Skip to content Skip to navigation

TAing the PHYS 20 or PHYS 40 series discussion sections

The PHYS 20 series is an algebra-based introductory physics sequence composed of three courses:

  • PHYS 21:  Mechanics, fluids, and heat; taught Autumn quarter.
  • PHYS 23:  Electricity, magnetism, optics; taught Winter quarter.
  • PHYS 25:  Modern physics (special relativity, algebra-based quantum physics, cosmology); taught Spring quarter.

The PHYS 40 series is a calculus-based introductory sequence also composed of three courses:

  • PHYS 45:  Heat and light; taught Autumn quarter.
  • PHYS 41*:  Mechanics; taught Winter quarter.
  • PHYS 43*:  Electricity and magnetism; taught Spring quarter.

* PHYS 41 and PHYS 43 have optional componenents, PHYS 41A and PHYS 43A. These one-unit courses are designed to provide students who have less preparation in math and physics with extra contact time with teaching staff.  The responsibilities of PHYS 41A and PHYS 43A TAs are described at the end of this document.

Responsibilities of PHYS 20 and PHYS 40 series Discussion section TAs:

Discussion sections are required components of both the PHYS 20 and PHYS 40 series.  TAs play the role of learning facilitator rather than "expert at the board."  After a brief introduction to the material, students work in groups of three (or four) on pre-developed worksheets where they solve problems related to the material being covered in lecture.  Instead of showing students how to do the problem, TAs engage students in their own learning by asking them Socratic questions and demonstrating techniques that the students can use to be convinced that they are (or are not) on the right track.  Much of the curriculum developed for these classes follows the philosophy of Physics Education Research, which promotes active learning.  The worksheets are developed beforehand by the Physics Education Specialist in conjunction with the course instructor.

In addition to leading discussion sections, TAs attend mandatory weekly TA meetings for their course.  At these meetings, TAs go through the worksheets in small groups, identify areas that may confuse students, and discuss strategies to help students.  

PHYS 20 and PHYS 40 series discussion section TAs have a 50% appointment with the following duties:

  • Attend mandatory weekly TA meeting and complete additional preparation for discussion section as needed.
  • Lead two 80-minute discussion sections each week.
  • Attend at least one 50-minute lecture each week to interact with students during 'clicker questions' in classes where clickers are used and to ensure consistency in learning goals, notation, etc., between lecture and discussion sections. Be sure you are available Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, at either 9:30 am or 10:30 am.
  • Write solutions to problem sets according to a schedule assigned by the Head TA.
  • Grade weekly problem sets (PS) based on the schedule for the class (typically, 20 series PS must be graded by 9 pm on Thursday, 40 series PS must be graded by 9 am on Monday)
  • Lead review sessions before exams.
  • Attend grading sessions for midterm and final exams.
  • Staff the Physics Tutoring Center (PTC) for two hours each week to assist students with homework (HW) problems and in understanding concepts.  Hold an additional office hour, also in the PTC.
    • PHYS 20 series TAs typically staff the PTC for HW help on M and Tu, and hold office hours on W, Th, or F.
    • PHYS 40 series TAs typically staff the PTC for HW help on W, Th, and F, and hold office hours on M or Tu.
    • The Head TA organizes the scheduling of PTC hours.
    • Office hours are scheduled by individual TAs, to accommodate their own students' scheduling constraints. Office hours should not be scheduled at the following times:
      • 9:30 am to 11:20 am, MWF since those are the lecture hours for these courses.
      • Noon to 1 pm and 5 pm to 7 pm any day -- since these hours conflict with meals.
  • Help with miscellaneous tasks determined by the Head TA

For a 50% appointment, TAs should plan to spend 20 hours per week averaged over the quarter.

Responsibilities of PHYS 41A and 43A TAs (for AY2017-18):

TAs for PHYS 41A or PHYS 43A have either a 25% appointment or a 50% appointment.  A TA with a 25% appointment performs the following duties:

  • Attend mandatory weekly TA meeting and complete additional preparation for PHYS 41A or 43A as needed.
  • Work with the instructor and other TAs to facilitate learning during two 2-hour weekly class periods as students solve problems interactively in groups.
  • Attend one 50-minute lecture for the parent class, PHYS 41 or 43, each week to ensure consistency in learning goals, notation, etc., between lecture and discussion sections and to interact with students during 'clicker questions' in classes where clickers are used. Be sure you are available Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, at either 9 am or 10 am.
  • Develop and write solutions to weekly worksheets according to a schedule determined at the first TA meeting.
  • Grade weekly problem sets and/or worksheets and return them to students at the next class meeting.
  • Lead review sessions before exams.
  • Attend midterm and final exam grading sessions for PHYS 41 or 43; help with exam administration if the practicum overlaps with grading. 
  • Hold one office hour per week, either in the PTC or immediately after the two-hour class in the same meeting room.
  • Help with miscellaneous tasks determined by the Head TA.

In addition to the responsibilities of a TA with a 25% appointment, TAs with a 50% appointment for PHYS 41A or 43A have the following duties:

  • Assist the instructor in a second two-hour class.
  • Grade weekly worksheets for students from the second class as well.
  • Hold two additional office hours.