Recitations and Office Hours

In this section, Dr. Diviya Sinha describes how she and the teaching assistants (TAs) prepared for and ran recitations and office hours.

Students attend lecture three times per week and recitation two times per week. While the students all attend lecture together, they are broken into smaller groups of 20-25 students for recitation. Recitations are led by teaching assistants (TAs), who are either biology graduate students or undergraduate students who did well in 7.013 and have several semesters of experience as graders and/or tutors for 7.013. I typically teach two recitations myself, in part to maintain a good sense of what’s happening, what’s working, and what’s not working.

In recitation, we aim to help students get more comfortable with the material presented in lecture. We begin each recitation by reviewing the key concepts that were covered in lecture. For the recitation sections that I teach, I bring notes about what I’m going to cover on each of the four chalkboards in the classroom, and I plan to spend 3-4 minutes per board. After the review, we essentially ask, “What are the points that aren’t making sense, and where do you want to go from here?” We might spend 5 minutes addressing specific questions raised by the students, and then we jump into the recitation questions.

The TAs are prepared to break up the questions into smaller questions that students are more likely to be able to solve.

— Dr. Sinha

We give the students approximately 5-7 minutes to make a first attempt at the recitation questions on their own. These questions are simple compared to problem set questions because we have limited time in recitation, but they get the students ready to analyze and apply lecture concepts to their problem sets. Once the students have a chance to think about the recitation questions themselves, we begin going over the questions in order. It’s often the case that students can’t solve the questions on their own, so the TAs are prepared to break up the questions into smaller questions that students are more likely to be able to solve. Basically, the students come up with the solutions, but we facilitate the process by asking a series of linked, smaller questions that collectively give the whole picture. If a problem set has been posted, we often try to make some connections between our recitation work and the problem set. At the end of recitation, students get a solution key for the recitation problems.

The frequent, small-group experience of recitations also helps students and TAs get to know each other, and enables students to get personalized attention. The TAs know their students by name, and the students sometimes feel more comfortable approaching their TAs than approaching me or one of the professors. The TAs and recitations are essential to the success of the course.

Preparation for Recitations

Based on the content that gets covered in the lecture, I design materials and questions for the recitations. This includes lecture summaries, recitation questions, and solution keys for the recitation questions. The basic content of the first 18 lectures typically stays the same, so those lecture summaries can generally remain the same. But the professors often change the way they approach the material, as well as the actual content of many of the other lectures. So we change the recitation material every year.

For each recitation, one TA is assigned to present the material to the other TAs as part of our preparation. Before this presentation, the TA who is presenting the recitation material meets with me and goes through the recitation material in detail. Then each week, we meet as a group to discuss the materials for the two upcoming recitations: what we’ll cover, how to approach each problem, how to break each question down into smaller questions, and what extra questions we can ask during recitation if we have extra time. As necessary, the TAs review and help to edit the recitation material.

We try to make office hours as convenient for the students as possible.

— Dr. Sinha

Office Hours

Each TA also has one hour of office hours per week for his or her students. This is an additional time for students to come and go through the concepts or the questions that are not making sense when they are looking at the problem sets. Office hours tend to get particularly crowded as we get closer to a problem set deadline or an exam date.

We try to make office hours as convenient for the students as possible. In Spring 2013, for example, office hours spanned a wide range of times, including some evening and weekend times.