Supported SiteSupported Site Florida International University: Early Teaching Experience

Early Teaching Experience (ETE)


  • The Learning Assistant (LA) program is part of the only operative teacher preparation program currently available to students interested in pursuing careers in physics education. College of Education programs have been cut. The physics program’s ETE has served as a model for the new mathematics, chemistry, and earth sciences education programs.
  • Our Noyce Scholarship program began funding students in Fall 2009. We awarded seven Noyce fellowships: three to physics LAs and four to math LAs.
  • Each LA worked in a reformed lab or classroom setting for approximately 150 hours in each of the fall and spring semseters. This compares to approximately 45 hours of field experiences in the three introductory education courses required in the cancelled programs. Moreover, the LAs’ work is centered on the students and their learning rather than on observation and/or grading.
  • We have leveraged existing programs and relationships to offer 5 different types of early field experiences suited for different levels of experience (Physics I labs, Physics II labs, Modeling courses, ISLE course, in-school high school experiences).
  • Before or during early field experiences, LAs are enrolled in the PHY 3012 Seminar in Science Education course. We found that LA reflections generally indicate success in altering student views on nature of science and appreciation of what it means to teach. (See Course Reform)


  • Chemistry, Earth Science, and Mathematics are still developing their LA programs and they must provide meaningful LA experiences. The current and former TIRs are assisting them. We must work to bring faculty from other disciplines into more active roles in project planning and development.
  • Education track advising should be improved so that all faculty know the route to becoming a teacher and can effectively advise. The path from LA to teacher is not clear to many faculty outside of the PhysTEC team.
  • Because the LA Seminar has grown to include LAs in the Chemistry, Earth Science, and Mathematics departments, this requires that we include readings and activities that meet these students’ interests.
  • In order to preserve the nature and intent of the ETEs, we need to work with faculty in other departments so that they utilize the LAs in a manner that reinforces ideas about teaching and learning that align with a progressive, expert-like view of schooling.
  • Interest in being an LA has spread rapidly. In the Spring 2010 semester, there were 24 LAs in physics and 20-ish in Mathematics. Coordination of early teaching experiences has become more time-consuming. This will increase as we include Chemistry and Earth Science.
  • One concern is maintaining the level and and quality of early field experiences, as well as funding to support LAs, as demand for LAs and for early field experiences expands.

Sustainability/Institutional Buy-In

  • The Physics and Mathematics departments have committed to fund LAs necessary for the operation of the introductory labs and modeling courses.
  • The College of Education continues to fund roughly 5 stipends per year for LAs.
  • The University has used the PhysTEC model in its reform of math and science secondary education programs and is considering it for the education programs in the humanities.

Lessons Learned

  • Top students learn to value and appreciate education as an academic pursuit even if they do not intend, yet, to pursue it as a career.
  • A regularly updated, detailed written model of the project is necessary as other programs and departments express interest in implementing similar program (Mechanical Engineering, Science Education, Math Education, Chemistry and Earth Science Education).
  • Chemistry, Earth Science, Mathematics, and Physics should continue to collaborate (perhaps through a multidepartmental TIR) and a feedback loop between LAs and LA faculty should be created to ensure positive LA experiences.
  • An advising workshop should be held for faculty so they can better advise their students who want to be teachers.


Activity Summary

  • PHY 3012 Seminar in Physics Education course touched on theoretical issues such as conceptual development, conceptual change, collaborative learning, and students’ conceptions of various topics in physics. The course was designed and implemented to introduce physics students to fundamental ideas in physics education.
  • Students in our LA program are involved in classroom experiences from the very first course in the program. Well-designed and guided early teaching experiences provide talented physics majors with a positive and engaging first look at education as an academic pursuit and potential career.
  • We have worked closely with the Departement of Mathematics as they build a new mathematics education program that includes the Learning Assistants program as the initial ETE. Learning Assistants in Mathematics take the seminar course but their assignments are made within the confines of the department. We continue to work with faculty to improve the experience for both the LAs and the students enrolled in the LA-enabled classes.

Type of ETE

Umbrella Organization

Description of ETE

Lab Reform

FIU Physics Department

LAs work with graduate student TAs in reformed tutorial-based labs. LAs work in conjunction with PIs, TIR and TAs to implement labs that focus on conceptual understanding, metacognition, and constructive learning.5 LAs for Fall 08, 10 LAs for Spring 09, 9 LAs for Summer 09, 14 LAs for Fall 09, 15 LAs for Spring 10

Modeling Class Assistant


LAs work with physics department faculty in modeling instruction introductory physics courses. LAs act as peer-peer facilitators for group work and whiteboard presentations. They also serve as mentors and a source of encouragement for struggling students.

3 LAs for Fall 08, 7 LAs for Spring 09, 7 LAs for Fall 09, 7 LAs for Spr 10

PAC Teaching

FIU College of Education and MDCPS**

An advanced LA with high comfort level in teaching works under the supervision of PAC lead teacher as instructor of high school physics course for at-risk students enrolled in math and science program at FIU.

1 LA for Fall 08 and Spring 09.

In-Service Practice High School

MDCPS High School

(currently Coral Park Senior High School)

An advanced LA works with a select high school physics teacher in the classroom. LAs will work with students on labs, problem sets and group assignments to gain understanding of physics curriculum and teaching methods, particularly modeling instruction. Teachers are members of the FIU-sponsored South Florida Physics modeling group. Tedious process must start early.

1 LA for Spring 09

In-Service Practice University


Work with university faculty in elementary science education courses to bring modeling instruction techniques to future science teachers. LAs will work with associated PhysTEC science education faculty to provide inquiry based learning experiences to future teachers (SCE 4310). Students enrolled in the course have limited science content knowledge. LAs working in this role need to be compassionate, easy-going. 0 LAs for Fall 08/Spring09

*Center for High Energy Physics Research and Education Outreach

**Miami-Dade County Public Schools