Saturday, December 29, 2007

Math 1010

I am scheduled to teach an intermediate algebra course next semester with 200 students enrolled. I am not even going to talk about the fact that I don't think these classes should be taught at the university level. All students should be ready to take college classes when they get to college (yeah, I know). But since we do offer them, I would imagine our goal is that students learn the material so they can take college algebra (no idea where the name came from since that course shouldn't be taught in college either). All that aside, I vehemently oppose large sections of anything really, but especially of low level classes. The students who are in those classes are not there because mathematics comes easily to them. If they can learn it by listening to lectures given by an instructor, they would have already done so. I know why these courses are taught like that: money. And I can't stand that we continue to do it although we know that a failure rate in those classes is much larger than in any other. In fact, some people go as far to claim that the failure rate is large because students do not show up for classes (as if the learning happens by osmosis, so all we have to make sure is that they are there). I actually do think that the students should attend classes, but I don't know how I feel about policing students who should by now have some sense of responsibility for their own actions and choices. Also, one must admit that taking roll in a room with 200 students would not be time efficient. That is, it wouldn't if clickers (also known as audience response system) didn't exist. Each student has their little clicking device that emits signal (when a button on it is pressed) that is received by a little antenna hooked up to a laptop with an appropriate software installed. You can ask a multiple choice, T/F, Y/N questions that are projected on the wall, and I believe actually received on students' pads, they answer it and the program records each answer (each student is identified by their student id #) and can immediately project what answers are given. In any event, taking roll becomes extremely easy, asking questions that can help direct the class are easily implemented and quizzes are quickly graded. Which brought me to my next problem. I never give multiple choice quizzes. I was trying to think of a way to actually look over students work, and I came up with the idea of giving a clicker quizzes, but after each quiz I would list 20 or 30 students (chosen randomly, but so that over the course of the semester I see each student's quiz at least once) whose work I will actually grade. Haven't quite figured out what to do with that grade. Maybe have an extra quiz grade which would really be only 0/1: 0 if the work doesn't correspond to the answers given, and 1 if it does. Anyway, needs more thought. But then I just ran into this multiple choice tests post, and I like the idea. I feel a little better about these quizzes. Anyway, better go work on that syllabus. And if you have great ideas about how to teach 200 students in a chunk of hour and a half, please send them my way.


Anonymous said...

You might look at Vlorbik, hal's house of pancakes, and Halfway There.

All of them, at least from time to time, discuss similar problems.

H. said...

The post at Hal's that you'd be interested in would be this one, I guess.

The students will have had all kinds of reasons for not learning the Algebra they needed in high school. Sometimes very good reasons. And although the pass rate will be lower than for other classes, the fact that many will pass means that some students will finally learn this, now, for the first time.

Sounds like an awfully work-intensive assignment - good luck with it! - but not at all an unimportant one!

e said...

Thank you both for the links.

I don't doubt the importance of the task. I just worry that the students will not learn as much as they could because our institutions deal with these classes the way they do, and because I never taught a class that big, and because I have two other classes I never taught before. I'm worried none of them will receive attention they deserve. I hope I'm wrong.

H. said...

Three new courses sounds like a lot!

Do you have TAs for any of them?

e said...

I will have no TAs. I get a grader for the 200 class, but if I am up to the task and the clickers don't disappoint, the graders will have no work other than grading the exams (3 or 4). I have another class with about 40, and the smallest one has 12, I think. These two are all mine. I'm afraid I'll be blogging even less than this past semester, and that was definitely not much. And not for the lack of material!

H. said...

Wow, this does sound like a lot: the students won't get "the attention they deserve," but that's not your fault. The college won't hire graduate students to lead small group homework seminars at least? You'll probably have students who need help with fractions, placing decimals on the number line, combining like terms and distinguishing expressions from equations. Can't do all these things with full-group instruction. What are the official prereqs for the course?

Anyway, some of these students will learn from lectures and personal effort - some just had really hopeless high school situations, and will be getting their first real chance. There's that.

Hal said...

You could say that I'm not addressing the larger, structural problems, but to me the issue of whether students "should" know the material before they come to college is irrelevant--they are here and they need to learn the material; it's our job to help them. And, yes, 200 students is ridiculous and a serious institutional problem; it is hard to avoid drawing the conclusion that money is the primary motivator. There's a fair number of models for how to effectively teach students math and I haven't seen any for 200 at a time. Maybe someone out there has an example?

So, I'm right there with you: worrying and working and not successfully getting my college to support the students in such classes in ways that would promote more learning.

All that said, I've never used clickers and I'll be curious to hear what you thought of the experience and how well it worked.