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?

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