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In my university, tutorial sessions in physics usually consists in the teaching assistant solving three to six problems in front of the class (less than 30 students per class). Some TAs try to encourage student participation by asking what the next step in solving the problem should be, etc... but the results are usually poor. As a student, I mostly thought that this format for tutorial sessions was a waste of time, especially since most TAs gave the corrected exercises after the tutorial session (as I think they should be doing). I usually stopped attending after a few weeks.

I now find myself in the situation of being a TA for the first time and I don't want to repeat the same mistake as my peers. I want to convince the teacher to let me try a more stimulating format for the tutorial sessions.

I initially wanted to use clickers and ask short multiple choice questions to students, but I may have to abandon that idea since 1) it might be too much of a change for the teacher to accept, 2) take too much time for me to prepare and 3) the university might even not have clickers.

Another idea I had was to go through a single difficult exercise with the students as an example and to leave them the rest of the hour to work in teams on their weekly homework while being available for questions.

What do you think about it? What are some good ways to maximize the usefulness of tutorial sessions and to make them stimulating for students?

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You could take a jigsaw approach to teaching this.

  1. Put students in groups.
  2. Each group solves their problem
  3. You work with each group to be sure it's correct.
  4. Remix the groups so that each new group has at least one member from the original question group.
  5. In the new group each person teaches the other members how to solve their question that they completed in the original group.

Everyone is engaged and you provide support as necessary. Each group should probably be no bigger than 4-5 members otherwise people start to get bored

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I will discuss your ideas first. In my country, oftentimes, students are not too engaged in tutorial session, hence doing the clicker quiz will not work.

Regarding the extreme problem set in a team, I found only some students work on the question, the other halves are only waiting for the smart student finish thinking. This approach might work at MIT, I heard the rumor, CMIIW. My school was not MIT though.

Back to your question: "What do you think about it? What are some good ways to maximize the usefulness of tutorial sessions and to make them stimulating for students?"

I found that my approach works in my university, a top engineering school in a developing country with a lot of lazy students. So, the students are smart, but lazy, and usually unable to collaborate with others.

I made a flash quiz, with high difficulty and should be finished in a short time. They will be unprepared for the quiz, thus I allow them to open the text book. I told them that the score will be counted toward the final grade. I have negotiated with the professor and all the scores from the flash quizzes can contribute until 5% of the final grade. It is small though, and I didn't tell the students how much the quiz contributions. Nevertheless they take the quiz seriously.

Usually, most of the students get frustrated by the quiz and that is the point I want to make. They should know that they do not know about the materials, even after they read the book. After waiting for 30 minutes looking at them finishing the quiz, I stop them then we scores the quiz. Then I do the tutorial by discussing the questions in the quiz. 90% of the students usually pay attention to me. Sometimes, they even voluntarily want to solve the problem in front of the class so they know how to deal with the problem with firsthand feedback.

I believe that there are many unorthodox approach in conducting the tutorial session. I provide you with this one example. You may want to refer to the link in the comment which is relevant with your concern as TA.

Enjoy your TA-ing!

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