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Tutoring in the Physics Tutorial Center

Arrive on time – The schedule is clearly posted, both on the door to the PTC and on the Web. You are responsible for arriving on time just as you would be for any class you may teach or job you may work. If you are unable to meet your hours, make arrangements with another tutor to cover your shift, and get approval from the PTC coordinator. In an emergency situation due to illness, etc., contact Dr. Cheney.

Work diligently – When there are no tutees requiring your attention, make use of your time in the tutorial center by working out problems that professors have assigned as homework. These will be the problems tutees most often want help with. Professors will be encouraged to submit a list of homework questions to the PTC, and a notebook will be provided for completed solutions to be bound in. This will assist both you and other tutors.

Help tutees learn – Try to provide tutees with the tools to solve problems independently in the future. Go through the problem with the tutee, asking them to explain their reasoning at each step. This helps tutees learn the process by which physics problems can be solved; this is far more valuable than the answer to any particular problem. Do not solve the problem for the tutee, it teaches them nothing.

Maintain honesty – If you are unsure of the solution to a problem, admit it. Work with the student to try to find the solution in other textbooks, online, etc. This helps the tutee develop good study habits. If you are having difficulty working with a particular tutee, politely recommend they try seeing a tutor who is better suited to their personal needs. This applies for tutees who need problems broken down in different ways (mathematically, visually, etc.), as well as tutees who require a large amount of patience.

Be professional – When tutees come into the PTC, let them know you are available to assist them. Be sure they have the feeling that they are free to ask you questions, and not interrupting something else you’re working on. When you receive complaints from the tutees about their professors, TAs, other tutors, etc., be understanding, but don’t undermine your coworkers. Encourage the students to take up their grievances with the appropriate people (Dr. Parks, Dr. Weitering, the PTC coordinator, etc.) if they feel strongly about the issue.

Enjoy your work – The single best way to learn physics is to teach it to someone else. Congratulations! You are now receiving the best education we can pay you for!

Be approachable. Many tutees find it easier to talk to tutors than professors. It pays to take a moment to introduce yourself.

Let your interest and enthusiasm for physics come through; inspire the tutee.

Keep it simple. Help the tutees decipher PhysicsSpeak; “A force is applied along the vector parallel to . . . ” means the same thing as “We pull on this rope.”

Have the tutee explain their approach to you. When they make mistakes, ask leading questions to help the tutee recognize the solution on their own. Use positive feedback; let the tutee know what portions they are doing correctly. Focus on similarities between different problems.

Try to identify the areas that give the tutee difficulty; they may have trouble with math, or vectors, or may find a particular concept esoteric. Many tutees understand force; far fewer understand energy. Draw analogies to topics the tutee may already be familiar with.

Never trivialize a tutee's difficulty by commenting on how easy a problem or concept is. Remember that physics isn’t easy. Students try to learn in a few semesters what the rest of the human race learned over a period of thousands of years.

Many graduate students supplement their income by providing tutoring services for a fee. This is an upstanding and time-honored tradition. In order to maintain professional standards, please make note of the following:

  • Teaching Assistants may not charge current students for tutoring services. If a current student would like to see you outside of your normal tutoring hours, you should make every reasonable effort to accommodate them.
  • Physics graduate students who are currently enrolled may sign up to have their contact information included in the list of private tutors that will be posted in the PTC and outside the physics office. Interested students should email the PTC coordinator with their name, contact information, rates, and a brief sentence describing their qualifications. This information will be posted and updated periodically.

Read the problem. Many times students do not read the problem, or they don't read it through completely.

Read the problem again, in sections, extracting each bit of information presented, and writing the known quantities and information.

Make a realistic diagram of the problem. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words applies. Bad diagrams can be very misleading and should be avoided.

Determine the correct dimensions or units for the quantities. Make sure that they are all in the same system of units.

Recall and decide which physics principle is applicable. This is usually made easy as it is the topic or topics being addressed in lecture or the book chapter. There really is no mystery.

Write down equations that may be applicable.

Determine what unknown parameters and quantities are to be solved.

Process the information using the appropriate mathematical skills.

In problem solving, neatness counts. A problem should be solved not only in an easily followed logical manner, but in a neat manner where the quantities can be easily read and deciphered. Messy approaches can introduce lots of errors, and for instructional purposes, may be very confusing.

Perform a reality check on the final result. In most cases problems are based on reasonable situations, even though the situation may not be common to the student's own experiences.

Check the dimensions of the result by performing dimensional analysis on the process.

Remember that the instructor's primary responsibility is not to work the problems, but to teach the methods and procedures for solving them.

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