Training Teaching Assistants in Theory and Methods: The Next Professors of Biology

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Hardy, Michelle
Science; Science and Mathematics Education
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The purpose of this synthesis is twofold: to review the traditional teaching methods used to teach biology to undergraduates and compare them to the constructivist methods found in the literature. As the name implies, constructivism is an approach to teaching and learning based on the assumption that knowledge is the result of mental construction. After providing evidence that constructivist teaching methods are well suited to learning biology, this synthesis will discuss instructor training and classroom practices. Teaching assistants (TAs) are likely to be effective initiators of constructivist strategies since they commonly have the most contact with biology students. These methods are easily introduced into the laboratory where few resources are needed to implement the tenets of constructivism: problem-based learning, project based learning, peer instruction, and self-evaluation. The laboratory is currently used for the purpose of teaching students to use equipment and techniques that validate the discoveries of others. Since the laboratory environment is physically more conducive to active, student-centered learning and the TAs are the primary instructors found there, the conclusion is that TAs should be trained to use the primary aspects of constructivism before they teach in the laboratory. Teaching tools and lessons proven to help biology students are presented before concluding with some personal insights experienced while writing this paper.