don’t hate you for assigning them to groups with strangers? That’s another thing that drove me crazy about group work…

  5. Amanda permalink
    March 11, 2010 8:15 pm

    Yeah so I used to tell them to make their own groups and they just sort of stared at me like “oh god where should I go? how should we do this!?!?” and then worked alone. So now I just sort of point at groups of them that are already sitting together so they don’t have to move far. I can tell which of them are friends based on who they talk to before class starts so I try to group them with friends since they are sitting next to them anyway. Some of them still work alone even if I tell them a group, I don’t enforce my groups at all. And if they don’t get the answer I just do the problem for them. I sort of fail at being strict on any of my rules. I just don’t see the point of forcing someone to work in a group if they don’t want to. Not to mention the horrible ICF101 room isn’t really the best group work room in the world.

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