Graduate Student Instructor Support Super Group (GSISG)

a community of practice
at UBC Mathematics

Winter 2017 Term 1
Meeting Time: W 10–10:45
Location: MATH 126

Who are we?


Our goals

What's happening?

Reflection and Feedback

Nov 22, 2017 by CZ

This was our last formal meeting for the term! Matt and I designed a personal reflection form and a feedback form. We wanted the Super Group community to reflect on our experiences throughout the term, and to solicit feedback for planning future graduate student instructor support groups.

Here are the forms. You'll have to ask me if you want to hear the groups' thoughts and experiences.

Wrapping the term up

Nov 15, 2017 by CZ

At last week's meeting on November 8, 2017, we spent some time discussing one last thing that we could all try in our classes before the end of the term. For the majority of us, we had already accomplished our goal of trying something new in class, and we reflected on how those changes were positively affecting students' learning. This is awesome!

Today, we only had a short meeting discussing the process for running the formal teaching evaluations that happen at the end of each class. We discussed the procedure for ensuring that students' participate in the formal teaching evaluations. It was also suggested that we could run our own, year-end, teaching and learning survey, to gather immediate formative feedback. In the meeting, we quickly drafted a survey which we could use.

We also decided that next week we would wrap-up GSISG for the term by reflecting on the entire year and then meeting after the term for one last Super Group coffee!

Reflecting on Peer Review of Teaching

Nov 1, 2017 by CZ

We spent most of the month of October visiting classes and providing feedback to our peers on their instruction. Peer review was fun! It provided an opportunity for us to learn about our in-class practices and receive some valuable feedback. Moreover, we learned from each other and picked up some new ideas when visiting each others classes.

In preparation for today's meeting, I asked each instructor to spend 10 minutes reviewing their peer feedback and to try to answer the questions:

  1. What was the most useful piece of feedback you received from peers?
  2. What was something you found in the other lectures that you want to steal for your own teaching?
The answers for these two questions formed the basis of our discussion at the meeting.

We agreed that many of us still wanted to try something new in class (which was one of our original goals). Before coming to the next meeting, we each will to answer the question: "By the end of the year I will try..." At the next meeting, we will spend some time planning lessons to achieve this new goal.

Student Surveys and Planning Peer Review

Oct 4, 2017 by CZ

It turned out that almost all of us took Matt's advice and ran a survey in our classes! The survey included questions about the pace of our classes, the delivery of the lecture, the amount of material that students understood, and requested feedback on things that the instructors do that are liked and disliked by students. Doing a survey about teaching is a great way to check-in with our students! Personally, I found that the survey directly increased the engagement of the students—it empowered them—and allowed me to further build a relationship with my students. As a group, we spent the first part of our meeting discussing the feedback from students, and in particular, what exactly it means when students request "harder examples." I won't try to summarize that discussion here, but instead mention that Saraí is incorporating worksheets in class, and Li has switched to starting with easier examples before moving on to the hard ones! Laurent and David have kept working on engagement, with ``invention activities'' and a healthy dose of humor, respectively.

In the second part of our meeting, we focused on the peer review process. We decided to personalize feedback forms, based on self-generated questions about our teaching. The basic feedback form asks peer reviewers to comment on delivery, board work, structure, interaction, and content. Personalizing the feedback form allows for the establishment of goals and a direction for the peer review process. Ultimately, this will allow for the peer review process to be more meaningful and rewarding for the instructor and reviewers. As an example, here is the feedback form that I've devised for my reviewers. It contains personalized questions that are at the forefront of my current thoughts about teaching.

We also built a peer review schedule and emphasized the importance of a meeting after the classroom visit to discuss the feedback. Although we didn't talk about it in the meeting, this post-visit meeting should be a discussion between the instructor and the reviewers. Some guiding questions that the reviewers could ask the instructor during the feedback discussion:

  1. How do you think or feel the class went?
  2. How did your choice of teaching strategies contribute to your students' learning?
  3. Did you students achieve the learning outcomes?
  4. If you were working on some aspects of teaching, how did that go?
  5. If you were to teach this class again, would you do anything differently? What would you change, and why?
  6. What will you continue to do because it works well in your teaching and contributes to students' learning?

I'm excited for peer review! Visiting each others' classes and working together will help us all learn and improve our students' learning.

Here are some additional resources:


Sep 27, 2017 by MC and CZ

Self-reflection is hard, but is essential for learning and improvement. After a week of teaching and trying out the little changes that we decided upon last meeting, it was time to reflect on how our changes went.

Matt led the group through reflection by asking a series of questions: (1) How did your lesson go? (2) Did you like the changes you made? (3) Will you try it again? (4) What would you different next time? In turn, each of us discussed our lessons, and thought about the effects that our changes had on our students. Laurent and David discussed how they are trying to make material more engaging by connecting mathematical concepts to real life scenarios. For example, David shared his example of making decisions using a linear combination of weighted criteria. The criteria could be either 0 or 1, and so the output of the decision-making model is a step function! It's difficult to relate to discontinuous functions (without resorting to teleportation), but David suggested that his students enjoyed connecting the material to real life.

Li commented on how slowing the pace of the class, simply by allowing time for questions after each example, made the class more interactive and kept students engaged! I found that by adding a "sharing" component to my summary activities could make them more valuable, and ensured that the class was actually engaged in reflection.

To close our meeting, we also discussed our expectations for peer review of teaching, and decided that we would like to build a feedback form to use for our peer reviews. In addition, we all agreed that we wanted to build on our strengths as instructors, and asked that our reviewers start their feedback by addressing what worked well in our classes.

Next week, we will construct our feedback form, and schedule class visits for peer review!

Working on our lecture notes

Sep 20, 2017 by CZ

In our third meeting, we spent a lot of time working on our specific goals while referencing our plans for upcoming lectures. For example, I worked with Guillermo and Li to figure out ways to ensure that the key points from each lecture were emphasized, so that students could more easily refer back to what they have learned. Li and Guillermo both talked about how to assess students' background knowledge, and decided to try adding in some basic "check-in" questions to see what students remember (or to see what they don't). Laurent and David, who are both teaching Math 110, teamed up to work on their mutual goals. Sarafa, Saraí and Matt discussed how to increase engagement with giving students problems to do during lectures and by trying to be more conversational. Some questions remain...

  1. How do we get more of the class involved?
  2. How do we get input from the shy students who the students are are closer to the beginning of their skill development?

We're going to all try to implement a small change in our classes this week. Next week, when we meet, we will reflect on our experiences and the impacts that these small changes make. Coming up: peer review of teaching!

Refining goals and making plans.

Sep 13, 2017 by MC

After agreeing on our coffee/tea/cookie preferences we talked about how the first few classes went for everybody. In particular, we updated the things we were excited and worried about. For some of us, our initial worries had disappeared and our concerns lay elsewhere.

We did some more goal setting to refine our ambitions this term. We pondered the questions:

  • What do you want to improve in terms of your own teaching?
  • What is something you want to try/prefect?

Generally what were the responses? We are interested in retention of skills and takeaway messages; engaging students through questioning, participation, and hooks; and understanding the level/background of our students.

We agreed to bring lecture notes next week to work on in groups with the idea of making small changes to start addressing our goals. I'm excited since next week will see the appearance of my preferred coffee/tea/cookie!

Enter the Super Group!

What are we doing? What are our goals? Sep 5, 2017 by CZ

At our first meeting, we each talked about what we will be teaching this year. I organized an an activity where we wrote down and shared one thing that we are excited about teaching, and one thing that we are worried about teaching. Sharing these excitements and worries with the group really allowed for a open discussion about teaching and what difficulties we are all expecting to face in the first couple classes. These concerns will form the basis for what we are going to talk about and help each other with in the coming weeks, and we will revisit our excitements and worries at the next meeting.

We also decided that we should call our group GSISG, an acronym for Graduate Student Instructor Support Group. Saraí suggested that Super Group was more fun, and the name stuck. Agreed on the name, we also all agreed on our goals for the term, and are excited to (1) support each other, (2) try something new in our classrooms, and (3) do peer review of teaching.

We also chatted a bit about our specific plans for the first day of classes, and whether or not we're using the document camera or chalk boards. If you like the document camera, are you going to put the paper in portrait or landscape orientation?