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


  • Nine undergraduates were hired for our new high school learning assistant program ( They assisted in local ninth grade physics classes which use the University of Missouri's A TIME for Physics First curriculum (
  • The Learning Assistants (LA's) formed the core group of an expanding community of MU students interested in physics teaching.
  • The four LA's who are physics education students all agreed that the LA experience was superior to the field experiences they had previously completed for their secondary education degrees.
  • The LA's 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).
  • Choosing content for weekly preparation meetings with LA's is challenging, since LA's 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 3 years post-funding.

Lessons Learned

  • We have found that the timing of the visits to upper-level courses needs to be approximately 3 weeks before the deadline for the LA applications, or students will lose motivation to apply.
  • Application deadlines need to be set for ~3 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 LA's.


  • The LA program began in September 2012, with all 9 LA's placed in 9th grade physics courses, ~5 hours/week (same period/group of 9 th graders each day).
  • The 9th grade physics curriculum at Columbia Public Schools was adopted from the MU "A TIME for Physics First" project (, currently sponsored by an NSF MSP grant. The LA's 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.