Holy crapples, this is fantastic.
I think they should have assigned this as required reading to all first-year grad students who had to TA as part of their funding, and then made them re-read it at the beginning of every subsequent year so as not to forget important stuff. It’s also still relevant as an instructor. At least, most of it.
“Many instructors assume that students will read what is handed to them; I think this is incorrect.”
Oh my god, yes. This wasn’t something I ever did as a TA, but as an instructor (both at UI and U of C), I like to take time during the first lecture to actually go over the syllabus and any other important hand-outs. I particularly like to do this in the form of a PowerPoint so that I can really focus on the big things. I think it really helps emphasize what’s important to the students rather than making them wade through a two- or three-page document that includes a little information on every aspect of the class.
“People never learn course material as well as when they have to explain it to others.”
U of C has a thing up here for their 200-level stats classes called “continuous tutorial.” This is kind of like drop-in homework help where a TA staffs a computer lab for an hour, and during that hour students from STAT 213 and STAT 217 can drop in, work on homework, and ask questions of the TA if they have them. During my first continuous tutorial, I botched the hell out of a really simple probability question while helping a student. It wasn’t because I didn’t know how to do that type of problem, but because I hadn’t done that type of problem in quite some time, I blanked on the very simple solution and really confused the student. Brilliant, right? It is super important, both as a TA and as an instructor, to actually work through the homeworks assigned to the students and make sure you know how to do them. Because there’s not a lot of things more embarrassing than blanking on a question covering a subject that you supposedly know well enough to teach to the students.
“To me, motivating means addressing the history, culture, and usefulness of mathematics.”
LAKJSDFLASKFJALKF ASDFYADJFSDJ YES YES YES YES YES YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES
If you can put the topic into some sort of “non-computational” context, I think students are apt to be more open to it, approach it with less fear, and maybe even get excited about it. This is such an important idea to me, you have no idea.