CHEM 601
Syllabus - Fall 2009 

Graduate teaching assistants have a unique and significant impact on undergraduate science education at the University of Delaware. Thus, it is essential that new teaching assistants be prepared and supported so that they can fulfill their responsibilities fully. Introduction to Laboratory Instruction is part of that mission. This syllabus has several parts. Read each carefully.
Instructor Clientele Groups Teaching Philosophy
Course Description Text Chem-Biol Synergy Responsibilities
Meeting Time & Place Background Grading Useful Web-links for TAs
Course Home Page
Course Schedule

Instructor:     Prof. Hal White
Office:         203 Brown Laboratory
Phone:          831-2908
e-mail:         halwhite at

Course Description:   Being a new Teaching Assistant (TA) in a biology or chemistry laboratory of 20 undergraduates requires preparation not only in the subject matter but also in methods of instruction. Introduction to Laboratory Instruction is not a course devoted to biology or chemistry content. Rather, it focuses on teaching and especially learning.  It  is dedicated to preparing first-time TAs to fulfill their roles in undergraduate teaching laboratories. Issues relating to specific laboratory exercises and course content are the responsibility of the various course instructors. Among the topics and issues addressed are:

Time & Place:
The class meets Tuesdays from 8:00 to 9:15 A.M. in 208 Gore Hall. In addition, the course is coupled to the annual TA Conference sponsored by the Center for Teaching Effectiveness and departmental TA Orientation sessions during the week before classes start.  The tentative course schedule is posted.

Who should take this course:
All new Chemistry graduate students who are first-time teaching assistants must take Introduction to Laboratory Instruction. All new Biology graduate students who are first-time teaching assistants are strongly recommended to take this course. Because this course has a significant in-service component, new graduate students who are not teaching, should defer taking the course to when they become a TA.

There is no text for this course. However, there will be many handouts and material you will need to photocopy or print from the Internet. In order to keep these documents organized, you should put them in a three-ring binder.

Financial support and incentives for offering this course come from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and their four-year Undergraduate Science Education Grant to the University of Delaware That began in September 2002. The HHMI Undergraduate Program at the University of Delaware is dedicated to "stimulating attitudes of inquiry" in the classroom and in the laboratory, and among students and faculty at all levels. Traditional methods of instruction (e. g. "cookbook laboratories") often focus on transmission of information rather than cultivating curiosity and conceptual understanding. One of the goals of this course is to catalyze a shift in the perception of a teacher's role from the being source of all knowledge to being a facilitator of student learning.

Grading and Assignments:
Introduction to Laboratory Instruction is a pass-fail course. The main purpose of the course is to help new teaching assistants succeed. For this course, I expect registrants to:

  1. Come prepared and on time to all classes. Excused absence for legitimate reason requires advance notice to the instructor, if possible.
  2. Participate fully in class activities and exercises.
  3. Complete and turn in assignments on time. These will build on the normal and expected preparation for laboratory instruction.
  4. Provide and accept feedback (to and from peers and instructor).
  5. Participate fully in evaluations of course sessions and of entire course.
  6. Maintain a course notebook that contains handouts and other course-related material.
  7. Keep a journal of your reflections/experiences as a teaching assistant throughout the semester. This journal won’t be read by anyone but you, but you will need to review it periodically as the basis for class discussions. There are no absolute rules about the nature and/or length of your entries, but you will get a good impression of whether your journal meets the intended purpose during sessions in which you look back over what you have written. A general rule of thumb is to focus most on "critical events"- those experiences as a TA that really captured your attention in some positive or negative way.
  8. (Optional) Begin a teaching portfolio, which documents teaching experiences with carefully selected items that display progress and accomplishments. Students who successfully complete this course and are interested in careers in Academia may wish to apply for higher education teaching certification through the Center for Teaching Effectiveness.
Chemistry-Biology Synergy:
Much of modern biology is molecular. Thus, knowledge of chemistry is needed to understand much of modern biology. Most students dislike chemistry; however, biology can be used to make chemistry relevant. About 60% of students taking introductory chemistry laboratories have majors in the life sciences.  By mixing teaching assistants from Biology and Chemistry together in one class, each group will learn from the other, gain insight into their own discipline, and enrich their effectiveness as teachers. The course instructor is a biochemist--actually a biologist who was trained in chemistry. He sees the world with an evolutionary perspective, likes genetics, studies proteins, and really digs intermediary metabolism. In his spare time, he moonlights as an entomologist. He is devoted to education and eager to facilitate interdisciplinary communication among students, teaching assistants, and instructors. He once said, "Nothing in chemistry interests me except as it relates to biology; however, I've discovered that there is little in chemistry that doesn't relate to biology."

Groups and Class Conduct:
Each student will be assigned to a heterogeneous group of four or five students. These groups will not change during the semester. Every class period will involve group and whole class discussion with occasional individual presentations. Experienced teaching assistants and other guests will contribute to some classes.

Pedagogical Philosophy:
Over the years, my perception of my role in the class room has changed and now focuses on student learning. First, I believe that substantive learning has an emotional component which I view as involvement.  Consequently, I feel comfortable and justified in moving from a teacher-centered lecture approach to a student-centered, problem-based learning approach where students work in cooperative groups during class time.  To encourage involvement, I look for complex real-world problems with a “hook” that relates to the students and to the concepts I want them to learn.

Second, learning is not easy.  The struggle to understand is important.  It is not my struggle but the students’.  Therefore, I am much less inclined to answer student questions.  Rather, their questions more often elicit other questions from me that can be viewed as handholds on the mountain they have to climb.  With this perspective, I try to encourage independence but provide support when needed.

Thirdly, I view myself as more than a content expert who has to “cover the material.”  I believe it is important for me to evaluate student writing for composition and grammar, although I am not an English professor.  I feel it is important to introduce ethical issues that relate to the material, although I don’t have ready answers.  And I am willing to deal with uncertainties in the dynamics of the groups I create without credentials in social psychology. These are all things I  think will help students become more effective biologists and chemists.  By dealing with these issues in science classes, I hope to convey their importance for being a responsible citizen.

General responsibilities in the course in which you are a TA:

Return to Departmental Home Page, Course Home Page, Course Schedule, or Hal White's Home Page
Created 6 August 2002, Last updated 20 October 2009 by Hal White [halwhite at]
Copyright 2009, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716