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Supported SiteSupported Site University of Missouri-Columbia: Early Teaching Experience


  • To date, 20 Learning Assistants (18 undergraduates, 1 graduate student, and 1 post-baccalaureate student) have been hired for our new high school-based Learning Assistant program ( They assisted in local ninth grade physics classes which use the University of Missouri's A TIME for Physics First curriculum (, as well as two twelfth grade classes and a College Physics I course.
  • The Learning Assistants (LAs) formed the core group of an expanding community of MU students interested in physics teaching.
  • 60% of the LAs in the high school program report an increased interest in high school teaching (20% stayed the same, 5% decreased, and 15% didn't respond to this question).
  • The LAs who are physics education majors agree that the LA experience was superior to the field experiences they had previously completed for their secondary education degrees.
  • The LAs reflected positively on the experience of working with ninth grade students:
    • "After the LA program…I would totally teach a freshman class. They have quite a bit of energy, enthusiasm, and curiosity, which makes teaching them a blast." -Physics education major
    • "Best part of being an LA was connecting with students….Inspiring students was one of the best feelings in the world." -Physics and math dual major


  • Coordinating the program involves communication with a multitude of people (MU students, Columbia Public Schools teachers and administrators, MU College of Education administrators and faculty, and PhysTEC faculty and TIR).
  • Reviewing content and pedagogy for weekly preparation meetings with LAs is challenging, since LAs are placed with different host teachers, who were at varying points in the curriculum.


  • MU has committed cost-matching funds to sustain the LA program, our most effective recruiting tool, for at least three years post-funding.

Lessons Learned

  • We have found that the timing of the visits to upper-level courses needs to be approximately three weeks before the deadline for the LA applications, or students will lose motivation to apply.
  • Application deadlines need to be set for about three weeks before the end of the semester, to be ready to place students by the beginning of the next semester.
  • Placing posters in engineering and physics buildings has been effective at recruiting LAs.
  • We need to be more active in recruiting by having multiple exposures of our program to physics and engineering students.


  • The LA program began in 2012-2013, with all nine LAs placed in ninth grade physics courses, for about five hours per week (same period and group of ninth graders each day). In 2013-2014, an additional 11 LAs were added.
  • New LAs are placed in high school physics programs. Returning LAs were given the option of working in a College level or high school level course in Spring 2014.
  • The ninth grade physics curriculum at Columbia Public Schools was adopted from the MU "A TIME for Physics First" project ( ), currently sponsored by an NSF Math and Science Partnership grant. The LAs were enthusiastic about learning how to teach the modeling and inquiry based curriculum, in comparison to a more traditional approach. Missouri teachers currently enrolled in the professional development courses for "A TIME for Physics First" are supportive of the training of future teachers who will be well prepared to fill a Physics First teaching vacancy.