Course Syllabus

Unlike most other 300-level courses at SEAS, this is a class with a regular meeting time and (usually light) assignments.  (The 3xx course number indicates that, as for other teaching practicum courses in FAS, it is not considered appropriate for undergraduates to enroll for course credit.)

Course Objectives

Knowledge: By the end of the course, you will have knowledge of:

  • The principles of effective teaching and section leading and their relevance to students' learning and your personal development.
  • The application of analytical thinking and reflection to teaching.
  • The teaching resources available to you from peers/colleagues, SEAS, the Bok Center and beyond.

Skill: by the end of the course, you will have developed your ability to:

  • Prepare a goal-oriented lesson plan tailored to your audience.
  • Lead an effective section on a topic in your field, engaging students in interactions and discussions that help them learn beyond lectures and readings.
  • Work well with other teachers in a team environment.
  • Find your passion and use it to shape your teaching values and goals.

As a 300-level course, students are expected to complete all assignments.  Based on the self-reflection skills you develop in this class, we hope your self-assessment leads you to apply what you learned here to shape your teaching career, professional development, and personal life. 

Meeting Time

The course will meet 2:30-4:30pm Wednesdays in Pierce 114, according to the schedule given on the course site.  Some additional time for student teaching may be needed outside of the regular class meeting on some weeks.


  • John Girash, PhD, [Lecturer in SEAS, and Director of Graduate Academic Programs], Pierce 110, 6-5956.  Office hours Fridays 10-11am or by appointment.
  • Nabila Tanjeem, [SEAS Departmental TF].  Office hours Wednesdays 1:30-2:30pm at Pierce 320 or by appointment.

We look forward to getting to know you and hope to see you in office hours (regular, or by appointment) through the term.  Office hours and other notices will be posted on the course site.


Assignments for this course are designed to help you reflect on your own teaching, and on others'.

  • Weekly assignments will largely consist of short readings and video viewings, prep for teaching, and somewhat-longer self-reflections at mid- and end-of-term.
  • Each student will be required to review one of their teaching videos with a member of the course staff at least once during the semester.
  • Students will be expected to give a brief presentation on a topic of cognition or learning theory from one of the optional readings below, with some individual presentations spread throughout the semester if they don't all fit in the allocated class meeting.
  • Students will also be asked to each give one brief "show and tell" on a teaching-, learning- or outreach-related topic during the term.

Accommodations for students with disabilities

Students needing academic adjustments or accommodations because of a documented disability must present their Faculty Letter from the Accessible Education Office (AEO) and speak with John by the end of the second week of the term (Sept. 13 in/after class, or office hours). Failure to do so may result in the our inability to respond in a timely manner. All discussions will remain confidential, although Faculty are invited to contact AEO to discuss appropriate implementation.

Reading List

Required readings for all students:

Optional readings, e.g., on which presentations may be based:

Tentative Schedule

The tentative Fall 2017 schedule is listed below.  Adjustments will likely be made due to number and fields of students in the class, guest availability etc.

Sept. 6 - Teaching by doing; then reflecting

We begin to look at teaching by teaching. Students will take turns briefly (~3 min.) teaching a non-academic topic of their choice -- no prep is required! Time permitting we will then discuss the purpose of teaching and the role of the teacher.

Assignment for Sept. 13:

Sept. 13 - Communication and Teaching

As teachers, how do we connect with our audience?  Dr. Pamela Pollock, Associate Director for Professional and Scholarly Development at the Bok Center, will lead us in exercises and coaching. This will help us to develop a vocabulary for talking about teaching in specific and descriptive terms.

Assignment for Sept. 20:

  • Browse the Crimson's "Class of 2020" report, and read the commentary "I can't speak".
  • Watch the video clip you were mailed the link to. Write down any observations on what the teacher did, what the students did, and how they interacted. Keep in mind that these are descriptions, not judgements.
  • Read through page 10 of the new TF Handbook you received in class; it's also at  .

Sept. 20 - Teaching at Harvard


  1. What does it mean to be a Teaching Fellow in SEAS, at Harvard?
  2. What are the expectations institutionally, culturally, professionally, and how does TFing fit in with a graduate student's research and overall life?
  3. How does an individual TF work effectively with a course head and/or a larger course staff?
  4. What are Harvard undergraduates like, and how do TFs fit in with their overall academic and college life?

We'll be joined by Abdul Wasay, CS PhD student and Resident Tutor in Quincy House.

Time permitting we may discuss videotapes of past TFs and continue to develop our teaching vocabulary regarding material and lesson structure.

Assignment for Sept 27:

  • Read pp.11-15 of Hit the Ground Running  [You can read the "Problem Set" section now or later, your choice]
  • Prepare a ~10 minute lesson to teach. Try to make it at least somewhat interactive, and aim it at an intro/undergrad audience if possible.

Sept. 27 - Teaching Week II: class structure, learning goals and lesson planning

You will do your first (still brief) academic teaching, with a focus on fielding student questions.  We will also discuss aspects of lesson planning and structuring a section.  

Assignment for Oct. 4:

  • Watch the Math 21b video clip you were mailed the link to.  Consider the teacher's style both in interacting with the students and in using the board.
  • Do a board planning exercise:  Pick ~10 minutes of conceptual material to present. Take a sheet of paper and draw an outline of board panels on it. Plan out on the paper exactly what you will put on the board. No short-cuts: when done, the paper should effectively be a photograph of what the board will look like when you’re done.  While doing this exercise, make note of important things to say and places to ask questions and interact with the students. Write all of this down, but not in the panels outlining the board. (It could still be on the same sheet of paper, perhaps below each panel.)
  • Bring 3 copies of your lesson plan to class. We will be going over them in small groups.

Oct. 4 - Working with faculty, students, other TFs to make a course go well

A discussion of teaching at Harvard from the professor's perspective and how TFs and faculty can work best together in a course, with guest faculty member Harvard College Professor Evelyn Hu joining us to give a course head's point of view.  [Date subject to change]

We will then break into small groups to study each other's board plan (prepared as homework). 

Assignment for Oct. 11:

  • Read Backward Design, Chapter 1 from Understanding by Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. See also Fig. 1.2 [courtesy of WKU].
  • Based on the feedback you received, revise your plan and come prepared to teach from it.

Oct. 11 - Teaching Week III: Conceptual Teaching

Incorporating feedback from the previous workshopping of your board plans, you will teach with your lesson plan, based on a conceptual topic, followed by a discussion of intent versus execution in terms of student learning.  We'll be joined by Margo Levine, ADUS in Applied Math.

Assignment for Oct. 18:

Oct. 18 - Problems and Assignments

A discussion of specific skills of teaching a scientific problem or activity, followed by a workshop on question/problem/assignment design, leading to you developing your problems or activities (as homework) to "assign" to each other next week.  We'll be joined by Patrick UlrichADUS in Environmental Science & Engineering.

Assignment for Oct. 25:

  • Read pp.15-16 "Problem Set Sections" of Hit the Ground Running if you haven't already. [You can optionally also read the "Lab"  and "Discussion Section" sections if you like]
  • Prep a problem- or example-based lesson (target for 20 minutes or less) in support of the homework problem you started developing in class today. Also finish composing your homework problem and bring 3 copies to hand out in class. Aim for your homework to take your "students" 15 minutes to complete after seeing your in-class lesson.
  • Fill out the course-feedback survey under "Quizzes" on the course Canvas site.

Oct. 25 - Teaching Week IV: Problems

Teach a problem or example and hand out "homework" to each other, to do for next week.  We'll be joined by Sarah Iams, ADUS in Applied Math.

Assignment for Nov. 1:

Nov. 1 - Homework debrief

Grade each other's homeworks, have "office hours" meeting with students to discuss their efforts, and get each other's feedback on what it was like to be a student expected to do the assignments (and to learn from doing so).

Assignment for Nov. 1:

  • Prep a brief research-group-talk or public-outreach presentation.

Nov. 8 - Teaching Week V: Communicating Your Science

Giving a first group-meeting presentation can be one of the most stressful tasks for a new graduate student.  Using the teaching and feedback vocabulary we've built up so far, you will have the opportunity to practice giving a "group talk" and fielding questions.    We'll be joined by Paul Bottino, Executive Director of Innovative Education.

Nov. 15 - The (Cognitive) Science of Learning

Students' presentations reviewing what they learned in the cognition and other science-of-learning chapters.

Nov. 29 - Experimental Teaching Lab

Faculty often find that their most rewarding teaching is often on topics other than their everyday research field.  Think outside the box and teach us something completely different, and differently.

Course Summary:

Date Details