GSI Workshop for Quantitative Sciences

Workshop Leader: Andrew Begel

UC Berkeley : 2030 VLSB

January 17, 2002 @ 10:30am to 12:00pm and 12:45pm - 2:15pm


This is the online version of the notes for a workshop for the Spring 2002 Teaching and Orientation Conference for Graduate Student Instructors in Quantitative Sciences.

This latest version of this document will be at

Introduction to the morning

Continuum Activity! (Activities are fun!)

GSIs will stand up and position themselves along a continuum whose boundaries are given below, one at a time:

  1. I was born really close to/far from Berkeley, CA.
  2. I have a lot/a little of experience teaching.
  3. I have a good idea/no idea what it's like to sit in a lecture hall with 600 students.
  4. When it comes to grading, I think I'm more likely to be strict/lenient.
  5. My perception of Berkeley undergrads is that they are academic juggernauts/weaklings.
  6. I think Berkeley is more/less liberal than where I grew up.

Name Whip

Each GSI will introduce him or herself to the rest of the group.

  1. Name
  2. Name of the person who went before you
  3. Major (academic department)
  4. Class you're teaching
  5. Have you taught before?
  6. The most famous person you've ever encountered

What makes a good teacher?

Think back to your favorite TA, GSI or professor, and give examples of how they were good or made their classroom better than the others. We'll write the examples on the board as reference points for the activities to come.

Fears and Preparations Exercise

GSI Essentials

These are some unofficial tips that I've learned over the years GSIing.

Your first section

GSI Responsibilities

The Scenario Exercise

Everyone will break up into small groups of 3 people each. Each group will be assigned three scenarios from the following list. Discuss them, as a group, brainstorming how to approach each one.

Afterwards, everyone will join back together. One person at a time will come to the front of the room and pick a new scenario from a hat. That person will then "teach" the entire group how to respond to that scenario. If the group that worked on that scenario has anything to add, they will say it now. Finally, the entire group can discuss the scenario.

The following scenarios really happened to me or to a GSI I know. While they are rare, chances are, you'll see at least one of them this term, and it helps to be prepared. (Random G.I. Joe cartoon quote "Knowing is half the battle.")

In determining what you would do, consider what parts of the scenario were important to your decision, and which were irrelevant, if any. Discuss with your group how slight changes in the scenario might change your response. Also, think about Before, During, and After. That is, when you read the scenario, explain how you would respond right then (during), but also think about what you could have done to avoid/mitigate the situation (before), as well has how you can follow up to improve/resolve the situation (after). Finally, remember that while there are plenty of WRONG answers (e.g. it's wrong to get romantically involved with your students), there are lots of RIGHT answers that depend on your teaching style, your boundaries/comfort zones, and your previous experiences with the students.


  1. Scenario It's a week before the final exam, and you receive and email from George, a student in your class who has been struggling. Going into the final exam, George is averaging a D- for the course. The email is as follows:
    Hey -
    I'm totally freaking out about this final, and I'm completely unprepared. I've been studying the material, attending review sessions, and I haven't slept in 3 days. If I fail this class, my parents are going to make me drop out of Berkeley. I'm really freaking out! Is there anything you can do?!?! I'm afraid I'm going to do something crazy if I don't pass this class. I think I'll just die.
    Please help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Dilemma Do you respond? If so, how?
  2. Scenario It's a week after the first midterm, and you've met with the professor and your fellow GSIs to discuss overall performance. The average score in the class was 85%. Your students, on average, scored 60%. You are surprised and disappointed at their performance.
    Dilemma You have just walked into discussion section and everyone is asking how they did on the midterm. How do you reveal the news?
  3. Scenario It's the first day of section, and you notice one of your students has brought her boyfriend to class. During class introductions, she introduces him as "my sweet thing -- he's just coming with me to classes this first few weeks to be with me and see what it's like." This behavior continues on the 2nd day of section. And on the 3rd...
    Dilemma What do you do?
  4. Scenario Pat is one of your best students: performs well on midterms, participates in discussions, and is likeable among classmates. Pat approaches you the week before the final, and asks you to write a letter of recommendation for graduate school.
    Dilemma What do you do? Why?
  5. Scenario It's a beautiful day outside, and all of your students are clamoring to go outside. You've prepared a relatively non-chalkboard intensive discussion for the day, and they're right -- it is beautiful outside. The students seem antsy, and it's time for discussion to begin.
    Dilemma What do you do?
  6. Scenario It's Saturday night, and you're out with your friends at the bar. You see Jamal, one of your students.
    Dilemma What do you do? (Also discuss the variant: Jamal sees you, comes over and says hi.)
  7. Scenario You've noticed for the past three discussion sections that Mike, one of your students, has been nodding off towards the end of class. Today, it's especially egregious, as Mike has fallen asleep within the first 10 minutes of class. It's now 15 minutes into the section, and students around Mike are clearly noticing.
    Dilemma What do you do?
  8. Scenario You're at lecture, and the professor in the course has just made two factual errors in the same lecture that directly contradict the material you presented yesterday in section. You look around, and it's clear that your students appear puzzled/confused, but no one asks the professor to clarify. It's now the section after that lecture (with the two errors), and you students start the discussion by asking "What the hell was that? Professor X sucks rocks!"
    Dilemma What do you do?
  9. Scenario You've just handed back midterms, and Ketan, one of your students who was not doing so well going into the midterm, performed very well as the result of increased study effort and attendance at your office hours. Ketan approaches you after class with open arms and big smile. You're happy for him.
    Dilemma What do you do?
  10. Scenario It's the 5th week of classes, and you're tired. Your alarm didn't go off this morning, you had a fight with your significant other, and you've just spilled coffee all over your favorite shirt. You really don't feel like teaching today. It's now 10 minutes before class is to begin.
    Dilemma What do you do?
  11. Scenario It's the 2nd week of classes, and you've devised some small group work. You want to separate the class into groups of 3 students and have them discuss different topics. Then a representative for the group will present what they've come up with. There are 22 students in the class, and it's time for the group work.
    Dilemma Begin the exercise.
  12. Scenario It's the middle of the discussion in the 2nd week, and one of your students asks you a question about a figure you just drew. While you know the answer to the question, you've just drawn a blank. The class is waiting for you to reply.
    Dilemma What do you do?
  13. Scenario It's the middle of the discussion in the 2nd week, and one of your students asks you a question about a figure you just drew. You honestly have no idea what the answer is. The class is waiting for you to reply.
    Dilemma What do you do?
  14. Scenario It's the middle of the discussion in the 2nd week, and one of your students asks you a question about a figure you just drew. You know the answer. The question is a good one, but requires a level of understanding and knowledge that goes beyond the scope of the course. You think, however, that if you tried to explain it, that student could understand the basic idea. The class is waiting for you to reply.
    Dilemma What do you do?
  15. Scenario You're grading problem sets, and you notice that Lila and Jane's are identical except for the name at the top of the paper.
    Dilemma What do you do?
  16. Scenario It's the 4th week of class, and section has been interrupted (in your interpretation), again, by a student who keeps asking questions that are beyond the scope of the class. The student is clearly brilliant, but the questions are messing up your rhythm.
    Dilemma What do you do?
  17. Scenario It's the first day of discussion, and in walks a co-worker from your summer job, Julia. You genuinely like Julia -- Julia's a good person. Julia comes up to you and says "Hey - it's so awesome that you're my GSI! That's great! This is going to be a good semester." 
    Dilemma What do you do?
  18. Scenario It's the first day of discussion, and you've decided to have your students introduce themselves. It's Tony's turn, and you realize within the first 3 words of the introduction that Tony has a pronounced stutter.
    Dilemma What do you do?
  19. Scenario It's the night before the first discussion section. You're looking over your class list and realize you can't pronounce two thirds of the names on the list.
    Dilemma What do you do?
  20. Scenario You've had your students fill out anonymous mid-semester evaluations of your teaching. One evaluation contains the statement "This class f*ing sucks. I wish my GSI were dead." By the handwriting, you think you're pretty sure who the student is. It's the only clearly negative and non-constructive evaluation of them all.
    Dilemma What do you do?
  21. Scenario One of your best students, Kwok, comes to your office hours and tells you, "Dude, section's boring."
    Dilemma What do you do?