red Supported Site University of Arkansas: Early Teaching Experience

Successes

  • Undergraduate teaching experiences--as Learning Assistants--in the reformed introductory physics courses are a good first experience, providing a chance to teach the content in a pedagogically sound fashion with a very stout safety net. This can count for 40 of the 60 hours required for early teaching experiences for entry into the MAT program.
  • Public school teaching experiences, in classrooms of TAG members or of former TIRs, have helped students experience teaching and evaluate it as a possible career choice. Do this as early as possible.
  • The MAT provides significant student teaching experiences, in a variety of settings.
  • Since the cooperation between the Colleges brought about by PhysTEC has made it easier for more of our students to complete the MAT, this will become an increasingly important resource for our students.

Challenges

  • Some school districts place limits on students assisting in classrooms (schools fear “possible sources of distraction”), but they will allow it as part of a course for credit to prepare future physical science teachers. Write a form letter and have copies ready.
  • Finding enough time to do a good job advising students as they attempt to make a career choice that includes teaching, and to help guide them through the best available preparation. The changes in the MAT program mean more of our students can afford the traditional licensure route. This provides a student teaching experience through well-established channels, which greatly reduces the time required of the physics adviser to make those good student-teaching opportunities available.

Sustainability/Institutional Buy-In

  • The MAT has a 60-hour early teaching experience requirement for entry. Forty of the 60 hours can be experience gained in a reformed physics class
  • The apprenticeship course in physics teaching (for LAs) can be adapted to give credit for early teaching experiences in both the college setting and the public schools.

Lessons Learned

  • The best off-campus early teaching experiences have been very time-intensive for the adviser, matching students with teachers, for personality as well as content and schedule. We hope that the newly-formed Northwest Arkansas Physics Teachers Association helps with this. Also, as more of our students pursue the MAT, that program can provide carefully-selected host teachers.

Learning Assistant Program

Our Learning Assistant (LA) program, in which undergraduates assist in the teaching of university physics courses, is our most distinctive and our most prominent early teaching experience opportunity.

  • LAs have improved our instruction, involved more faculty in teacher preparation issues, and attracted more people into physics teaching.
  • The LA program had to be something we could implement without added cost, so our learning assistants get course credit, not pay.
  • Since LAs get course credit, the LA experience is structured as a course, Lab and Classroom Practices in Physics. The experience can be tailored for the individual student to receive from one to three credit hours.
  • LAs acquire laboratory and demonstration techniques illustrating fundamental concepts through a teaching apprenticeship using classroom methods that are measurably effective in promoting student learning.
  • While we place students with area teachers as well, it is done on a very individualized basis, and does not necessarily provide a useful model. Please contact Gay Stewart if you are interested in details.

Our LA program grew from an NSF-supported program to better prepare graduate students to become faculty. Details on the implementation of both programs and the official course work that supports them are available here. Choose the "resources" link on the page.