AY 375 - Fall 2016: First Day Lesson Plan

Goals for the First Day of Any Section

  • Get out relevant logistical info that students want/need to know. This includes handing out a syllabus.
  • Break the ice, warm up the students to section, and get students participating with each other and you.
  • Set the tone and atmosphere that will persist throughout the semester.
    • (This means using the same techniques you plan to employ later.)
  • Implement effective teaching techniques from the start, including good boardwork and question taking.

Goals for Bootcamp

  • Give GSIs an idea of how a first day should feel like
  • Show GSIs first hand what peer-instruction techniques are like – “get a feel for it”
  • Highlight the ways in which the classroom atmosphere can be set on the first day of section
  • Isolate effective teaching practices
  • Give examples of ice-breaking/first-day activities (should be fun, and somehow related to the rest of the semester, through content or otherwise)
  • Point out the resources they can use to plan section
  • Help them create a section syllabus and a first day lesson plan
  • Think critically about what teaching means to them, what do they want out of this class and their teaching experience

Lesson Plan

Introductions (5 min)

On the Board

  • Our names, contact info, office locations
  • Classroom time and location for Day 2
  • Any announcements?
    • Sign up for the class if you haven't done so yet (CCN 13416). E-mail Dexter Stewart (dstewart@astro) if you get wait-listed.
    • Visit Lochland Trotter (lochland@berkeley.edu) or Nina Ruymaker (ninanina@berkeley) on the 5th floor to get a key to 121/131 if you are teaching this semester. There is a $10 deposit for the key.

Introductory Talking

  • Welcome to Astro 375: Instructional Techniques in Astronomy!
  • What to call us: Carina, and Jason
  • What's our purpose in here?
    • To give YOU the confidence to hold a discussion section.
    • To bring to your discussion sections (and any future courses you may teach) confidence, enthusiasm, and good technique.
    • What do you want your students to leave with at the end of your 50 minutes together? Keep this question in mind throughout the semester as you develop your own teaching philosophy.

Pass Out and Fill Out Index Cards

(Front of Card)

  • Last, First
  • E-mail
  • Dept or Major
  • Year
  • Class you are GSIing for (title and professor)

(Back of Card)

  • Any prior teaching experience?
  • Are you enrolled in Ay375?

Getting this information from students is important for any first-day. Don't make it too long, but you could also include questions like

  • Astronomy background
  • Reason for taking the course? (remind them that “because I need a science course” is a perfectly acceptable answer!)


  • Hand out the syllabus.
  • Hit the major points (grading and attendance policy, includes brief mention of the various assignments, our goal is that the assignments will help you prepare and evaluate for section rather than being additional work on top of section), but don't dwell on this (will return to it later).

Icebreaking Activity (25 min)

Taken from Modelling Discourse Management by Desbien

  • (10 min) In small groups (3-4 people), introduce yourself to each other. Then put together a set of instructions on how to make a paper airplane (on mini whiteboards).
    • Instructors: This is the only instruction given.
  • (5 min) Exchange your instructions with another group and then follow the instructions exactly as written using another piece of paper.
    • Must interpret meaning of “lengthwise,” etc.
    • Instructors are going around making groups question meanings of words (i.e., what is “lengthwise” if holding paper in landscape orientation, etc.)
    • The idea is to get crazy things out of the instructions.
  • (10 min) Bring together into circle and discuss the activity (Instructors are also in the circle).
    • Questions:
      • How did the airplanes turn out? Where they what you expected or different?
      • What terms were ambiguous?
      • What assumptions needed to be made that weren't explicit
      • Why would we do this?
    • Where we hope to get them (meaning consensus):
      • Terms/definitions must be agreed upon before being used
      • Pictures are often better than words
      • People come with prior knowledge of the material presented
    • Optional (test airplanes)

What's in the Box (18 min)

  • Instructors have a sealed pink box. In groups (3-4 people), come up with experiments you can do on the box. Box is indestructible and sealed. You must be able to perform these experiments in class. (4 min max)
    • Carina and Jason roam around and seed questions (“what do you learn by doing that?”).
  • Each group performs one of the experiments. (3 min)
    • One member of each group performs the experiement and describes the outcome of the experiment to the class
    • Instructor writes each description on whiteboard
  • In same groups, decide what’s in the box. Each group comes up with one guess and reason why (3 min max)
    • Instructors roam around (“What is the most convincing piece of evidnece?” “Are their any alternatives that could also be consistent with the measurements?”)
  • Together as a class, each group reveals guess and reason why. Reveal true answer (3 min)
  • Discussion (5 min)
    • What was the purpose of this activity? How is this activity relevant to an introductory astronomy course?
    • What appropriate is this metaphor (“how is science actually done?”)? When does it break down?
    • How did we just model small group work?

Concluding Remarks (2 mins)

Section is “closed” off as if a real day one section.

  • Re-iteration that this is how they should expect classes to proceed in the future: We will be working in groups, having class discussions, we will be doing small activities (not necessarily always making paper airplanes).
  • We would also take this time to remind you about any important announcement/reminder of any homework, etc.
  • (Feedback and Assessment) Answer on your notecard:
    • Example of one you might ask: “What about section could have been improved? If everything was fine, draw a face representing how you feel about teaching.”
    • What we ask: “What is one characteristic of this section that you enjoyed and would like to incorporate into your section? If nothing, draw a sad face.”

BREAK (3 mins)

First Day Lesson Plan (20 mins)

Depending on whether or not this was discussed before the break:

  • Discussion:
    • What atmosphere developed? How?
      • (Comfortable (hopefully!) and collaborative. Humanizing ourselves with answers to questions, humor. Putting ourselves in the circle, not in front of the room.)
    • What precedents were set? How (be specific)?
      • (Group activity will be the main mode of learning. Students are responsible for developing main points. Consensus must be reached. Placing in small groups. Very little lecturing on our part. Not placing ourselves in front/middle, etc.)
    • What did you like? Not like?
    • What was the format of the section? How will your section differ?
    • What does a first section look like?
    • What are some sample first day activities?
  • Syllabus Design
    • There's no need to be very long or hard-edged.
    • The course syllabus should have the key information, but you should emphasize your contact info and any section policies that you want to enforce.
    • It's important to be yourself in your syllabus and try to strike the same tone and tenor as section will in general.
    • More Examples:

General Resources (5 mins)

  • Course website contains copies of handouts and links to relevant pages. Point out main lesson plans, assignments, and teaching log prompts. Tomorrow we'll visit the page again and talk about the EBRB and other links.
  • GSI Teaching and Resource Center Website. A wealth of information.
  • We'll cover other resources tomorrow.
  • EBRB?

Board Work (35 mins)

  • Individual sample board work practice
  • Keep some notes on things you notice that you like or could be improved. We'll talk about it at the end.
  • Will be continued on Bootcamp Day 2
    • Why is this statement true? “If we were to measure Doppler shifts in spectra of Saturn's nearly edge-on rings, we would expect to see blueshifted lines on one side of the planet and redshifted lines on the other side.
    • Why is this statement false? “It is easier to use parallax to measure distances to stars in distant galaxies.”
    • Why again is Venus's surface temperature higher than that of Mercury's?
    • This homework question asks us to estimate how long it would take for us to lose sight of Jupiter (at 4 AU) if the Sun were to suddenly shut off (i.e., stop shining). The problem says we can assume the Sun-Earth-Jupiter system are all aligned, for simplicity.
    • What does the professor mean by the “dark side of the Moon”? I said that part of the Moon never receives sunlight and got the question wrong.
    • Why do atoms only accept photons of particular wavelengths?
    • I have to compare the luminosity of two stars. One of them is twice as massive as the other and I know that L goes as the fourth power of M. There aren't enough numbers here for me to calculate the answer.
    • Can you go over the homework problem: Two stars at the same distance from us are the same temperature, but one is a giant while the other is a dwarf. Which appears brighter?
    • The Sun appears slightly bigger in the sky in January than it does in July. Given this information, for which month is the Earth moving faster around the Sun?
    • It doesn't make sense to me that we're located farther away from the Sun during summer than we are in Winter! Can you explain that to me?
    • Why is Orion considered a Winter constellation?
    • Why do we need to build some telescopes in space?
    • I don't understand how Olber's paradox tells us that the age of the Universe is finite.
    • How is the Milky Way's rotation curve different than that of our Solar System's?
    • I don't understand how if I'm standing at the equator I can see all the stars.
    • [lab] How do I find a star's position in my data? Can I take the maximum pixel value?
    • [lab] Why do we need darks and flats when observing?
    • [lab] How do I know what wavelength each pixel in my data corresponds to?

Assignment #1: assigned 8/22, due 8/23

1. Draft a syllabus for your section. Bring a copy with you to Bootcamp Day 2.

2. Draft (at least a skeleton) lesson plan for your first-day. Think about introductory materials/statements, icebreakers, activities, assessments, and the time each activity takes. What atmosphere do you want to create? How will you accomplish your goals?

  • Based on today, you should be ready to put together at least the intro and icebreaker, but jot down some ideas for the rest.

3. Write out your learning objectives for your first day lesson plan. Also include how you will assess whether these objectives were accomplished or not.

Other Reminders

  • Enroll and complete the GSI Resource Center's Online Ethics Course. You are all required to enroll in this course and complete all five online modules during the first 2 weeks of the semester.
  • Make sure you completed on-boarding paperwork and accepted a GSI position from Dexter so that you will be paid.