Learning Assistants

The NCSU PhysTEC Learning Assistants (LAs) are Science or Engineering undergraduates who assist in teaching introductory undergraduate physics courses. They participate in a course (PY 299/599 – Introduction to Teaching Physics) and receive a stipend for their efforts. The LAs are selected by an application and selection process that takes place near the end of the Fall and Spring semesters. To continue as Learning Assistant beyond the first semesteer a student must enroll in a course in the College of Education


In the Fall, 2013, we began a Targeted PhysTEC project to train Learning Assistants to support our introductory PY 205 Physics for Engineers and Scientists course. Each year over 1600 NC State undergraduates take PY 205 on their path to science or engineering careers. PY 205 includes 3 hours of lecture and a 1 hour per week problem solving section. There is an accompanying laboratory course. PY 205 covers mechanics and is followed the next semester by the PY 208 E&M course.

In the weekly recitations each Learning Assistant works with a graduate Teaching Assistant in guiding 30 students in groups of 3 – 4 through an extended problem. The Learning Assistants carry out the same tasks as the graduate students. They introduce the topics, ask and answer questions, cajole, pester and facilitate the collaboration process.

In the Introduction to Physics Teaching seminar (1 hour/week) we have learned how students learn, how to respond to questions, interactive classroom demonstrations, and student science misconceptions. A local high school physics teacher has presented a section on Modeling Physics and told us about how her students (who will be our students) act and learn. We have met other science educators and also worked on education design problems.

The first-year Learning Assistants take a PY 299 Introduction to  Teaching Physics Seminar, that is taught by Physics and  Education faculty. The course meets 4:30 – 5:30 PM on Tuesdays.  The course includes discussions and activities about how student  learn, student science misconceptions, what kinds of questions to  ask, how to do physics demonstrations, how to lead a problem  session and inquiry-based learning.

There are other benefits to being a PhysTEC Learning Assistant.  You meet interesting people. You improve your own understanding  of physics. You understand what your own teachers are doing.  PhysTEC looks great on your resume. Finally, the project provides  a stipend to the Learning Assistants for their participation  in the program.

For more information about how to apply to become a PhysTEC Learning Assistant email Dr. Colleen Countryman (colleen_countryman@ncsu.edu)