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.