Here are the reports for the Spring 2004 UTAs.
During the spring semester of 2004, I was a UTA for Valerie Watts for Math 129. I worked about ten hours a week, either tutoring in the college algebra tutoring center, holding office hours for Math 129, or grading quizzes and homework for Math 129.
By far, the best part of this was tutoring in the college algebra tutoring center. The reason for this was that people actually showed up, wanting help on math, as compared to my office hours, where it was strange if someone showed up. Regardless, when I was able to help a student with algebra and make them understand it, it gave me a sense of accomplishment that I was able to help or even teach someone something that they were unable to understand until the sought out help. After spending a semester in the tutoring room, I noticed that there were a bunch of usual students who came at certain times, and so I was able to get to know many of the students one on one and they learned that they either understood how I taught the subject or that I might not have been the best tutor for them and they wanted to seek out one of the other tutors in the room. Either way, I was capable to help those who wanted it and I was also able to better my own teaching and tutoring skills, which I now have a greater confidence in.
In regards to my office hours, they could have gone over better. I spent two hours on Tuesday and two hours on Thursday, both different times of the day, holding office hours for the 129 class. During the course of a week, usually one, maybe two, if that, showed up with questions on homework, or what they were doing in the class. This proved to be good for me, it gave me some one on one teaching time, but at some times it felt like I was wasting my time waiting around for the off chance that someone might show up with questions. The only good part to holding the office hours was at the end of the year when I made up an extra credit assignment that forced students to come to my office hours. This was fun since it allowed me to actually teach a lesson, which is something that I wanted to do since the start of this program. By doing this I was able to see how a lesson was constructed and how to portray the information that I was teaching in a clear manner. As a result of this more students came to my office hours asking questions, it sort of allowed them to understand that I did know what I was talking about and that I could help them with math. So, overall, the office hours worked out, although in retrospect it seemed as though I should have given an extra credit assignment earlier in the semester.
The grading that I did this semester was very helpful. It allowed me to learn where each of the students in the class were, and generally the same students who scored high on the quizzes and homework work every week, repeated this routine each additional week and also reflected the same results on the tests. However, the students that did poor on those assignments continued that trend every week and also on the tests. It was these students that made me curious why they never came to my office hours. Although, when I help my extra credit lecture I asked one of the students this question and their response was, “Well, we.re all kind of lazy”. Which, I guess for them gave them an excuse for doing poor, which seemed sort of sad in a way, but it was the route that they chose. In general, I gained a lot of good experience from grading, and I now have better skills to know when to give more points or fewer points depending on the type of problem.
Finally, the UTA program helped me to develop my teaching and grading skills to a higher level so that I will be able to help students in various other subjects as I continue my way through college. The only suggestion that I would give to the program would be to have less structured meetings such that they would be more the UTAs discussing with each other on what's going on in their classes and how they could improve what they are doing. But, overall the program was done very well and I got everything that I thought I would get out of it.
The UTA program through the math department is an outstanding opportunity for anyone who has ever considered teaching. The program gave me the opportunity to get first hand experience in the amount of work required to run a math class. It also opened my eyes to the different types of math students and how they study and learn. As a UTA my responsibilities included writing homework solutions, grading homework, holding office hours, test reviews and working in the Calculus tutoring room.
Before becoming a UTA I had tutored students informally since I began college. When the opportunity arose to get paid for tutoring I did not hesitate to apply. I chose to work with a Vector Calculus class because I liked the subject when I took the class and wanted to help students since I knew it was a stumbling point for many. The tutoring portion of the program was very enjoyable. Since I had tutored for so long I did not have many problems working as a tutor. I was very surprised with the sorts of questions that I got while tutoring. I expected that most of the students would ask me to check their work or want to know how to get the answer in the back of the book and then leave within 10 minutes of arriving. On the contrary many students stayed for at least half an hour and did all of their homework. The majority of students did not simply want the right answer they also wanted to know what was going on. After we worked through a problem many students were willing to look at the answer and understand why it made since and evaluate their solution process. Their willingness to learn made working in the tutoring room enjoyable.
I have always heard teachers say that they learn more from their students than there students learn from them. I learned that teaching is not as easy as it seems. I have never had difficulty teaching people one-on-one or in small groups but getting in front of a class is a much different undertaking. During the semester I did a review session for the final and learned how intimidating it can be. I always saw teachers make mistakes on the board and wondered how they could do that. I learned that the white board looks a lot different when you are two feet away from it and that mistakes are easily made. Grading papers taught me a few things about how I should do homework. I used to write sloppy and crowd work on pages. After two weeks of grading I began to feel bad for the TA that was grading my papers. After that my homework was neatly written, answers were presented nicely and I was no longer afraid of using more than one sheet of paper.
As a UTA I brought lessons that I had learned from my grievances with other classes to my section. It has always bothered me when you turn in an assignment and it takes a week or two to get it back. I always made sure that I returned assignments no later than two lectures after they were submitted. The solutions I wrote were always clear, complete and gave explanations when appropriate. I held reviews before the test and wrote several study guides for exams that focused on affirming the concepts, to help better prepare the students. In short I tried not to do anything that I did not like in my other classes.
The UTA program exposed me to the varied learning styles that students have. I was glad to learn that my preconception that the majority students do not try was wrong. I plan to be a teacher someday; this program is a great first step to realizing that goal. The things I learned as a UTA will help me better prepare for the day that I start teaching.
Coming into this job my biggest fear was that I was going to be used as a grading machine for the math department. Fortunately for me, I was paired with an instructor who was willing to work with me in such a way that it was a teaching experience for me and that I was not simply her assistant.
There were three main aspects to this job: the relationship with an instructor, tutoring, and the UTA meetings. I am going to address each part of the job separately.
Communication was key. From the beginning I communicated my aversion to doing all grading, and Deb was willing to accommodate. Because Deb was the instructor, she grades the tests and quizzes. Otherwise, we decided to split the homework and additional assignments evenly. If either of us was busy at a certain point during the semester the other would help out and grade more. At one point in the semester, I expressed some interest in teaching the class. Deb was fully supportive of this and allowed me to do a couple of lectures which turned out to be a nerve-racking but fulfilling experience. The point of all this is that Deb and I were in constant communication, whether by email or in person, and it benefited us both.
Deb was very eager to hear my perspectives on grading, assignments, lecture, etc., and valued my input. I was treated like a peer and felt appreciated. I do have to say that our personalities had something to do with how well we worked together. We are both open-minded, hard working, and enjoy what we are doing.
This part of the job was at times easy and at times very frustrating. I have had experience tutoring before. I more or less knew how it worked. Half the time no one was in the room and I did HW. Thirty percent of the time I would be helping or tutoring someone. The other twenty percent of the time I couldn't remember how to do a problem so I watched as another tutor explained it. The lesson learned here is don't be afraid to say you don't know how to help someone. If you try and mess up you both will be frustrated and you will be embarrassed. Most of the time there is another tutor that will know how to do the problem and can help the student.
To be honest, this was the most tedious part of the job. Due to my prior experience, much of the information covered was repetitive and seemed to be simple common sense. The projects, although not complex and overwhelming, were annoying and made me feel like I was wasting my time. I would advise that this part of the program be cut down, or only required for those who have not had any tutoring/teaching experience.
On the whole, I enjoyed my experience as a UTA for the math department. I attribute the positive aspects of the job to my interactions with my instructor, Deb Hughes Hallett. The only thing detouring me from returning as a UTA is the fact that I would have to spend more hours in the tutoring room and UTA meetings. Finally, here are a couple tips for any students entering the program:
(UTA oral presentation on MATH ANXIETY)
This paper began as an exploration of the struggles faced by a student in my class. He has great study skills, is very intelligent, works hard, and yet continues to do poorly on his tests and his grade is suffering substantially.
The student really appears to be ideal. He has perfect attendance and turns in nearly flawless homework everyday. There are only three students in the class who haven't missed one of the 34 assignments to date, and he is one of them. He gets A's on nearly every assignment and shows all is work. He comes to the tutoring lab during the hours that I.m there about once a week, and always comes with a specific question. He demonstrates to me a clear and complete understanding of not only the computations required to do a problem, but also of the ideas behind the basic computation. He clearly spends time studying for this class, frequently with another student in the class and when he asks questions, they.re very point specific, such as “why is this answer negative instead of positive” as opposed to sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper and declaring “I don't get it”. He comes to every review session I hold before tests and has an answer for any question I ask. In addition, there was even an occasion in which my explanation of a problem wasn't making sense to another student and he stepped in and helped them understand by explaining it in another way. He is clearly a very intelligent and hard working college student, but on the last test he received a 54% while is friend with whom he frequently studies received an 85%. Shocked and frustrated when he told me this, he claimed that he has always done poorly on math tests. I asked him if this occurrence was subject specific and he replied that he frequently doesn't do as well as he feels he should on tests in his other classes, but math is the only one in which he does so poorly he risks failing. I encouraged him to go to the learning services center to discover whether or not he is suffering from a learning disability that causes him to perform poorly. His visit there resulted in not very concrete results. The woman suggested that he attend some workshops on study skills, but in my mind, his study skills are impeccable.
Partly out of curiosity, and primarily out of a desire to find a solution to his problem, I began looking around on the internet at sites that addressed learning disabilities, the way our minds receive mathematical information, and different explanations for why some people do better on tests than others. Throughout my various searches I continually came across the phrase “ath anxiety” and upon further investigation discovered that several of the symptoms associated with the condition apply to several of my students, and have, at one time or another, applied to me. I wondered if my student could be suffering from a severe case of math anxiety, and so decided to investigate it further.
Math anxiety is a feeling of intense frustration or helplessness about one's ability to do math. Mathematics anxiety has been defined as feelings of tension and anxiety that interfere with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in a wide variety of ordinary life and academic situations. It is an emotional response, frequently learned, that can cause one to forget information and lose self-confidence. Sufferers of math anxiety typically deal with in one of three ways: rationalize, i.e. explain why it's okay or inevitable to have such a reaction; suppress, i.e. acknowledge that they suffer from math anxiety, but refuse or are unable to deal with the problem; and deny, in which the student can't even acknowledge that a problem exists. Those students suffering from denial tend to make life choices based on whether or not math is involved. Their choice of major, career, business venture, all dictated by whether or not there is any math involved. This sort of guideline is extraordinarily limiting because it is estimated that there are less than 25% of jobs that can be classified as “math free” and these jobs are comparatively lower in status and pay than others requiring even simple knowledge of the subject.
There are four symptoms of math anxiety; panic, paranoia, passivity, and lack of confidence. Panic makes students feel helpless while paranoia makes students feel that everyone else gets it but them. Passivity leads students to conclude that they don't have the capacity for math so they might as well not even try. Lack of confidence results in students unwilling to trust their intuition and consequently rely on blatant memorization of rules as opposed to grasping the underlying concepts.
Math anxiety can be caused by many different things, most of which are societal. Being bad at math is socially acceptable whereas being able to read is not. No one would ever announce to a group of people that they can't read, but the same person would receive sympathy and support from a group should they announce they can't do math. In addition, from the beginning of their education, many kids are taught by people suffering from similar anxiety. Elementary school teachers are often no more proficient in math than that average adult and frequently share the general population's aversion to it. Undoubtedly, this attitude is perceived by and extended to the student. Math is taught for an hour each day, and the lesson is based on repetition and practice. In contrast, other subjects, such as reading extend to all aspects of class, in science, social studies, etc.. In addition, other subjects are typically taught with some variation, i.e. experiments in science, roll playing in history, different books in reading, all of which make the study of these things easier, more comprehensive and more accessible to the students.
There are three common education practices that frequently result in math anxiety during tests: imposed authority, public exposure and time deadlines. For a student like mine, it is perhaps the presence of these three things that cause such a gap between performance on a test and on his homework. Clearly, the best solution to his problem would be to change the way he was taught math since he was very young. In the absence of this as a realistic option, I researched some methods of handling math anxiety and talked to the student about them. He has yet to take another test, so unfortunately, I cannot report any results. However, I can report my findings. For those suffering with math anxiety, especially related to tests, it is recommended that the student first enter the test fully prepared. It is important to start out confident before the test is even passed out. Second, studies have shown that the best method for coping with math anxiety is to expect it. If a student knows it's coming then they won't be surprised or panicked when it happens. Instead, they can revert to a previously laid out back up plan. For example, my student claims he knows everything the second before he gets the test and then he looks at it and his mind goes completely blank. For his final, we discussed that he should simply expect this to happen so that he doesn't get scared when it does. Second, we devised a plan so that when it happens, the first thing he will do is take a deep breath. Then he will begin to write down the formulas that he knows at the top of the page, such as the power, chain, product and quotient rules. The idea is that this will reaffirm his confidence that he does know everything he needs to know to solve the problems on the test. Third, he will scan the test for a simple problem he knows he can do. These steps will gradually rebuild his confidence and hopefully allow him to perform well on the test like I know he is capable of doing.
Math anxiety is something that countless people suffer from to varying degrees of severity. The solution to the problem is twofold. First, have a plan to cope with the anxiety when it hits, and second to change society and education's approach to math in order to prevent the attacks from happening.
My UTA experience was awesome. I graded HW, attended the class, spent time helping out the students at the tutoring room and worked on the project. I enjoyed my overall experience because all of the things I did this semester really helped me understand the meaning of learning and teaching. I realized that helping others to overcome their learning difficulty in solving problems was not easy. Yet, by tutoring them, I had the opportunity to communicate my knowledge and understanding. I struggled myself too as a UTA because I felt like I had to relearn along the away when I tried to help students with the HW or math problems, but then I learned so much when I helped others.
Another thing that I wanted to share was my weekly UTA meeting. I felt that it was a big encouragement and support for me to meet the coordinator and other UTA's weekly because I got to share and know how others were doing. Also I thought it was great to have a speaker there who provided us with different advices on how to grade hw, help or teach the students.
When the idea of being an undergraduate teaching assistant was proposed to me, I was hesitant. I did not know what to expect or what was to be expected of me. But once I was given a little more information, I decided that it would be an amazing opportunity to experience teaching first hand. I did (and do) want to be a teacher, after all. So, for this last semester I have been a UTA for Daniel Ueltschi's Math 362 Probability Theory course. It has been both a rewarding and challenging experience. As a UTA my duties included tutoring, grading, conducting computer labs, and helping the students with any questions they may have had.
I spent 3 hours a week in the college algebra tutoring lab. During this time, I helped answer questions relating to algebra, trigonometry, and probability. Tutoring in the lab was a great way to gain experience working with students, as well as a good reminder of topics that I had forgotten.
On average I spent around 3 hours grading homework for this course. Although time consuming, it was beneficial to see how the students were doing in the class and where their struggles were with the material.
My main role as a UTA was to run the course's computer labs. These were class periods devoted to experimenting with the computer program, MINITAB. I was responsible for answering questions during the lab and then grading the lab reports. This was the closest experience to teaching that I had during the semester. Although it was the most stressful part of being a UTA, it was also the most rewarding. I was available to the students through email for any questions that could not be answered during the class period or during my tutoring hours.
The only negative part of being a UTA this semester was my lack of experience in the subject. This presented a problem toward the end of the semester when the course took a different path than it had when I had taken it. This presented some struggles, but it was nothing that couldn't be taken care of.
Overall, I am glad that I participated in the UTA program. It was a good experience. I would recommend that anyone interested in teaching, or just interested in helping students, look into being a UTA for a semester.
My experience as a UTA has been an exciting and rewarding one. My biggest challenge was the time commitment. This semester I had a tendency to spread myself too thin. I did not realize that teachers and TAs put so much time into their jobs. In that sense, this semester has been a real eye opener. As a student, I have a new-found respect for my educators.
I applied for this position in order to gain more experience tutoring and teaching mathematics. I have tutored math in the past at the university level, but not for the math department. I had never I had the opportunity to run review sessions, hold office hours, grade papers, generate solutions to homeworks, tutor in the math department Algebra tutoring room and assist with the student's last minute crises. The latter duties were my favorite.
Tutoring, much like teaching, is an artform. It requires, above the obvious understanding of the subject, a knack for interacting with people. The students that need help in math are often frustrated or even jaded with math. It is the peer tutors job to coax them from their present state to one of independence in math. In that lies the art.
The first and most important step to really helping a student is to identify with them. After all, we were not born with the skills that we have. Instead of looking down upon them, it is sometimes helpful to remember how you first learned what they are doing. In order to do that you must assess where they are with the material and their best way of learning. It is imperative that you establish a repertoire with a student. Only then can you begin to teach them what they need to know.
While your student is learning, you learn as well. Every student presents a new opportunity for learning. What we as tutors learn while we teach is patience and the art of human understanding. That, in essence, made the experience as a UTA for the department of mathematics at the University of Arizona substantial.