TOPS is a six-week summer program aimed at physics majors who are currently in their sophomore or junior year and are considering careers in teaching at the secondary level. The program is hosted by the Center for Ultracold Atoms (CUA) at MIT and Harvard. The goal of TOPS is to provide college students with an exceptional teaching experience that will reinforce their interest in pre-college physics teaching.
Participants will work in teams of four, each team under the supervision of an experienced lead teacher. They will design short courses, that emphasize hands-on experience, which they will teach to middle school and high school students at MIT. Participants will learn about the opportunities and challenges of teaching, and acquire skills and expertise that are most effectively transmitted by personal interactions in a small group setting.
The scientific focus will be on subject matter of central interest within the CUA, whose themes of light, heat, energy and atoms embody concepts of the physical sciences that naturally connect the CUA research to core curricular topics. One group will teach waves and light; the other will teach heat and energy.
Participants are expected to attend for the full six weeks of the program and should plan to arrive at MIT on Sunday, June 26th, in time for a reception at 6pm. Arrival on Saturday, June 25th, is also possible.
Participants will receive a stipend of $4,500, plus housing at MIT.
TOPS will have scheduled activities Monday through Friday. There will be informal activities on some weekends.
Activities will include:
- Developing hands-on learning material including demonstrations and laboratory
- Workshops on teaching techniques with the lead teachers
- Presentations by CUA scientists connecting their frontier research with
the teaching topics
- Learning about the wide range of teacher certification opportunities
- Laboratory tours conducted by CUA researchers
In the first few days participants learn some teaching strategies and explore the resources available to them. During the first two weeks they prepare and rehearse material to teach to middle school students. Participants generally work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the TOPS Teaching Workshop at MIT, Monday through Friday, and then sometimes more during the evenings and weekends.
Following this two-week period of preparation, TOPS students spend one week putting their ideas into practice by teaching middle school students. The following week is spent back at the TOPS Teaching Workshop revamping the material to teach at the high school level.
The fifth and sixth weeks are devoted to teaching high school students at MIT. Participants interact with the high school students for the full day, and each one teaches a 1.5 hr class every other day. Other TOPS activities include visits to the laboratories of the Center for Ultracold Atoms and talks by some of the investigators and graduate students. Two weekend social activities are planned. On other weekends there is lots to do around the Boston/Cambridge area.
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Physics Today Article about TOPS
A Genuine Teaching Experience
TOPS undergraduate teaching program Frequently Asked Questions
What is the TOPS schedule?
TOPS activities are scheduled Monday through Friday. In addition, design, preparation and practice will occupy some evening and weekend hours. Two weekend social activities are planned and on other weekends there is lots to do around the Boston/Cambridge area. TOPS concludes with a picnic on the final day.
In the first few days participants learn teaching strategies and explore the resources available to them. During the first two weeks they design, prepare and rehearse the classes they will teach. In the third week, TOPS students put their ideas into practice by teaching middle school students. The students spend the following week extending the material to teach at the high school level. The fifth and sixth weeks are devoted to teaching high school students. Other TOPS activities include visits to the laboratories of the Center for Ultracold Atoms at MIT and talks by some of the investigators and graduate students.
How much teaching experience will I have?
During the middle school program each 4-person team teaches every day for half a day. In the high school program each morning class is repeated in the afternoon to a different group of high school students. Each TOPS undergrad teaches one of these double classes every other day. In addition, rehearsals and practice teaching are important parts of the program.
What are the housing arrangements?
TOPS students are housed together in one of the MIT dorms.
What teaching resources are available?
TOPS has a large inventory of apparatus and teaching materials and new materials are added as new hands-on activities are developed.
Do I need to be present throughout TOPS?
Yes, It is important that all TOPS participants be available throughout the program. Because TOPS students work in teams of two, absence would cause a major disruption. More importantly, there is so much to do that participants find themselves fully occupied. The staff would naturally need to accommodate an emergency problem, but otherwise TOPS is a full time job.