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PHYS 501 A: Tutorials in Teaching Physics

M 2:00pm - 3:50pm / PAT C211
W 1:30pm - 2:20pm / PAT C211
Joint Sections: 
PHYS 427 A
Peter S. Shaffer

Syllabus Description:

Welcome to PHYS 501-502-503.  The instructors of these courses are:

In this class everyone is welcome, regardless of other identities you hold in addition to that of physics student.  We expect everyone in this class to treat each other with respect.

Note on mode of operation:

This class is conducted in-person.  Students are expected to participate in class to fully benefit from course activities and meet the course’s learning objectives.  To protect their fellow students, faculty, and staff, students who feel ill or exhibit possible COVID symptoms should not come to class. When absent, it is the responsibility of the student to inform the instructor in advance (or as close to the class period as possible in the case of an unexpected absence) so that we can make arrangements for you to make up the missed work.


Phys 501-502-503 courses are designed to prepare teaching assistants (TAs) to teach introductory physics tutorials and labs.

  • Phys 501 prepares TAs for Phys 121
  • Phys 502 prepares TAs for Phys 122
  • Phys 503 prepares TAs for Phys 123

The courses also give students a chance to strengthen their understanding of introductory physics concepts and the connections between the physics formalism, the underlying models, and real-world phenomena.

Each quarter we will also introduce different aspects of education research and classroom management.  This quarter, the planned topics include:

  • Promoting effective groups
  • Grading
  • Student-TA interactions
  • Think-pair-share
  • Observations of an active classroom
  • Implicit bias

New TAs in the physics department are required to complete the Phys 501-502-503 series to be considered for future TA positions.  You can take these courses in any order, and you do not need to do them in consecutive quarters.  The course you take will depend on your TA assignment in that quarter, so you should enroll after you have been given your TA assignment.  During your first quarters as a TA in the physics department, you will be assigned as a TA for each of Phys 121, 122 and 123, but not necessarily in that order.

Learning objectives

By the end of this course, students will demonstrate the ability to:

  • Understand introductory physics concepts and the connections between the physics formalism, the underlying models, and real-world phenomena well enough to teach those topics.
  • Teach students in PHYS 121/122/123 tutorial and lab sections with an awareness of best pedagogical practices.

Contact information

You can contact us by sending an email to

Course Material

No material is required for purchase.  We will provide copies of any material required for this course.


On Mondays, we will prepare you for that week's tutorial and lab.  The meeting times and locations are as follows:

  • PHYS 501: 2:00 to 3:50 PM in PAT C211
  • PHYS 502: 2:00 to 3:50 PM in PAB B164
  • PHYS 503: 3:30 to 5:20 PM in PAT C231

On Wednesdays, we will discuss aspects of education research and classroom management.  PHYS 501, 502 and 503 will meet together from 1:30 to 2:20 PM in PAT C211.

The tentative schedule of topics is shown below.

  • Week Date Monday Wednesday
    1 9/29 Introduction
    2 10/4 Prep Promoting effective groups
    3 10/11 Prep Grading
    4 10/18 Prep

    Student-TA interactions

    5 10/25 Prep Think-pair-share
    6 11/1 Prep Reflections on observations
    7 11/8 Prep Implicit bias
    8 11/15 Prep No class
    9 11/22 No class No class
    10 11/29 Prep No class
    11 12/6 Prep No class

Assignments and Grades

This is credit/no-credit course.  To get credit you must have no unexcused absences, and your weighted score must be greater than 90%.

Monday class preparation (20% of grade)

  • To prepare for the Monday classes, you will take a pretest each week.
  • These are: 
    • Graded based on a thoughtful attempt, not on correctness.
    • Become available Friday at 3:30 PM and are due on Monday at 1:30 PM.
    • Once you start a pretest, you will have 15 minutes to complete it without the ability to pause.

Wednesday class preparation (40% of grade)

  • To prepare for the Wednesday classes, you will have a weekly reading assignment or other activity.
  • After you have completed the assigned activity for the week you will post a short discussion about the assignment that will be graded based on a thoughtful response.

In class participation (40% of grade)

  • You are required to attend the Monday and Wednesday class meetings and to participate in discussions.
  • Each meeting will be graded based on the following rubric:
    • Adequate (2 points): Actively engaged in discussion.
    • Needs improvement (1 point): Did not significantly contribute to discussion.
    • Missing (0 points): Did not attend.

    If you cannot attend a class meeting, let the appropriate instructor know as soon as possible so that you can be excused, and we can make arrangements for you to make up the missed meeting.

    If you get a score of 1 point for a meeting, we will meet so that we can discuss expectations.

Access and accommodation

Your experience in this class is important to us, so if you have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but are not limited to: mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical), please contact DRS to arrange accommodations.

If you would like to share any accommodation needs that you may have, please contact us

Safe campus

We are committed to ensuring a safe environment on campus.  We encourage you to check out the resources available here.

Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities.  The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (  Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (


Catalog Description: 
Preparation for teaching introductory physics; use and critical analysis of instructional materials in a collaborative learning environment; supervised teaching practicum in which instructional materials are used with undergraduates. Credit/no-credit only. Offered: A.
Section Type: 
Last updated: 
April 19, 2021 - 10:11pm