Here are the reports for the Spring 2000 UTAs.
I first learned about the Math Undergraduate Teaching Assistantship from my roommate, Dub. I am a Math Education major, and I thought that it would be a great way to gain some experience. He got me excited about the program and then decided to become a research assistant instead. His decision turned out to be beneficial to me because it gave me the opportunity to work my favorite math instructor, Donna Krawczyk. Since the program was in the developmental stage, I felt that the initial explanation of the UTA position was a little hazy. No one in the math department seemed to know about the UTAs at the beginning of the semester. I often found myself explaining the position to the graduate students in the Tutoring room.
My experience as a UTA was a rather unique one. Unlike many of the other UTAs, I did not grade papers. Instead, I attended lecture on a regular basis and helped with in class activities. I held review sessions the hour before class on Fridays, and special sessions the day before the test. I had a consistent turn out of at least 10 students in my regular reviews, and almost the entire class attended one of the special test reviews. Since I attended class, I always knew exactly what section the class had covered for the day. I knew how Donna had taught the lesson, and I could answer questions in a manner that was consistent with her teaching method. This was very helpful for the students who need constant repetition of a new concept. Varied approaches to a problem are helpful for students with different thought patterns, but many students get confused when a multitude of options are presented to them. I became acquainted with the students. varied learning styles and the areas in which they were weak. This way, I was able to repeat the method in class to the students who needed consistency, and explain other methods to students that needed a different way to look at the problem.
One of the greatest advantages of attending class on a daily basis was the personal relationship that I developed with the students. They knew that I was not perfect, and in no way did I expect them to be perfect. When I didn't know an answer, I did not hesitate to tell them to go ask Donna. The students trusted me enough to ask questions about homework, class, test dates, and notes. At the end of the semester, I signed up to have my review for the final on the last Wednesday. As it turned out, a large portion of the class was unable to make the review. I told them that there were many other reviews on Thursday (dead day). They refused to go to any other reviews. Instead, they begged me for the entire class period to have another review especially for them on Thursday. In the end, I agreed to their demands. Almost the entire class attended my final review session.
* A special note: I saw one of the students at the store this weekend, and he stopped and talked to me about the final for fifteen minutes.
I didn't know what to expect coming into the UTA program. I had only done a small amount of tutoring before, aside from helping my brother with his math homework. (Actually, I think that experience was rather helpful because it gave me practice trying to explain math concepts in a way that other people could understand.) I knew I liked thinking about math and enjoyed discussing problems with others, but I had no experience grading papers, and had done very little speaking in front of groups. Naturally, I was quite uncertain how I'd feel when the time came to actually do my job.
The professor I worked with was quite helpful in making the experience go more smoothly. Kate was understanding about my lack of experience and helped me figure out how to approach the review sessions and grading for her class. She was always willing to meet just to talk about stuff when I was having trouble. One thing that kept coming up was that the grading was taking me a long time, and I wasn't sure how to be fair in assigning points sometimes. Kate would go over the assignments with me before I graded them and show me how she would assign points for each problem. Of course, you can never anticipate all the unusual ways people will approach a problem, so it was still hard to figure out what to do in some cases; but it was comforting to know that she was there to help if I got stuck. She was also mindful of not giving me too much to do, and was willing to do more of the grading herself if I was getting bogged down or was too busy with my other schoolwork.
Before I held my first review session, I was rather nervous. I'm usually not very comfortable talking to people to begin with, much less leading a discussion. But somehow, I managed to stay fairly relaxed and was surprised when I realized it had gone pretty well. The review sessions were pretty much the only place I had contact with the calculus students. Unfortunately, not many people ended up coming. Only about three students came regularly, and occasionally a few more showed up. Kate and I considered rescheduling in case the time was inconvenient for people, but we couldn't find another time that would have fit my schedule and would also be a good time to help with the homework assignments. Essentially, the review sessions were for students to ask questions about their homework or about anything else that they were having trouble with. I also held special sessions before tests to go back over all the material they would need to know. We'd go over the problems on the board, and I tried to let the students figure out what to do next rather than just giving out the answers. Overall, I think these were a success, and I got to know at least some of the students in the class.
The other major part of the job was tutoring in the algebra room. This turned out to be quite the lesson in refreshing long-forgotten skills. Actually, most of the material comes back to you pretty quickly after you think about it for a bit. Tutoring could be rather rewarding when it seemed like the student was gaining understanding as I was helping him or her, but sometimes it felt like I was no help at all. Sometimes a student just didn't seem to understand a concept, no matter what I tried. And some days just felt like off days when I couldn't seem to figure out how to explain anything very well. Essentially, you never know the answers right away, and you just have to sit down and try to figure out the problems along with the students. It was sometimes hard to tell when I had spent enough time with one person and needed to move on. In general, I thought the tutoring room was a good way to help a lot of people, and it was nice to have a kind of routine each week where I mostly knew what to expect.
Another good part about the program was the opportunity to meet different people. It was nice to know other tutors who were in the same situation as I was, and to hear about their experiences at the biweekly meetings. I think it also would have been nice to have more social functions for the group. And then of course there were the students. Occasionally I had the chance to talk to them on a more personal level in the tutor room and at the review sessions. In addition, getting to know faculty members helped make me feel more connected on campus.
Everything wasn't always good, though. Although I felt more comfortable than I had expected when I led the review sessions, I didn't feel like I improved my speaking ability a whole lot. I never seemed to reach the point where I knew exactly what I needed to do and felt completely confident that I could do it. Sometimes the sessions seemed to go pretty smoothly, and other times I would get stuck explaining something and didn't know what to do. I never had a clear sense of how well things went and whether I was much help to the students or not. They did always seem appreciative, though, so I'd like to think that they gained something from the experience. I think it might have been helpful to have someone there to let me know how I was doing — to reassure me that I was doing a good job or suggest what I might have done differently. Of course, it might have made me more nervous to have someone there scrutinizing me. Also, I felt rather drained much of the time. Having to think on your feet about how to solve problems and how to explain things in a way that makes sense can take a lot out of you. But, for some reason, what I found most difficult was grading the homework. It's probably just my personality — that I pay too much attention to every detail and think too much about every decision — but the grading usually took me much longer than I wanted to spend on it, and I couldn't figure out how to make the task much easier. I tried various suggestions from the professors and other TAs, but it always seemed to come down to my just plodding through it until I was finished.
Overall, the program was a good learning experience. I got a small taste of what teaching math would be like. It was at once rewarding and frustrating. It would feel good to go home thinking that I accomplished something by aiding someone in their studies. But it was hard to step back and see how much of a difference I had really made. I'm still not completely sure how I feel about it all — the effect is still sinking in.
The opportunity to be an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant was terrific. It was a valuable experience. While being a UTA I had the chance to be on the other side of the classroom and have exposure to the realm of teaching. Facets of the position included having weekly review/problem sessions, tutoring, grading, and attending in-class lectures. Perhaps the most worthwhile experience during the semester was actually preparing and giving two lectures. Just knowing that I can convey pertinent material to others in an understandable manner meant a lot to me.
I hope that this program will continue to grow and funding will continue to be provided by VIGRE. I know that many other undergraduates would greatly appreciate this same opportunity.
I participated in the Undergraduate Teaching Assistantship program in the spring of 2000, working with Dr. Steve Wheaton's two Math129 (Calculus 2) class. I joined the program because I wanted to get a feel for what it is like to work with students since I am interested in the possibility pursuing a teaching career. My duties consisted of tutoring algebra, trigonometry and pre-calculus four hours a week, grading the homeworks of both sections once a week, running weekly review sessions for the Math129 class, and attending biweekly meetings to discuss tasks and issues related to the program.
I learned that I love interacting with students and teaching them, in both the tutoring lab and during the review sessions. I really appreciated the people who showed up on a regular basis to either the review sessions or the tutoring lab. I also learned that, while it is a chore to grade homework thoroughly, it is very valuable in helping me see where students are having difficulty, it allowed me to have some areas I wanted to stress to everyone who showed up, and it gave me somewhere to start the review sessions. In short, the UTA program showed me that I love working with and teaching students. It was a very beneficial and fun experience for me.
Being a part of the UTA program this semester has been a rewarding and educational experience. Working one on one with the students in weekly review sessions helped build personal strengths in teaching and communication skills. On one occasion I even had the extreme pleasure of conducting class. Having often toyed with the idea of pursuing a pedagogical career, the program has provided me with new insight into what it takes to teach. First of all, I learned that establishing a personal report with the students makes review sessions run more smoothly and efficiently. Students who feel that their professor or TA is unapproachable are less likely to seek out the help they need. Secondly, although homework grading seems to be nothing but an endless supply of grunt work, the task is quite helpful in shedding light on the specific aspects of the course that the students are having difficulty with. Finally, some students utilize the tutor lab as their own personal interactive answer key. When aiding student with their work you must be careful not to just hand them the solution. Instead, you should help them build an overall strategy for solving similar problems in the future.
Overall it has been a fantastic and enriching experience that has shown me a lot about teaching, communication, and myself.
I decided to do this program for some extra money and also to learn if I would like teaching. I never did get to give a lecture but the review sessions were enough to tell me that I would probably like teaching. I also enjoyed tutoring. I liked grading in the beginning, but it soon became tedious.
I would have liked to do a few more things with the other UTAs (I suggested a calculator session in late April, but no one responded). But in all, I think the bimonthly meetings were enough regular discussion.
I believe that something is bad only when you do not learn anything from it. I have learned more than I expected this past semester as a VIGRE Undergraduate TA. It was a valuable experience that I believe has made me more prepared for graduate school.
My “official” supervisor for this program was Dr. Joseph Watkins. Though I did meet with Dr. Watkins regularly, I had another “unofficial” supervisor, Ms. Marilou Mendel, who I interacted with more often.
For the record, Math 197a is a new course that is still somewhat under construction. It is intended to be a “lab” course for Math 160 and 263, which are lower-division stats courses. In these classes, along with book homework, the students use the Minitab statistical software. Before Math 197a came along, the students had to use the mainframe version of Minitab via telnet. The mainframe Minitab is not very user-friendly, especially to those students new to computers. In Math 197a, a newer, user-friendly Windows version of Minitab is used.
This is the way the class worked.
In the beginning of the semester enrollment in Math 197a was low, one reason being that not many students knew about it. So on the first day of Math 160 and 263, the instructor of 197a speaks at the beginning of the class to the students and makes them a deal. The deal is that they will be exempt from the computer homework in 160/263 if they take the 197a class. Not a bad deal! Get extra credit for doing the same homework, and use more current software. I think the Windows version is much better and I think it is a good idea to offer Math 197a. However I do not believe that the grading scheme is well thought out, but that is just my opinion.
As regards enrollment, I know of at least one student who wanted to take Math 197a (because the Windows version of Minitab was so much easier to use) and because she could get a higher grade by enrolling in Math 197a. She was not able to enroll because the sections filled up. I think that if your grade in Math 160 and Math 263 depend on this class then every student should be allowed to enroll in Math 197a.
My experiences with Dr. Watkins were good. He would also help me in my other upper-division statistics courses when he could. Dr. Watkins and Ms. Mendel, needless to say, had different teaching styles.
Since the material in this class is linked to the other classes, whether or not students could do the homework for this class depended upon whether their stats teacher had already covered it. Dr. Watkins always began the class with a short lecture (just in case the students had not yet seen the material). Sometimes Ms. Mendel would also give a short lecture but other times we would have to give the students the answers for some problems (since the students may never have covered the material in the Math 160/263 class). The students often noted that the Math 160/263 teachers were not keeping to the schedule that Ms. Mendel gave them.
I have also learned what little say a TA has for a class. Though I was involved in the weekly teacher meetings (and was often left alone to answer questions and give exams), some of my suggestions were listened to and others were not. For example, there was a time at the beginning of the semester when the class was working together at the same rate in order to get used to the software. There came a point when everyone had to print their work. This work included text along with some graphs. Ms. Mendel told everyone to hit the "Print" button (at the same time). I suggested that this might not be such a good idea. Perhaps we should print row-by-row or something. Being an undergraduate TA, my reasoning was not listened to. Needless to say, the printer was overwhelmed and shut down. Then, rather than understanding what caused this problem, the computer staff was alerted to fix a technical failure. Repeated suggestions to not print all at once went unheard.
Overall the semester went fine. I worked with every student in all three sections. I really enjoyed this aspect of my job.
I believe this VIGRE program should continue since it is a valuable exposure to academia, even if only a glimpse. Because of this program, I was able to see what classes are like from the perspective of the teacher. Because of this program I am not as naive as I used to be. I now have a “To do” & “NOT to do” list of things to remember when I become a math professional.
I signed up for the UTA program with the understanding that I would be helping to further the education and deepen the understanding of students in calculus II. I did this and much more. Not only did I help algebra, trigonometry and calculus students; I learned a great deal myself. I found it very rewarding to see the smile on a student's face when the things their professor taught them began to take meaning. There is something very powerful and awe-inspiring in watching the development of a student's education. Being a part of the UTA program helped to deepen my own satisfaction in mathematics. Mathematics becomes so much more real and enjoyable when I can share my knowledge with someone else. The friendships I made while in the program were an additional bonus I had not foreseen. The other students were similar to me. They enjoyed life and wanted to help other people.
While there were many benefits, there are always some downsides to. I would say that on the whole, my experience with the UTA program was beneficial and well worth the effort. I had, however, greatly misjudged my time commitment. As a civil engineering student, my schedule is very busy and full of my own schoolwork. The added ten hours a week of working with this program proved to be a greater commitment than I had anticipated. I also felt slightly dissociated with my professor due to his own time constraints and the lack of interaction I had with him. However, this would not discourage me from future work with this program.
The UTA program is a beneficial and worthwhile program. It has taught me a great deal about myself and my ability to help others. It has taught me important communication skills that are imperative to know in the business world. I would highly recommend this program to anyone who was interested in working with students and sharing in their joy at their accomplishments.
Working in the UTA program was an invaluable experience both personally and academically. Before I even entered the program, I had strong aspirations for teaching, and I had hoped that the UTA program would give me the kind of feedback that I needed to guide me in making a future career decision. While I haven't decided in the end if I will pursue teaching, I know from my experiences this past semester that I have taken away some invaluable information. In particular, the UTA program has given me a rare glimpse and perspective on the responsibilities of an instructor. As a student, this is a perspective one never fully experiences or appreciates. As a UTA, however, I had the responsibility of preparing to lecture on material which as a student, I left to an instructor. The time and preparation that goes into preparing for lecturing is one of the many cornerstones to a course's success or failure. During this semester, I was fortunate enough to work with an instructor who was able to communicate the importance of being prepared and organized. I was also fortunate enough to take away some other pearls of wisdom which go beyond any tangible way of preparing for teaching, and that had to do with the personal aspects of teaching: the students. It is the students who ultimately make up a course, and while I did not have to deal with students on a regular basis, during the occasions that I did, I realized the importance of developing a rapport and trust with students. No matter how prepared one seems for teaching, this is an important aspect to success in any course. Finally, the academic portion to the UTA program is invaluable. I had not looked at calculus since my time as a student in the course. Having to lecture on a weekly basis suddenly made me realize the issues and difficulties I encountered in the course. It also made realize the importance of being able to communicate the challenges I faced during my time in course to students for whom I was lecturing. The interaction I received students when communicating my own personal experiences really made me think of ideas and concepts of calculus that I had never really thought about. As a consequence, I like to think that I was able to teach my students and that they were able to teach me. And that is perhaps the truest teaching experience anyone can get.
The Undergraduate Teaching Assistantship Program in the Spring 2000 semester was a new experience for me. With a three-day workshop, I received all the tricks I would need for the semester. The workshop was very helpful in the areas concerning grading, tutoring and how to hold a review session. I was matched with Carl Lienert. I attended class on Wednesdays and held review sessions on Thursdays.
In the review sessions, we went over previous homework assignments, homework problems that were due on Friday, clarified some of the topics covered in class and studied for tests.
In the classroom I also taught twice. I taught Geometric Series and Separation of Variables concerning Differential Equations. Both were very successful. I started the class with the overview of the topic and what it was. Then I gave a practical application problem. Afterward I did a few more problems like it. And to conclude the class I gave five or six problems for the students to complete and then we went over the steps and these solutions in class.
For the class I also did the grading for Wednesday assignments. It was a very interesting experience to grade papers. When grading, I would first do the problems myself and then grade. By doing the assignment myself, I was able to catch some of the errors they might run into. If felt it also very important to write notes on problems that they did not understand. Many times it is helpful afterward to be told the direction that it should have been solved.
I also felt tutoring helped me a lot as a Teaching Assistant as well. When doing the review sessions, I had had experienced teaching with the tutoring that was being done in the tutor lab. It is very challenging to be in front of a group of seven or so people being put on the spot to do homework problems. However, after a few tries I was more comfortable. It to a week or son and then it was no problem.
The other helpful tool of the program was the bi-weekly meetings with other teaching assistants. These provided a place to talk about the issues we were having with our students. It was good to have this feedback from other TAs and from our advisor, Cinnamon Hillyard.
This was one of the best experiences I have had. I am truly thinking about being a math teacher or something along those lines and this gave hands on experience. I learned about the styles of teaching, what makes a good teacher, and what makes a good grader, and what I want to do in the future with my math degree. Thank you for this opportunity.
This past semester, I have had the honor to be an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant for the math department at the University of Arizona. The position had three parts: tutoring, grading, and something for the 129 class. I found everything about the program fun and rewarding.
As UTAs, we were required to spend four hours each week in the algebra tutoring lab. This involved helping students one on one in algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. Not only was it a wonderful opportunity to meet great people; it also helped me sharpen my mathematical skills.
Grading papers for the calculus B class was great experience for me. Since I want to become a teacher, grading really gave me insight as to how to decipher messy handwriting and how thinking processes differ for every one. While it was a daunting task at times, I know that many students benefited from the feedback I was able to give them.
My favorite part of the program was the “something for the 129 class”. I choose to lead a discussion session. I mainly helped the students with any questions they had or any homework problems that weren't clear. During testing times the attendance soared. I would give a summary of what had been covered and we would also work out practice problems. It was a great responsibility; I loved it!
Before this semester, I knew very few of other math majors and only knew teachers I had had previously. This program allowed for me to meet many other students in my same field, graduate students, and faculty (all of whom I am glad to have met). I found the experience to be educational and rewarding. It is a wonderful feeling to know that you have helped even one student understand, it feels even better having helped countless others.
Working as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant has been a rewarding experience for me this semester. I found that through tutoring students, I not only helped them increase their understanding of the material, but I also discovered that it helped me sharpen my personal math skills as well as improve my communication skills. It was also useful to have two tutors working together at all times because this usually ensured that all the students' questions could be answered. The meetings that we attended were a good way of becoming acquainted with other students as well as our advisor Cinnamon Hillyard. The meetings also allowed time for the discussion of any problems that may have arisen and the opportunity to get feedback. Although it was very time-consuming for me, the review sheets that I made before the tests were probably what the students utilized the most. While I felt that the experience was rewarding, there are some aspects that were not as enriching as others. For example, the grading process was somewhat boring and mundane. However, I realize that grading was an essential task to familiarize me with material that was problematic for the students. This helped me to make review sheets that were most useful and covered the more difficult concepts.