Read one TA's thoughts on and strategies for engaging students in the lab. (A lot of these tips are great for other classroom scenarios in addition to labs!)
Teaching is not about putting in efforts in preparing every lecture or a lab session. All that matters is engaging the students in the class. Once you manage to get their attention, everything else just falls in place.
Put yourself in their shoes. Think for a moment. What would you rather do, if you had to attend a 3 hours lab session at 6.30 in the evening? I know I had rather prefer chilling out with friends, unless the lab session is so interesting that it feels wonderful and exciting and gives the satisfaction of hands on learning.
For me, being a lab TA is an advantage. The students are excited when they get to see what they learn in the class. They come in batches of 10-12. The small number makes it really easy to connect with them. Personally, I feel the informal interactive session around the machines to be more effective than a formal lecture with PowerPoint slides.
The toughest part was the lab timings. My lab session was from 6.30 to 9.30 in the evening. Sometimes, it becomes difficult to sustain their interest, especially during the finals week when they have back to back exams.
My bag of little tricks, some of which I haven’t tried yet but plan to implement in the next semester:
- Make them question. Make them wonder.
- Appreciate them when they ask a good question. Appreciate them more if they ask a not-so-good question. Seemingly obvious answers might not be so obvious to first time learners.
- When you find sparks of genius, let them grow
- Connect with the students. Discuss their difficulties and offer help
- Keep your lectures short and crisp.
- Plan the schedule ahead. Have simple experiments during the exam weeks.
Personally, I always enjoyed teaching. But, this was a very satisfying and rewarding experience for me. Nothing beats the joy you feel when one of your students decides to pursue a career or further studies in the same subject area that you teach.