Friday, March 21, 2008

So long

If I don't write things when they happen I forget. There has been so much going on this semester, but I'm having hard time putting it all together. This week was a spring break that I intended to spend catching up on all the things that I have neglected, but I spent it on two things: writing a grant for master of science program for secondary teachers and filing my taxes. The former is, I hope, out of my hands (but then again I thought the same on Wednesday night and spent all day yesterday working on it), and the latter is still waiting for me as both online programs I tried got hung up on MI state taxes. And I didn't even want to live there :)

Anyway, I want to say a few things about my classes. Mark says that the only one I ever talk about is my 1010 class. That's the intermediate algebra, started with 195 students, stabilized at about 150. It's actually really hard to tell because, despite all my efforts they don't show up. I use the clickers to take attendance that is worth 5% of their grade. I get about 100-115 students, and never more than that (except on the exam day). I give quizzes that are worth 15% of their grade. I get 115 students show up on the quiz days as well. I started alternating between in class quizzes and online quizzes. My favorite day was when I reminded them in class that the quiz is online, twice. 115 were present, 95 took the quiz. And! They have between 3pm on day and 9am the following day to take it. I really am not sure how else I could encourage them to be there. Maybe it's not important that they're there. Except my last exam average was 62%! It is entirely possible that I can't write an exam, but that'll be another post. Although ....

Random thought: It is extremely hard to find whiskey barrels in Utah.

... I wouldn't want to imply that most of the students don't care. There are many who work really hard, and do really well. But many are all too happy to keep a grudge, text during class, sleep or just chat, and to be one of 150 hoping I'll never know them. Many I don't. But many I do. It was really funny to watch them freak out when I started calling people by their names especially the ones who sit in the back and don't talk. Anyhow, the theory for low passing rate in these classes is that they don't come to class. I don't believe so. The reason is that they are so huge. If these kids could learn in this kind of an environment then probably wouldn't need to be here. The department's problems are clear though: we don't have enough money to teach smaller sections. We have about 400-500 students a semester. If you want a decent sized classrooms you'd need what, about 20 sections? We have 3! Apparently we can't afford any more than that. What can we do to make these students more successful? Trying to get them more involved in the actual class, having them work on the problems on their own and getting an instant feedback and awareness of how everyone else is doing (the clickers) makes it a more engaging atmosphere, and I am convinced it helps them (and many said as much, even if only that they are not afraid of being wrong) but it also means I am behind. Now I am worried that I will not cover all the material that they would need before they can be successful in college algebra class. I'm all about them knowing something well, but we do have a departmental final and I'm worried they'll do badly. Argh.

Anyway, some teacher ladies are meeting for drinks. Yeah, I know, kinda early, it must be the Utah thing.


Jackie said...

Uhm, follow up on the random thought? Does it relate to improving the class average? :)

I'm assuming that the students in your Intermediate Algebra class are not math majors? Is this the last math class they will take? It may be they're just trying to get it over with. Not that I really understand the "What do I need to do to get a D?" attitude. Even though I see it every day.

As for the covering all of the material, I'm struggling with the same thing. How do I move on when they don't understand section 1? *sigh*

e said...


Do whiskey barrels relate to class average?

Sometimes I think they might. Maybe they wouldn't fight quite as hard any idea of actually using their intellectual powers to do mathematics.

And, yes, you are correct. None of these students are math majors. But, no, this is not the last math class they will take. Most of them have at least one more. This is probably algebra 2 and they will need to take precalc.

Jackie said...

Ah. Of course talking about this next math course has no bearing on the amount of effort they're putting in, does it?

Although having 150 students doesn't help. Heck I have one class of ten that I'm having trouble motivating. When I talked about their next math class, one student told me, "Then I just won't graduate, will I?"

Anonymous said...

My class (in preparation for "college algebra") is small - 25 on the books, about 20 each session. I know all the names. I cover little material, but cover it well, and with in-class practice time built in, where I can circulate and help.

Not all of them will be ready for the next course, but more than half of them will, and these are the most math-phobic students on campus.

Small class, modest (but real) expectations, these are key.


Jackie said...

This is part of what I'm struggling with. Modest, yet real, expectations. I expect to have each student ready for the next course. Yet each student didn't enter this course "ready".

Anonymous said...

I know I cannot have each student ready for the next course.

But can I get each student to work? (no, but most of them).

Can I get each student to make progress? (most, not all)

And my favorite, even though it is painful: of those who work but are not ready for the next course, have they made progress? (usually, yes).

Many of these are the toughest young adult and adult students I could have. Some of them knew very little of mathematics when they finished high school, and have delayed several years before attacking the mandatory minimum courses. My expectations for myself have to be high, but reasonably so.


Jackie said...

Thanks Jonathan.

e said...

That's one of my real problems. I think I have high expectations, both of myself and of my students. But when do you know that you've done everything you can? Especially in a class large like this it's easy to say "Look, it is your (student's) responsibility to do what you need to do in order to be successful, both in this class and in life." On the other hand, some of them are really young, and they don't actually know what it is that they need to do. Sometimes I think they just need to be let to deal with it, figure it out and then move on. But that usually means they'll fail at least the first time. And I don't know how I feel about letting them fail if there are things I can do to help them succeed. Few weeks ago I sat down and wrote about 50 emails to these kids. One went to everyone, several went to groups of people who were in similar situations (you missed 3 quizzes and 5 classes, you need to take this seriously,...), but majority went to individuals. Maybe 10 bothered to reply, and I really wonder how many of them read a word of it. Anyway, that wasn't a first time they've heard from me, but I started to feel like a nagging mother, so I think "That's it. It's up to them." I can't beg them to work, and I feel like I have been.
Jonathan sort of answered the next question,and I know there is not a clear cut answer, as there almost never is, but "How do I know where my responsibility stops and the student's start?" Maybe that's not the question that I want to ask, it may be "How do I know I have done everything I could to help them learn?" I've heard my students say this often: I don't even know what to ask. I empathize.