AY 300 - Fall 2010: Syllabus

The most up-to-date version of this syllabus is always available on the course website (URL given below).

Official Course Description

Discussion and practice of teaching techniques, as applied to astronomy. Open to graduate students who are presently teaching assistants or associates. Two units for course plus one section; three units for two discussion sections.

General Information

Instructors: Aaron Lee, Josh Shiode Faculty Sponsor: Imke de Pater
E-mail: alee@astro, jshiode@astro imke@astro
Phone: NA 642-8283
Office: 541, 753 Campbell 561B Campbell

Website: http://badgrads.berkeley.edu/doku.php?id=astro300_f10

Office Hours: Feel free to stop by anytime, or make an appointment for specific meeting times.

Meeting Time and Place: Mondays 5-7 PM in 501 Campbell

Grading and Class Requirements

This class is graded on a Pass/No Pass basis. In order to recieve a 'Pass', you must:

  1. Miss no more than two sections of class. Further absences should be compensated for by doing make-up assignments.
  2. Complete all semester assignments, outlined below. These include a weekly teaching log, a short weekly reading or writing assignment, and several one-time projects.

The intent is to have the weekly homework be a minimal burden and time commitment; you should never have to spend very much time on it and we would much rather you spend your time preparing for section instead! However, you are required to complete all of the weekly assignments on time.

Description of the Class

The goals of Ay 300 are:

  • To pass on some pedagogical, as well as practical, words of wisdom regarding teaching (in particular teaching astronomy, especially to an audience of non-scientists).
  • To facilitate an open forum where we can discuss and practice a wide range of teaching issues, both in theory and in practice.
  • To provide resources for you, as astronomy teachers, that will help you both in the short term as GSIs of your sections as well as in the long term as professional teachers/researchers.
  • To not waste anyone's time!

Classroom Atmosphere

It'll definitely be relaxed and relatively informal in this class, but let's make sure to keep it civil and respectful in here. (We don't expect this to be an issue, but you never know.) A large part of this class will involve active participation by each of you, so when someone else is talking, please give them your undivided attention and let's try to keep it to one person talking at a time.

Typical Class Breakdown

  1. Students recap how their sections went
  2. Discuss and collect homework assignment
  3. Lecture on the day's topics
  4. Directed discussion
  5. Activity
  6. Students plan their next sections

Take Home Messages

  • What is the most important thing for your students to take away from their intro-level astronomy course? Although opinions differ from GSI to GSI and from professor to professor, determining your teaching priorities will help you provide consistent and coherent instruction for your students.
  • There are many different types of activities and teaching styles that you can include in section (lectures, group work, individual work, demos, etc.). Get feedback from your students early and often about what they find most useful and tailor your sections to their wants and needs.
  • Sometimes what students say they want is not always necessarily what's best for them. We want them to enjoy learning, but not at the expense of learning itself. On rare occasions GSIs may veer so far in order to make things fun/accessible that the material itself becomes trivialized.
  • Your students are not identical to you when you were taking college classes. They approach new concepts in different ways, have different strengths and weaknesses, and have very different opinions about what's (intellectually) fun, interesting, and exciting. They might also have a variety of pressures or concerns that you did not experience. Try to be aware of various issues Berkeley undergrads deal with.
  • Your favorite problem solving methods won't be helpful to some of your students. Be prepared to explain concepts in different ways and from different perspectives. In addition, keep alternative resources (other GSIs, TALC, etc.) in mind if your explanations run dry.
  • Cheating happens. You should be able to recognize it and know the university's, department's, and class' policy for dealing with cheaters.
  • You will encounter situations that demand judgment calls on your part. As you deal with them keep in mind, “Is my solution fair to all of my students?”

Topics & In-Class Activities

Below is a very rough outline of the topics we plan to cover

Please feel free to make suggestions as this schedule and list of topics is absolutely subject to change!! Printed versions of this list will likely go out of date; check the wiki for the most recent list.

Class Date Topics
1 8/24 Intro / administrative details / course goals / classroom setting / syllabi
2 8/25 Group/peer learning / planning your first section / lecturing & boardwork
3 8/30 Ethics & cheating / classroom interaction / mock lecture activity / worksheets / confirm exp GSI partner selection
4 9/13 TBD

Outline of Assignments

Teaching Log

Each week everyone will write in their teaching log a short entry (at least a paragraph) summarizing what they did in section and a few thoughts about how it went. It is important to do this as soon after section as possible before any details are forgotten. I will check this approximately monthly.

Weekly Short Reading or Writing Assignments

There will occasionally be short readings or writing assignments that will be due at the beginning of the following class. The assignments will usually be used as a starting point for our directed discussions. The particular assignments will be posted on the wiki here as the semester progresses. Optional readings will also be made available.

Peer Visitation

This will be broken into two parts

  1. Sometime during the first month of classes, you will be required to attend a section of one of the more experienced GSIs teaching an equivalent class (e.g., AY 10 ~ AY C10, but not AY 7a) this semester. Afterwards, you will meet that GSI outside of class to discuss general impressions, and fill out a worksheet (found here on the wiki). We will discuss the results in class sometime near the end of September.
  2. About halfway through the semester you should perform the same exercise with one of your peers also in AY 300. Again, we will discuss the results in class.

Other Professor Observation

At some point during the semester you will be required to attend a lecture of the AY 10 professor that you are not teaching for. After everyone has done this we'll take time in class to compare and contrast the teaching styles of the AY 10 professors.

Design a Demo

You will be required to design a demo for use in section for the class you're teaching and present it to the rest of this class. Hopefully the demo will be easy to construct and relatively cheap so that we can get funds through Dexter for you to actually build it. If the demo is very expensive, you will only be required to write-up your idea for the electronic Big Red Binder so that the idea can be revisited later by future GSIs. More detailed instructions will be given in a project handout (found here on the wiki).

Section Videotaping

At some point during the semester (possibly twice) we will videotape one of your sections. You will be required to later watch the video with me and have a discussion about your style of running section.

TALC Viewing

At some point during the semester (possibly twice) we will come observe you running a TALC session. You will be required to later meet with me and have a discussion about your style of running TALC.

Worksheet Contribution

By the end of the semester, you should have uploaded your best/favorite original worksheet to the EBRB. You can alternatively upload a substantially improved version of a worksheet already on the EBRB. The minimum is one worksheet; you're welcome to upload more if you think they're good. The EBRB usage page gives info on how to integrate new pages into the EBRB structure.

“It's been said that Astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character­ building experience.”
–­­Carl Sagan, American astronomer (1934­-1996)

“My aim in teaching is twofold: (a) to maximize my own enjoyment, and (b) they will tell their grandchildren about me.”
–Professor Chris Waltham, Physics and Astronomy, University of British Columbia - Killam Teaching Award Winner