Friday, February 19, 2016

Lots of little changes to classes this week.

I've been making little tweaks to my classes based on student performance and responses. All of these actions are being taken on qualitative data, not quantitative data, which isn't a bad thing, but something I want to move away from. I would like to develop some metrics over spring break to put into place next term that would help me make these decisions based on data. Percentage of available homework in the online system (WAMAP) that is complete, number of zero quizzes, and other metrics would help in making data-driven decisions.

My tweaks this week:

  • In Calculus I students were to complete the homework on the related rates section on Tuesday. Most did not. This was not completely surprising, the topic is a physical application, and the setup of each question can take a while. Additionally this homework took quite a bit more time than others, so even if they budgeted for it, they may not have budgeted appropriately. I gave them an additional six days, to Monday at 11:59 PM, the day of our next exam. 
  • Also in Calculus I we are currently talking about graphing functions, using information about the first derivative and second derivative. This is a difficult section because it includes conceptual knowledge about these derivatives, and quite a bit of computation. For today's quiz in the morning class I divided students into two groups. One group would work on graphing one function, the other group, another function. For the first five minutes students were to work on it themselves. Next five minutes students were to work with a partner. Last five minutes students were to working with all the students who had the same function. Each group would have one person present the question. After trying it out, only one group presented, and I finished the other question. To let them using the quiz as a study aide, I allowed them to take it home, but to get credit they would have to email me a hand-drawn graph of the function I presented. 
  • In College Algebra I did not have a pre-made quiz to start the day so I had students take out a sheet of paper, write one of the questions we have been talking about, give it to another student, and have them solve the question. Overall it was a fun activity, albeit a little broccoli covered in cheese. At the end I talked about how I like them making these questions, 
What change in course structure, grading, or presentation did you make on the fly that worked well? That didn't work so well? Feel free to share below. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Same course, different terms, completely different classes.

Last term I taught MATH151 Calculus I in the morning daily, and it felt so RIGHT. The pacing of the class, my in-class examples, questions from students, the schedule, the end of week activities that have students explore different topics, everything felt like the best it could ever be. This term for whatever reason things are not going so well. I'm teaching two sections of the class and both feel wildly different.

The morning class seems tired, not really 'there', and swings between general bewilderment and complete boredom at what we're doing. Test scores are low, and there are still (WEEK 7!) students who haven't registered for the online homework system. I've even started moving back to lecturing two days a week since participation through the in-class examples has been low. There are a number of students who think of mathematics in very linear terms which limits their ability to solve application questions, but at the same time their work is unorganized. Other students are unprepared to complete most of the algebra in the course, whom I fear are not going to pass for this reason. In this class I feel like a task master.

The afternoon class is energetic, but has a habit of going off the rails at the slightest provocation. I have to do a lot of sheep-dogging (making sure the group is together) as we go through each question. In-class examples are better received with this class, and they work well in groups, but questions that require a long, sustained method are difficult. Numeric outcomes for this class are generally positive, but I wonder if they are getting the conceptual understanding down. In this class I feel like a positive guide to the discipline.

I hope this doesn't come across as complaining about my students, it just seems that a class reflects both the instructor and students, as it is a culture both groups are building together. I'm coming to recognize that each class has to be different because it contains different people in it. I may have 'empirical' ('imperial'?) methods and assessments, but if they don't somehow reflect the students in the course am I being as effective as I could be?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Experienced Faculty = Font of practical knowledge and hard truths.

I recently had an observation by an experienced faculty member and they gave me some great advice that I thought I would pass along.

  • Trying to use random whiteboard markers that don't work looks bad. Every college classroom has an assortment of whiteboard markers in the tray that people have left. Some work, and some don't. When an instructor tries to make a point, but their marker doesn't work it brings up thoughts of the absent-minded professor who isn't prepared for their class. While this is a minor issue it is one that helps set the tone of the class. Solution? Bring your own supply of whiteboard markers, with some kind of tape or rubber band to mark them. 
  • Every instructor apparently has some kind of verbal tick. Some phrase or series of words that they use as a crutch to fill the empty space between actual words. Mine? "Right?" I have heard that I use "Right?" before, but after forty times this faculty member stopped counting. I think I get into a 'flow' and don't really think about my word usage sometimes. Since being told this I am trying to be very conscientious about the words that come out of my mouth, but sometimes I just get back into that flow. The observer did ask "If its not harmful to students, is it really something you need to worry about?" to which my answer is no. At the same time, I don't like the idea that my language is not controllable and that sometimes I just say stuff. 
  • I pack a lot of material into my courses. Some of it could be done by students ahead of time. In this particular lesson I was having students graph rational functions using their calculator. We were then looking at the patterns in the graphs, factors of the numerator and denominator, etc. looking for the specific patterns we discuss with this subject. The observer mentioned that students can do a lot of this work ahead of time. 
What advice have you received from an observation? Did you incorporate feedback into your teaching?