Here are the reports for the Fall 2000 UTAs.
At the beginning of the semester, I never would have thought that I would be writing a paper on my experiences as a UTA. Yet with this job I fell that I learned a lot not only about math but also about others and myself.
While being a UTA, my math skills greatly advanced. By no means did I ever think that teaching or tutoring others could affect my knowledge on math to the extent that it did. In being pushed to explain some simple concepts I noticed myself thinking about these ideas and understanding them on a higher level. One such example entailed explaining the ideas of inverse functions to a college algebra student in the tutor lab. Through this, I finally understood the connection between what inverse functions are and the operations applied to them. Throughout the semester I came to better comprehend countless mathematical concepts through the tutoring of others.
In addition, I learned a great deal about cooperating with others. Tutoring in the lab and in the weekly class homework sessions that I held, I interacted with students from a variety of mathematical levels and backgrounds. In this interaction I become skilled at dealing with various situations and problems. I remember one such situation where, while holding a weekly homework session, one student asked me to help solve a problem that I had no clue on how to approach. Yet, I was able to sit down with the problem and relate it to familiar incidents that I had over the semester in the tutor lab and in homework review sessions to devise a solution. The program gave me practice in connecting with others that proved beneficial not only to myself but to the people around me.
The program on the whole is very useful and fun. I seemed to discover many new things through the program not outlined in being a UTA. Each part of the UTA program, from the weekly meetings to tutoring in the lab, seemed to serve its purpose, for every person involved or affected by the one of these events in some way did gain a little better appreciation and grasp on math. To conclude, this is and was a great job by the means of the simplest fact that it is based on the appealing notion of communicating with others about interesting mathematical topics.
This semester I attempted a new form of the Undergraduate Teaching Assistant. I attempted to help the program as the assistant to the UTA coordinator. As with all of the other UTAs, I tutored three hours a week in the Algebra Tutoring Lab. Since I had seen the problems the previous semester, I was able to answer the questions in a more confident fashion. In addition, working in the tutoring lab gave me a greater understanding of math anxiety and avoidance. Since I want to work in secondary education, I hope that I will be able to cure some of the causes of math anxiety as well as get students excited to take higher math in College.
Instead of working in a classroom, I was hired to work on the .nuts and bolts. of the program. Through the development of a new website as well as a flashy poster in the lobby, I helped to increase the awareness of the UTA program. However, more could be done to increase visibility and recruit more new UTAs. In the future, I would like to see the UTA program reach out to the College of Education and offer the program on a larger scale to more Math education majors. This semester, we focused on Math education in the weekly (or biweekly) meetings. The discussions were educational, and I hope to collect the topics and research behind the topics to keep for future discussions. I wanted a larger role in organizing the discussions, including weekly meetings to check on progress, but as it turns out, the discussions were fantastic without my guidance.
As a representative for the program, I wanted to provide another outlet for feedback to the UTAs. I wanted to be available to answer questions and help find replacements when people could not attend their tutoring hours. Although I never performed this task in a formal sense, I feel that I was available to voice any concerns that the other UTAs might have had. In the future, if the assistant position were to be continued, it would be helpful to create a list of certain issues that could be dealt with solely by the assistant. In my case, my occasional lack of responsibility may have lead individuals not to trust me with information or tasks. If that is the case, I apologize. Finally, I am delighted to say that I am helping with research into the effectiveness of a UTA in the classroom. I am very excited and I think that the program will show an increase in student performance. This information will be interesting to sort through and interpret. I hope to give interesting insight into the students. feelings and viewpoints.
Overall, I feel that the assistant position will be an asset to the UTA program in the future. As the program matures, the position will take a more definite shape. My tasks varied significantly, but overall the experience was enjoyable.
The experience of the UTA program not only allowed me to help someone else learn something, but it also let me learn from the people around me. Here's what this experience has taught me:
When I agreed to be an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant, I wasn't sure what to expect. Although I had tutored students in math during high school, I had never helped to teach a class. I decided to help Dr. Stevenson with his Calculus II class. I agreed to grade homework as well as hold office hours and, occasionally, help teach the class. The first thing I did was I set up a web site for the class. On this site, I posted a copy of the course policies as well as office hours and any homework assignments (and answers to the even problems).
Later in the year, I set up a listserv, which several of the students subscribed to. I posted notices on both the web site and on the listserve. It was Dr. Stevenson's idea to grade only a fraction of the homework problems that had been assigned. Although this lessened my workload, it did sometimes anger the students. However, everyone understood, and the final grades reflected this.
I held office hours on Mondays and Fridays in the late afternoon (5:00-6:00). When homework had been assigned, there were usually a couple of students there for help. I was eager to assist them with the more difficult problems and I attempted to explain the concepts in new ways. Meanwhile, I also showed them some of the more delightful facts in mathematics. Of course, these had little impact on their understanding of the important Calculus material, but most of the students enjoyed these little diversions. Although I rarely taught the class, I did sit in on the lectures on a regular basis. Often, if a student couldn't follow Dr. Stevenson's explanation of a problem, he/she would ask me to clarify it.
Before tests, I held review sessions. There were usually 20-30 students (out of ~ 80) at the review sessions. I tried to guess what would be on the tests (since I had no hand in making them) and reviewed these concepts, often going over sample problems. (I posted the problems on the listserv for anyone who couldn't make it to the review session.) I answered any questions that were asked and, during the later sessions, I brought cookies. (They seemed to like that!)
Overall, I believe that this experience was rewarding to everyone involved. I learned how difficult it can be to explain concepts that seem so simple. Dr. Stevenson hoped that students who were hesitant to ask him for help would ask me. Although not everyone met with me, I believe that those who did benefited.
Working as a UTA for the math department was a unique experience. I was paired up with a professor I have been grading papers for previously, Deirdre Smith. I was the UTA for her section of Math 105. I enjoyed working with Deirdre because I have found that we have a similar way of looking at things. She was also my first math professor and has been a great role model for me. I hope to be a high school math teacher when I finally get my degree. Deirdre has been a wonderful source of valuable knowledge and a great source for support.
When I agreed to UTA for Math 105, I did not really know much about the class except that it was for students who had majors in things like art, history, and philosophy. I assumed that since it was a lower level class I would have such an easy time with it. I was pleasantly surprised by what was taught in the class. I actually learned new things as the semester went on. I got a chance to see things about math that I thought were interesting and much more real world related than any class that I have had to take. I still wonder why it is not an option for secondary education students with a concentration in math to take. I think that many wonderful ideas for lessons could come from this class. I even looked forward to what the next chapter would be on.
Tutoring was another part of being a UTA. Tutoring in the Algebra lab was definitely an interesting experience. I also tutor or help out at a middle school. I had become used to dealing with that age group. When I first went into the Algebra tutoring lab, I had to adjust to the age of the students. I also had to adjust to seeing the same people again and again, and some of them even trying to get you to do their homework instead of learning the material. It was very disheartening to see so many students struggling with algebra. This is something that they should have taken in high school and passed. Here we were at the college level and there are still many students having problems. This only strengthened my desire to become a teacher and try and ensure that more students in the future will have a better grasp of math.
I think that the UTA experience as a whole was a good one and opened up my eyes that much more to the fact that we need to improve the way we are teaching math at the lower grade levels in our schools. I also think that maybe being a UTA for their field of concentration would be a good opportunity for all future middle and high school teachers. It would help them see what type of students our high schools are currently turning out and where they will need to try and improve the system.
I first heard of the UTA program in my Linear Algebra class during Spring Semester 2000. My teacher was Brigitte Lahme. She was going to be the UTA coordinator for Fall 2000 and asked me if I was interested in the UTA program. I decided that it would give me valuable experience because I am an Elementary Education major.
I worked with Dr. Elias Toubassi in his Honors Linear Algebra class. My job consisted of two main responsibilities. I graded the homework and I held weekly office hours. Being an honors class, there were only ten students in the class, which made grading very easy. Grading was the part that I was least looking forward to, but it really wasn't bad. My favorite part of my job was my office hours. I held them in Dr. Toubassi's office Monday, Wednesday and Friday 10-11am. I had at least three people every single day and often had five or six people in there. That is quite a lot considering that there was only ten students in the class. We had a lot of fun in my office hours and got a lot of learning done as well.
The best thing about the whole semester was my interaction with the students. I really enjoyed getting to know them and being able to help them out when they had problems. I enjoyed my semester so much that I am going to be a UTA next semester for Math 301.
This semester I worked as an undergraduate teaching assistant for Dr. Lomen's Math 125H (Calculus I Honors) class. My duties included attending class, grading homework, tutoring in the College Algebra/Calculus I tutoring center, holding office hours for the students, and filling in for the professor upon his absence. The various aspects of the UTA experience offered unique challenges and opportunities to improve my skills as a tutor and mentor.
My favorite part of the experience, and what I feel was also the most beneficial to the students and myself, was holding office hours. During the twice-weekly office hour I had the opportunity to work closely with the students. Approximately ten of the 25 students were .regulars.. I looked forward to helping these students each week. They learned to help each other and would spontaneously form groups, thus working efficiently and effectively. This also helped the students, all in their first semester of college, form friendships. The group and I would chat and thus give the office hours a relaxed atmosphere, which we all enjoyed. In addition, I was able to develop my skills as a tutor by witnessing the intellectual development of the calculus students. Overall, the office hours provided the students a way to deal with the stresses that calculus students often encounter and me with a way to advance my tutoring ability.
The other activities, such as attending class, grading homework, and working in the tutoring lab, were less useful. I attended class all but five times this semester, and only three times did I help. The rest of the time I simply sat in the back and did not help in any way. Grading homework proved to be tiresome. I do not feel that the students gained anything from my comments, as no one ever questioned my grading or requested help with redoing the incorrect problems. While I enjoyed working in the tutoring lab, most of the students I helped did not want to understand the material, but only to finish their homework. Despite the fact that I found these activities less rewarding than holding office hours, I know that they gave me a well-rounded idea of the job of an instructor. At the conclusion of my UTA experience, I know that the students and I have profited from working together. I have improved my ability to work with students. The students successfully completed their first college math course and are prepared with new abilities, personal and mathematical.
I have now spent two semesters with the UTA program and feel there are benefits and detriments to the program. This program was established in order to increase the students understanding of a math subject through a median of a more similarly cut group of people. It is also to develop the communication skills and the understanding of math to the tutor.
Some of the benefits to the program include: the faculty a UTA will interact with and build relationships with, the knowledge they gain in math from tutoring a subject, the communication skills they gain through tutoring and teaching the material and the satisfaction of knowing the work they are doing is impacting the lives of their colleagues. I personally found it very rewarding to be helping a student and to see their eyes light up as they realized the solution to the problem. Getting to know the faculty is a big plus in the program because it allowed me to interact with the professors on a more equal level. This brought the opportunity for letters of recommendation or a source of solution when help was needed.
As with all good things, there are a few detriments to the UTA program. While helping the students understand the concepts behind their math homework is rewarding, it can be frustrating when the ideas you are trying to communicate are not being understood by the student. As a whole, the tutoring room is a good experience in which students come for help, but there are the students who only want solutions to the homework they are supposed to turn in in ten minutes and therefore don't care about the concept, just the answer.
Despite the drawbacks of the program, I think that it is a very beneficial program for the school to be investing in. They are not only improving the quality of education for the students in need of help, but they are improving the education of the tutors through the knowledge they will gain while participating in the UTA program.
This semester was my second semester as a UTA. I think I've learned more this semester than I ever have in my academic career or my first semester as a UTA. Unlike the first semester as a UTA, I think this semester I was more engaging with students. This was quite different from the previous semester in which I spent figuring out what my role should be. When I had finished with UTAing last semester, I had a much better sense of direction in what I wanted to accomplish as a teaching assistant. I think this semester allowed me the opportunity to finally put into practice, what I had only realized at the end of the previous semester. Overall my UTA semester was series of welcoming challenges.
One of the challenges of being a UTA this semester was overcoming my shyness around students. Even as a student I'm reluctant to engage with my fellow peers and when I was a UTA this semester my shyness surfaced in my interactions with my students. I think I ultimately opened up to my students in way that I never really new possible by having a small classroom of students. The fact that I was able to attend class two days a week where I helped with various group activities also helped in my interaction with students. As the semester progressed, I felt myself sliding into a real comfort zone with my students.
Another challenge this semester was grading. Working in a freshman level course made grading more difficult than last semester. Part of the challenge of grading lied in the fact that many of these students had never been exposed to the Harvard Consortium of Calculus that university has adopted. Coupled with the fact that these students were never really expected to write detailed explanations of their mathematical thought, made it difficult to for them to understand the importance of being able to express ideas, even if they were mathematical ones. In the end, I think I was able to help my students see the importance of writing explanations in a mathematics course. I think my students realize that it is no longer enough to pepper one's homework with symbols and notation, but that detailed and well-thought out explanation count equally if not more than getting the right answer.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the biggest challenge I faced this semester was a personal one. Ever since entering academia, I had always given serious thought to some day becoming a teacher. I think this UTA program has made me more than ever committed to the idea that I will teach. I've enjoyed being able to go back to my lower division courses and recalling what sorts of obstacles and struggles students will feel because I felt them too. Still being able to recall those struggles has not only helped me explain mathematics, but I think in some way it has helped enrich my level of understanding. In this respect, I've learned a great from my students just as I hope they learned a great deal from me.
At first I didn't know what to expect when I signed up for the UTA position. I thought it would involve tutoring, grading homework, some in-class activities, problem solving sessions, and a few test reviews. Yes, it involved all of these things; however, I learned exactly what it means to involve all of these things. As an example, for one week in early November I was asked to cover the class activities because the person I was working with, Dr. Carl Lienert, was going out of town to attend a conference (I was the UTA for a Math 105 course). I found this to be one of the most difficult activities, while at the same time being one of the most rewarding. People in the class actually looked to you for information, and you were responsible for giving it to them. This was a position I had never been in on a large scale, and it helped me appreciate what a task it is to teach mathematics to others. For that experience alone I would say that the UTA program is well worth the effort. However, there is so much more to be gained.
Working in the tutoring room is both a good and a bad challenge. There appears to be a thin line between helping student understand mathematics and actually doing their homework for them. However, when you can help someone understand a concept behind a method, the bad aspects of tutoring seem to vanish. It is a worthwhile endeavor to have students who are more trained in mathematics to help those who are not. In fact, the aspect of being a tutor was the part of being a UTA that I liked the most. Every day was a new challenge to attack.
Being a UTA was a very educational experience for me. It helped me see what it is like to approach a class from the other side of the desk, and that was most eye-opening to me. I feel that I have gained important knowledge both about teaching and about academia that can only aid me in my professional life ahead.
Working as an undergraduate teaching assistant has definitely been a rewarding experience with many benefits. I have met a few professors and many other UTAs and students at the UA because of this position. The contacts, I am sure, will help make my experience at the U of A more complete. The professors have become mentors and can provide great advice in terms of class scheduling, graduate schools, internships, and jobs.
Leading weekly review sessions and spending time in the tutoring lab has allowed me to hone my math skills and pointed out some of my weaknesses as well. I have learned to be a more effective teacher, which is a useful thing whether or not one plans to be a teacher. Teaching a concept requires a deeper understanding than is required to pass a course.
Another benefit of the UTA program is that it looks great on a resume. I know from other students that employers like to see that a person has actually taught some of the things that they studied.
In addition to the previously mentioned benefits, I also have had a lot of fun. It is a great feeling to spend time with a frustrated student and then see them get excited about the material they are learning when they finally understand. I enjoy teaching and helping others to learn. I highly recommend a UTA position to anyone who enjoys teaching and/or tutoring or to anyone who is unsure about what they like to do. It has definitely been a rewarding experience.