Ticklish Ears

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Tuesday Disaster

Not one of the highlights of my teaching career.

Here are my lessons learned:

  • Freedom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

I described the term project on the syllabus and also put details about due dates and proposals on the class website. Here’s the gist of the project:

You will have the option of completing one project during the semester. You will have a choice between a creative project that interprets the essence of a mathematical idea or a problem solving project that uses techniques from the course (or the text) to solve a nonroutine problem that we have not considered in class. For a creative project you may choose one of the following: visual arts, musical arts, theatrical arts, or creative writing. Please note that this project is not meant to be a “book report” type of assignment. I know the facts of what you have been studying. I am much more interested in your reactions to the material and how you can represent the ideas in a creative way. If you wish to use a medium not listed above, you should discuss it with me first.

For the problem solving project you should choose a problem whose solution interests you. Choosing something arising from courses in your major is a good idea.

A steady trickle of questions over the past week or so (”what does this mean?”) led to a torrent in class today (probably because the proposals are due next Monday). I told them that they had a great deal of leeway in what they chose to do for a project, but this didn’t satisfy them.

It’s clear to me now that this class craves more direction. They want borders. So I capitulated and told them if they couldn’t think of anything they wanted to do based on the above description, they could do a 5-7 page biography of a mathematician.

That sucked up about 20-25 minutes.

  • Be ready for technology failures

I’m teaching in one of the ancient classrooms (one without a computer projector built in). I have been struggling over the past few class periods with getting the department’s portable projector to talk to my laptop. It’s always a hassle.

Today I wanted to show some histograms, some bell and bimodal curves, and the results of some statistical experiments I did. Although the projector worked fine at first (while I was projecting the project guidelines), I made the mistake of turning it off for a portion of class in which I wouldn’t need it.

Then it wouldn’t come back on. I taught a little, fiddled a little, taught a little, fiddled a little, and finally gave up and started drawing curves on the board. It was not my finest hour. From now on, I’ll plan NOT to use the projector.

  • Deal with class situations

I can’t really say any more about this one. I just need to have better class control. I didn’t today, and, coupled with the projector incident, I’ve lost of ton of cred that I need to build back up.

Oh well. We live and learn.

2 Responses to “Tuesday Disaster”

  1. Robert Says:

    A couple of years ago I was giving a talk at a state MAA conference. I got lost and ended up arriving 10 minutes before my talk began. I got my laptop plugged into the projector in the auditorium only to find that, inexplicably, the projector was only projecting 1/4 of my screen at 4x normal size, so that presenting slides was impossible. Ever since then, I have ALWAYS printed out my slides onto transparencies as backup when I give talks. You have to have a Plan B, C, D,…. when relying on technology, just like you’re saying.

    Don’t sweat the classroom situation. Students are a lot like our kids in the sense that they take their behavioral cues from our behaviors — they feed off what we give out in terms of emotions. Our frustrations are often amplified in them. But so are our humor and willingness to make the best of a bad situation.

    As to open ended projects — yeah, I hear you. I’ve been burned by that myself. I tend to think nowadays that this sort of project works really well… for a sophomore level class. Freshmen still need plenty of mileposts. It’s not their fault, I guess — few high schools prepare students for assignments like that, I think.

  2. Ron Says:

    One time I had a class complain that the assignments could be more to their interest.Because they had already been published for that course, I couldn’t change those. But I told them that I would offer them the opp to suggest assignments for the following course. I asked for suggestions in the next course (all students in the second course had been in the first) and I did not get a single assignment suggestion.

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