Problem Sessions

The TAs Role – Always refer to the Package of Assigned Teaching before signing up for your problem sessions.
Success of a recitation session will depend on how well the TA succeeds in generating student participation. Of course, that in turn depends on how knowledgeable the enrolled students are on the subject matter– attending the lectures in an active way is vital.  This is a great opportunity for growth as a TA as well:
  • TAs will reinvigorate their knowledge of (general) chemistry, which will certainly reinforce basic concepts that can be applied to research.
  • TAs can strengthen their skills in teaching and group leadership, both of which are vital for career development.
Problem Sets
A general rule in teaching is:
  • Tell me and I will forget
  • Ask me and I may remember
  • Involve me and I will exceed your expectations
TAs should apply that principle by:
  • Asking students what they heard in class (before retelling anything). This can be done as preparation for step 2.
  • Asking students to solve a given problem in a period of time (say 10 minutes).  It may be advisable to divide the class in 2 or 3 groups that will simultaneously work on a similar problem.  Working in groups is encouraged.
  • Asking one student to present the solution of one the problems on the board.
  • Providing a further explanation of the problem at hand that clarifies how the problem fits into the broader narrative of the lecture.
Crowd Control
Due to mandatory attendance, the TA should keep track of attendance as well as of any student presentations done on the board. An example of an incentive for students is to grant bonus points for attendance and/or presentations. Of course, not every student will have the opportunity to present at the board at every meeting, but by rotation they should all have a chance to do so.  Student tardiness is unacceptable, and the TA is responsible for dealing with the situation accordingly. Tardiness of 10 minutes or more should translate to a full absence for the late student. In addition, disruptive behavior should also annul attendance.  The TA should record non-attendance and it should count negatively toward the final grade. The lecturer should impose these regulations and should ask the TA to reinforce them, which will strengthen the set policies.
Transitioning from high school to the university is a tremendous and difficult step for many students.  Some students who have traditionally possessed great intellectual ability end up struggling, and lose track of their new responsibilities and have difficulty adjusting to their new environment. They need your guidance to grasp their position as active learners and regain control of their own learning.  TAs need to realize that this requires their leadership and mentorship since they will foster a close relationship with their students. It is crucial for the TA to understand that they are teaching students first, all the while also teaching chemistry.
If the lecturer/instructor requires it, the TA should also administer short quizzes. These quizzes should occur no more than once in three weeks and involve a single problem that the student can solve in approximately 15 minutes. Quizzes should be an extension of the practice material given in the recitation, and as easy to grade as possible. Grading of these quizzes falls upon the TA.
The Role of the Lecturer/Instructor
The instructor should provide a sufficient set of problems for the week’s sessions.  The problems should be accompanied by a full solution, plus an explanation of what the problem is trying to highlight. The TA can then provide a clarification that puts the problem in a proper perspective.  If the instructor wishes to make a problem into a quiz, this should be an extension of the other material in the recitation, take no more than 15 minutes, and be as easy to grade for the TA as possible.
TA/Instructor Meetings
The instructor should hold weekly meetings with TAs of the recitation sections. In these meetings, the instructor will do the following:
  • Provide the practice material for the coming week, and ask the TAs to solve a sufficient amount of it to familiarize themselves with the material.
  • Clarify the context of the problems.
  • Quiz TAs about their experiences in class, particularly about whether/how they succeed in soliciting full participation from students.
  • Discuss common hurdles in the material at hand and help the TA’s overcome these hurdles.
The TAs should do the following:
  • Report on general progress and problems they encounter.
  • Give feedback on areas where students are struggling within the lecture/recitations.
  • Report any problem students.