Class Information

This graduate-level course is intended for first-time teaching assistants in the SMU Physics Department. For the Fall of 2017, all new graduate students and all existing graduate students who will be actively serving as teaching assistants are required to enroll in this course.

-- Stephen Sekula, Associate Professor of Physics

FOSC 60, Mondays, 10am-10:50am. During the first week of class, we'll meet more frequently to assess communication of problem-solving, and this will reduce the number of weeks we formally meet.

Contact Information

  • Professor Sekula:, Fondren Science 39, 8-7832
General Information

This course is intended to introduce graduate students to the foundational skills and approaches in the modern physics education environment. Students will learn to...

  • Understand the methods and applicability of the best researched physics teaching techniques;
  • Craft their own problem-solving approaches and then demonstrate physics problem solving approaches to undergraduates;
  • Engage undergraduates in a team-based problem-solving environment;
  • Improve their performance in the classroom environment (e.g. speaking, writing, and interaction/communication skills);
  • Engage professionally with undergraduates.


None for this semester, but in the future I anticipate requiring PHYS 3305 or equivalent.

Course Materials

This course will be tightly tied to the cooperative problem-solving sessions that will accompany the introductory physics classes (PHYS 1303, PHYS 1304, PHYS 1307, and PHYS 1308). These are henceforth referred to as "Co-Op Sessions."


  • Student in-class problem solving and teaching exercises will be scored using a rubric containing the following categories, each scored on a scale of 0-5. A total score will be computed for each in-class problem solving exercise and a weekly grade assigned based on that performance. The key observation the course instructor has to make and then judge at the end is the overall level of improvement from the beginning to the end, not necessarily the average of these grades. Students should be teaching at the level of a "B" or better on this grade scale at the end to have demonstrated progress and prowess.
    • Organization of pre-class preparation for the problem-solving session
    • Accuracy of the application of physics principles in the demonstration
    • Speaking pace
    • Speaking clarity and orderliness
    • Writing pace
    • Writing clarity and orderliness
    • Engagement with the audience (eye contact, pausing to invite comments or questions, etc.)
    • Overall professionalism (ability to work within time constraints, ability to address audience respectfully and to invite, not end, discussion)
  • Undergraduate evaluations: At least twice during the semester, we will ask undergraduates in the Co-Op sessions to evaluate their embedded student-teacher. These evaluations will be similar, if not identical, to those used for faculty instructors. We will look for improvement from the earliest to the latest evaluation, and see how graduate student-teachers rank compared to departmental averages for introductory physics instruction. Undergraduate assessment will be considered at the "B" level if a graduate student is operating at least at the average of the department teaching level.