Penn Graduate Student Center

Navigating the Classroom

About Navigating the Classroom

Navigating the Classroom seeks to help graduate teaching assistants be successful in the classroom through workshops and resources. This program is cosponsored by Penn Graduate Student Center and GAPSA.

The Center for Teaching and Learning and the Library offer extensive programming to assist graduate student teachers in the classroom.

Teaching Workshops

Center for Teaching and Learning and the Graduate Student Center co-sponsor a series of workshops for graduate students, especially TAs, who are interested in learning and improving their teaching skills.

Starting Class in Ways that Get Students Interested and Motivated to Learn

Monday, February 02, 2015, 02:30 PM - 04:00 PM
Room 305 (3rd Floor)

How can you get students engaged, active, and focused in the first few minutes of a class? What are the best ways to kick things off? How can you incorporate writing, discussion, group work, or problem solving into your class openers? In this workshop we’ll discuss getting your classes and recitations off to a strong start. Participants will have the opportunity to share their own strategies for getting students engaged as well as learn from their peers in other fields what works for them. Led by Ian Hartshorn.

Strategies to Get Your Students Prepared for Class

Wednesday, February 04, 2015, 01:00 PM - 02:30 PM
Room 305 (3rd Floor)

This workshop will focus on how instructors can assign and structure student work outside of class to improve student learning and make better use of class time. The group will brainstorm various techniques for getting students ready for each specific class meeting and more global ways to help students understand the relationship between what they do outside of class and inside of class. Above all this workshop will focus on they ways to take advantage of the time students spend preparing for class to encourage critical thinking and engagement with the material. Led by Justin Bernstein.

Facilitating Discussion

Monday, February 09, 2015, 12:00 PM - 01:30 PM
Room 305 (3rd Floor)

In this workshop, we will develop strategies for promoting effective discussion in the classroom. We'll identify what we mean when we talk about "discussion": what does a good one look like, and what pedagogical purposes does it serve? Then we will develop practices for discussion that address those goals: how to create an environment conducive to discussion, how to provide your students with what they need to participate meaningfully, how to develop strong questions to prompt compelling and useful conversations, and how to develop lesson-planning strategies that work for you toward facilitating discussion. Led by Bronwyn Wallace.

Teaching Students to Look at Data Critically

Wednesday, February 11, 2015, 12:30 PM - 02:00 PM
Room 305 (3rd Floor)

The ability to comprehend and effectively analyze data is an invaluable skill with applications that transcend the classroom. However, effectively equipping undergraduate students with this ability can sometimes be a frustrating process. In this workshop, we will explore how primary research articles can be utilized as educational tools in teaching students to look at data critically. Research articles are not only the medium through which academic professionals predominantly communicate, but strong analytical reasoning skills are necessary for their comprehension. Accordingly, we will discuss how to constructively incorporate primary articles in the classroom and how this strategy can positively impact students’ abilities to reason critically throughout their academic careers and beyond. Led by Jacob Nagy.

Prioritizing Time in Class

Thursday, February 12, 2015, 12:00 PM - 01:30 PM
Room 305 (3rd Floor)

Class time is a scarce commodity. Making the most of it requires clear objectives, adequate planning and the ability to recognize what students need to do to achieve goals. In this workshop, participants will plan class periods that reflect their goals for their students by considering both how to cover content and how to use efficient in-class activities. Appropriate in-class activities for various time allotments will be considered. Participants will work together to analyze how others prioritize time in class and use this to improve their own preparations, class activities and time management. Participants will leave this workshop equipped with methods of prioritizing class time that can be implemented into their own teaching. Led by Emmabeth Parrish.

Beyond the Term Paper: Assigning Students Creative Written Assignments

Wednesday, February 18, 2015, 04:30 PM - 06:00 PM
Room 305 (3rd Floor)

When we assign our students written assignments, we hope to formulate assignments that will simultaneously generate a useful learning outcome and also motivate students to engage with a topic. In this workshop, we will discuss ways in which we can move beyond simply assigning a final paper, and instead find ways to generate assignments that fulfill a range of educational goals and also allow students to approach their work creatively and enthusiastically. Participants will share ideas across disciplines and come away with concrete strategies for trying out new types of assignment. Led by Vanessa Williams.

Active Learning in Large Classes

Friday, February 20, 2015, 02:30 PM - 04:00 PM
Conference Room (2nd Floor)
Registration start: Friday, February 20, 2015

Active learning has been proven to enhance the classroom experience by giving students hands-on experience in the skills that they need to learn and with the content of the course. While it is sometimes difficult to implement, active learning is particularly powerful in large classes. In this workshop participants will discuss different active learning techniques they can potentially use and consider how to both create moments of activity in a mostly lecture course as well as how to make an entire class period active. The group will also consider what types of active learning might work best in a given scenario. Led by Tanya Singh.

Use and Abuse of PowerPoint

Thursday, February 26, 2015, 01:30 PM - 03:00 PM
Room 305 (3rd Floor)

PowerPoint presentations have become the standard in many classrooms. The tool can certainly be an effective pedagogical aid, but careless use can actually disengage students and impede the learning process. Potential benefits of PowerPoint include structuring and improving the clarity of a lecture, engaging students with a mixture of media types, and providing a focal point for the audience. However, there are an equal number of drawbacks and risks: discouraging interaction between the teacher and students, the reduction of complicated ideas to bullet points, and promoting student inactivity and inattention. In this workshop we will discuss when PowerPoint can be used beneficially, and share techniques for designing the most effective presentation. Led by Lili Dworkin.

Designing Your Own Course

Tuesday, March 03, 2015, 03:00 PM - 04:30 PM
Room 305 (3rd Floor)
Registration start: Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Whether you have an opportunity to teach your own course now or are designing syllabi for job applications, this workshop will provide you with strategies for picking organizing themes, selecting readings, designing assignments, and outlining your course as a whole. We'll cover both building your own syllabus from scratch and tailoring existing syllabi to your teaching style. Please come with an idea about a course in your discipline that you'd like to teach. Led by Peter Collopy.

Creating Assignments Across a Semester

Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 02:30 PM - 04:00 PM
Room 305 (3rd Floor)
Registration start: Wednesday, February 18, 2015

As TAs, teachers, and instructors, we would all like to see our students learn content, acquire skills, and develop more fully as critical thinkers. This workshop investigates how we can help our students reach these goals by planning assignments that build on each other throughout a semester. Participants will discuss: What kinds of assignments will best foster and gauge these skills, and how can designing sequences of assignments across a semester build on previously acquired skills while setting the foundation for new skills to be learned? We will also consider how to assess students' progress and give them feedback along the way. This workshop will be a collaborative conversation, designed to help attendees develop concrete outlines for courses that they are currently teaching or will teach in the future. Led by Alice Hu.

Mentoring Undergraduate Students

Thursday, March 26, 2015, 12:00 PM - 01:30 PM
Room 305 (3rd Floor)
Registration start: Thursday, February 26, 2015

Opportunities to mentor undergraduate students are many and varied for graduate students interested in education. However, it is rare for graduate students to receive guidance or feedback on their mentorship or supervision of undergraduate students. In this workshop we will discuss various mentoring relationships and styles that can create nurturing productive partnerships between graduate students and undergraduates. We will consider a many different approaches and styles of mentorship as well as strategies to deal with unexpected situations. In addition to these general discussions, this session will include discussion of specific issues relevant to attendees. Led by Colin Smith.

Teaching with Objects

Monday, March 30, 2015, 11:30 AM - 01:00 PM
Room 305 (3rd Floor)
Registration start: Friday, February 27, 2015

Objects can liven up a classroom. They can turn abstract discussions concrete, elicit new forms of student participation, and energize new modes of learning and engagement. In this workshop, we'll explore ways to use objects to reach your own teaching goals and get students excited about your field. We'll discuss types of objects that can be used in teaching, precious or quotidian, as well as which types of objects are best used in what ways to reach specific pedagogical goals. We'll have a person from the Penn Museum who, drawing from her own experience, will help guide our discussion. Led by Phil Webster.

Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me a Map: Teaching With Maps

Thursday, April 02, 2015, 03:30 PM - 05:00 PM
Room 305 (3rd Floor)
Registration start: Monday, March 02, 2015

Mapmaking challenges students to examine information differently, possibly revealing patterns or trends in information and texts that are not always noticeable at first glance. In the session, participants will discuss how to present and engage students with course content in spatial ways. This workshop welcomes students from disciplines like Earth and Environmental Science, that lend themselves easily to mapmaking, as well as other disciplines like English, where mapmaking has recently become an important classroom tool. In all cases, participants will consider several mapmaking applications (including those available at Penn and others that are freely accessible online) to discover how to design a useful mapmaking assignment, and create a map of their own. Led by Ben Chrisinger.

Apply Now!

Help Lead TA Training - $1500 stipend!

Every year the Center for Teaching and Learning asks experienced TAs to apply to help train new TAs. The Center needs students in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, and humanities to lead new TAs in workshops such as:

  • Grading in the Humanities and Qualitative Social Sciences
  • Grading in the Sciences, Engineering and Quantitative Social Sciences
  • Leading Discussions in the Humanities
  • Leading Discussion in the Sciences and Quantitative Social Sciences
  • Teaching Problem-Solving Sessions in Engineering
  • Teaching Problem-Solving Recitations in the Sciences and Quantitative Social Sciences
  • Being an Effective Lab TA

Trainers will prepare to train other TAs by participating in several day-long workshops. Applicants should expect to be available for three days in May and must be available during the entire week of August 17-August 21. They will receive a $1,500 stipend.

You can find a copy of the application here:

Applications (which should include the applicant’s CV) are due Friday February 20th. You may send completed applications electronically to

If you have questions about TA training contact Stan Najmr at or SaraEllen Strongman at

Common Room Hours

Monday-Thursday: 9AM-8PM Friday: 9AM-6PM Weekends: 12 NOON-6PM

Graduate Student Center

3615 Locust Walk
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia PA 19104-6221