The semester ended last Friday with exams. I am through with classes for another year.
It wasn’t my best semester.
My Theory of Computation class went off pretty well. It was a smaller than usual group, which allowed for a great deal of interaction. I lectured for the most part (as usual), but there was a lot of give and take. We got through Turing Machines, which I usually am not able to do in a semester (I spent much less time on the Pumping Lemma, which always trips up the students). A majority of the students did just fine in the class.
But Math 101 was a different story. I know that I promised to do a play by play during the semester, but it just went so badly that I couldn’t bear to even write about it.
- I wasn’t as prepared to teach the content as I should have been
I did OK, but there were too many just-in-time lectures, and I don’t think I was as engaging as I could have been. I also think that two 75 minute sessions a week is not optimal for this course (thought that’s really an excuse - several colleagues taught a Tuesday/Thursday schedule, and I’m sure they did just fine).
- I wasn’t prepared for the amount of hand-holding necessary in a freshman math course
A disturbing number of students were incapable of reading the simplest of instructions. I asked them to do these aesthetic critiques of their homework, but I realize now that many of them have never engaged in reflection of their work. I should have given them decent examples.
Many of them were similarly handicapped in understanding how to do their stats project, in which they were supposed to compare and contrast a New England Journal of Medicine report on a medical study and a major newspaper’s (New York Times or Wall Street Journal) description of that same study.
I couldn’t get them to use WebCT with any frequency, and they often missed announcements or assignments (”Didn’t you check your WebCT mail?” “No, I haven’t been on WebCT for days.”). I told them often to check WebCT daily, but it seemed to have little effect.
And, most of them seemed to think that “due date” means “do date.”
- I made mistakes in the types of assessments I used
The students are supposed to do an analytical study, and the Stats project mentioned above has been used for several semesters in Math 101 courses. In retrospect, I think I should have put more time into something more straightforward for them.
The term project was a disaster. The mistake there was that I gave them too much leeway. They had the choice of a creative project or a problem solving project:
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.
Of course, on the class day before a project proposal was due, they were all panicking that they had no idea what I was looking for. In the end, I relented and added the option of doing a biography on a famous mathematician. About a third of the class went with that option.
The term project and the stats project suffered from the same drawback - the writing on both was often so substandard that it became more of an English assignment than a math assignment.
And I got so concerned about their finishing their term projects that I didn’t assign homework near the end of thec course. The projects consumed entirely too much of the course, and I helped them to narrow their focus in that direction.
I do think they learned some interesting math. We covered probability and statistics, number theory, and just a bit of a “numbers in real life” chapter (computing compound interest, etc.).
I haven’t looked at the student evaluations yet, but I’m not expecting the highest of marks.
Needless to say, I haven’t asked for another Math 101 in the fall. In fact, my fall is going to be a real change of pace, as I’ve been hinting at for some time now, but I’m still not ready to give you the details (I’m sorry, but I’d like things to b a bit more on solid ground before I make major announcements).
I still have one more “teaching task” in May, which I’ll try to blog about later this week.