Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Activity Planning: Logic and showing conditions hold.

A big part of Calculus is showing certain conditions hold. The big example is continuity. There is a very natural interpretation of the idea (If you can draw the graph of a function without picking up your pencil, it is continuous.) but then there is the very technical. (Left and right limits agree, function value must exist, and the limits must agree with the function value.) Just the idea of showing conditions hold is sometimes difficult for students, primary because they have never been asked to do this before.

For the first week of my Calculus I course I am doing a lot of review. I know, I know, some of you might yell "But they're in college, you shouldn't have to review." Let's get into that in another post, for now, let's talk what I want them to know before we talk about continuity. I want them to be able to show conditions are satisfied for a definition or theorem. How do we do that? Below are a few ideas, but I would love to hear your thoughts. Share them below!

  • Using plane figures and classification of parallelograms to show whether certain conditions hold or not. 
  • Giving a variety of pictures where some are classified as a 'thing' and others are not classified as a 'thing' and asking them to create definitions. 
  • Something to do with the law and fulfilling certain contractual obligations.

Monday, September 21, 2015

First day jitters!

Question of the day: Why do I always get first day jitters? I have been teaching since 2006 and I still haven't gotten over that first day nervousness of meeting new students. Granted I am at a new institution and I am a little unsure about the population, but I've done this dozens of times by now.

How do you get over the first day jitters? Have you?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

New year, new me!... Sorta.

With Labor Day ending my focus is (slowly) shifting from Mai Tai's, road trips, and reading for pleasure to the start of a new term and new position. I am now a tenure-track Mathematics Instructor at Clark College, in Vancouver Washington. Having taught college classes since 2006, my path has not been a straight one: BS in Mathematics, MA in Mathematics, working at a few textbook publishers, teaching at seven different colleges, trying out instructional design at a new online college, starting my own business, closing my own business, and (amazingly) now find myself at the second-largest community college in Washington. I taught a couple summer classes to ease into the position, and everything feels right. All my past mistakes have remade themselves into current success. My courses are well designed, have a clear structure and purpose, and I feel confident in the pedagogical and andragogical decisions I make. At the same time I am looking forward to the tenure process and sharing it here.

My current 4-month plan:


  • MATH103 College Trigonometry - With a focus on skill-based outcomes, I feel this class would be an excellent candidate for flipping, but I don't know if I have the time to commit to such a project. I have in-class activities for each class that we work through together, but am not sure if I can refit them to this other instructional method. The main thing I would have to add is more instructional text and possibly videos. I know the college has video equipment, but again time really is the issue. I don't like using others' videos for valid reasons (different methods, wording and phrasing, quality) and invalid ones (ego, wanting to provide 'everything' for students). 
  • MATH111 College Algebra - While there are a number of skill-based outcomes, there are also a few conceptual-based ones that need to be addressed. This being the case a bit more in-class work could be a good idea. The class meets two times a week for 2 hours 20 min, so one single instructional method would not be appropriate. I may have lecture for the first hour, and a group activity the second hour plus. This would require quite a bit of work, but I am hoping to leverage some OER materials. 
  • MATH151 Calculus I - A fairly typical course that meets five days a week for an hour. I am looking forward to developing my course materials (lectures, quizzes, etc.) here a bit further, but also to have group activities for each Friday. I really want students to start developing effective ways of working with others in STEM-focused areas. Because of this goal these activities need to have an incentive, which is why I'm including them in their grading. I haven't decided upon what grading scheme to use (participation, completion, individual based, group based, etc.), so if you have any suggestions feel free to share. 
Common Instructional Methods
  • Washington Mathematics Assessment and Placement (WAMAP) - This is a state-wide system for homework questions. I am looking to use this system for online homework for all of my classes. 
  • Pre-Quizzes - These are short (1-3 questions) 5-minute timed quizzes at the very start of class. This past summer I graded all of them which made them a bit more intimidating than I want. These will now be participation based with three levels of grading; 0 for no attempt, 2 for a minimal attempt, 5 for full attempt. There are three purposes to these quizzes: 
    • Activate prior knowledge that they need for that day's lecture or activity. This could be anything from a previous course, assumed knowledge of pre-skills, and material we covered already in the course. 
    • Provide feedback to students as to their standing in the course. Right after students attempt the Pre-Quiz we review it as a class. If it is clear they didn't get things correct they know they should put a bit more time into this material or review those pre-skills. 
    • I do put a five minute timer on the overhead so this also acts as a bit of 'exposure therapy' for more math anxious students. The goal here is to get them used to this timed environment and be comfortable answer questions in it. My hope is that when test time comes they don't completely dissociate and use the skills they have developed to cope with these Pre-Quizzes. 
  • In-Class Activities - Primarily for skill-based material, these packets take the place of lecture. They usually include a brief description of the property or idea we are applying and a number of questions. I present one or two of these questions, I then ask students to try a few on their own, and we come together as a class to discuss them. In the past students have been fairly isolated in attempting the questions, but I would like to help build more of a learning community around them. If you have any suggestions feel free to share. 
  • Group Activities - I would like to do these more often, but they do require quite a bit of time developing. I am looking to use these in my Calculus I course on Fridays as a capstone to the week. These would have more challenging questions and (hopefully) require students to work together. 


I have no idea what to expect or prepare for, so my only goal here is to review the policies around tenure and meet with my committee. I will share what information I feel comfortable with, and what the committee feels comfortable with as well.

Professional Development

While I am feeling reinvigorated by all these new projects, ideas, and plans, I am feeling fairly confident in myself at this specific moment of time. Not because I know a lot, but because I have made enough mistakes to know what not to do. 

If you have any advice, comments, suggestions, criticisms, or general thoughts feel free to share below. Thank you for reading!