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PHYS 501 A: Tutorials in Teaching Physics

M 2:00pm - 3:50pm / * *
W 1:30pm - 2:20pm / * *
Joint Sections: 
PHYS 401 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.


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

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

  • Learning objectives
  • Backward design
  • Observing different instructors
  • Self-reflection
  • Introductory lab objectives
  • Students understanding of uncertainties

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.

Contact information

You can contact us by sending an email to

Course Material

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


The course is split into the following two parts:

  • On Mondays, we will meet from 2:00 to 3:50 pm to prepare you for that week's tutorial and lab for PHYS 121 in PHYS 501, PHYS 122 in PHYS 502, or PHYS 123 in PHYS 503.
  • On Wednesdays, students in Phys 501, 502 and 503 will meet together from 1:30 to 2:20 pm, and we will discuss aspects of education research and classroom management.
  • The tentative schedule of topics is shown below.
  • Week Date Monday Wednesday
    1 3/29 Prep Introduction
    2 4/5 Prep Learning objectives
    3 4/12 Prep Backward design
    4 4/19 Prep Observing different instructors
    5 4/26 Prep Self-reflection
    6 5/3 Prep Introductory lab objectives
    7 5/10 Prep Students understanding of uncertainties
    8 5/17 Prep No class
    9 5/24 Prep Prep
    10 5/31 Holiday No class

Assignments and Grades

In-class participation (65% of grade): You are required to attend the Monday and Wednesday class meetings and to participate.  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.

Reading discussion (35% of grade, 1 point each): you will have a weekly reading assignment to prepare for the Wednesday classes.  After you have completed the reading, click "Discussions" in the left menu to post an entry under the correct week.  You can:

  • Ask a question you had about the reading.
  • Answer a question already posted.
  • Start a discussion about the topic, such as an opinion, a link to other relevant information, or your previous experiences related to the reading, either as a student or teacher.

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

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: 
January 26, 2021 - 2:30am