Category Archives: Profhacks

July 30, 2012, 8:00 am

Finding your next job: Three things to do before starting

We’re continuing a series on Finding Your Next Job. In the first post, we stressed the importance of identifying your motivations and coming to terms with the why behind the search. Now we need to think about getting started. Hitting the EIMS website and beginning to compose cover letters is not the start of the job search in my opinion. That comes next. But first there are a few more things to do. Three things, in fact.

1. Determine who the stakeholders are in this upcoming search. This would be any person, other than your current colleagues, whose daily life will be altered by your move to the next job. This is a different and much smaller list than that of the people who careabout your search — hopefully there are a lot of those kinds of people, but it’s likely you have few true stakeholders. The last time I was on the market, in 2010, I identified five stakeholders other…

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December 22, 2011, 7:27 pm

Unsolicited advice about interviews at the Joint Meetings

The Joint Mathematics Meetings are coming up in Boston during the first week of January. For those outside mathematics, this is a shared conference between the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America and is the “big annual conference” in our discipline. I’ll be attending this year’s meetings somewhat briefly, arriving a couple of days early to take a computational geometry minicourse, giving a talk about clickers in transition-to-proof courses [PDF] on Wednesday, and then heading home Thursday morning. One thing I will not be doing at the Joint Meetings this year is interviewing for jobs. As far as I’m concerned, I’m done forever with that. But I know a lot of folks out there might be interviewing at the meetings, or maybe are a year or two away from doing this, so I thought I might throw out some anecdotes and advice about my experiences in this process…

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December 1, 2011, 8:51 am

Experiments in digital grading

This semester, I made the decision to phase out paper from my professional life. Little by little, and over the course of perhaps a couple of academic years, I hope to shift as much as I can over to digital versions of everything I use in teaching, scholarship, service, and mentoring. There are several reasons I want to do this, but the main thing that convinced me to make the choice to go “as paperless as possible” were my grading practices. At some point during this semester, I became convinced that I simply must move away from paper when dealing with student work. Why? Here are a few reasons:

1. Paper-based student work is cumbersome. More than once this semester, student work has gotten lost or misplaced because it was put into the wrong stack, stapled to the wrong thing, or in one case the staple for one student’s submission got hung on the staple for another student’s submission…

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November 29, 2011, 7:45 am

Four things running has taught me about teaching

This year, I did something new on Thanksgiving: I ran one of those 5K “turkey trot” races on Thanksgiving morning. It was actually the second such race I had done in the space of a week. There’s something invigorating about getting up early and joining a crowd of a few hundred people to buck the temptation to lie in bed or on the couch all day.

Running has been a hobby of mine since my 40th birthday (July 2010). Turning 40, I was overweight and constantly tired, and I decided to do something about it. So I declared I would start training for a 5K, to commence as soon as the birthday party was over. As for how that beginning actually went, I’ll get to that later. For the moment, it’s enough to say that running has always accompanied a reflective mood for me. As I was doing the race on Thursday, I got to thinking about the connections between running and teaching. I think I’ve learned a…

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February 28, 2011, 8:00 am

How I make screencasts: Chapter 0


Since I started to put serious amounts of time and effort into screencasting last summer, I’ve gotten a lot of requests to blog about how I go about making these things. Starting with this post, I’m going to do a multi-part series here about making screencasts — or at least how I make screencasts, which is a long way from perfect or canonical, but it’s what people asked for! I hope it’s useful for people who are interested in this kind of thing and need some pointers; and I hope too that those with more experience and better ideas than I have can share.

First, let’s start with a few FAQ’s.

Q: What is a screencast?

A: A screencast is a video of stuff that is happening on your computer screen. There is often, but not always, some kind of voiceover happening in…

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November 15, 2010, 9:17 pm

Technology FAIL day

This morning as I was driving in to work, I got to thinking: Could I teach my courses without all the technology I use? As in, just me, my students, and a chalk/whiteboard with chalk/markers? As I pulled in to the college, I thought: Sure I could. It just wouldn’t be as good or fun without the tech.

Little did I know, today would be centered around living that theory out:

  • I planned a Keynote presentation with clicker questions to teach the section on antiderivatives in Calculus. As soon as I tried to get the clickers going, I realized the little USB receiver wasn’t working. Turns out, updating Mac OS X to v10.6.5 breaks the software that runs the receiver. Clicker questions for this morning: Out the window. Hopefully I’ll find a useable laptop for tomorrow, when I’m using even more clicker questions.
  • Also in calculus, the laptop inexplicably went into presenter mode when I tried to…

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October 16, 2010, 1:47 pm

Course evaluations: The more, the merrier

This post at ProfHacker reminded me to write about something I’m trying this semester in my calculus classes (the only freshman-level class I have right now). I’m giving not one but four course evaluations during the semester. I’ve given midterm evaluations on occasion in the past, but it seemed to me that even twice a semester isn’t really enough. So, I’m giving evaluations at the end of the third, sixth, ninth, and twelfth weeks of the semester.

The first three of these are informal and very loosely structured. They each have three basic questions:

  1. What do you LOVE about this course?
  2. What do you HATE about this course?
  3. If you could change ONE THING about this course, what would it be?

The 6- and 9-week evaluations have two additional questions: What’s changed for the BETTER since the last evaluation? and What’s changed for the WORSE since the last evaluation? In week 12,…

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June 14, 2010, 7:36 am

Random observation about workflow and life

It used to be, in graduate school and in my early career, that I really couldn’t get any serious work done unless I had large, uninterrupted slabs of time to work with. I had to have 3-4 straight hours, at least, if I wanted to read a journal article, work on research, or get grading done.

But increasingly, it seems like, in my work at a small liberal arts college, this ideal of monolithic slabs of time with which to work has become unlikely. There’s always the out-of-nowhere fire to put out, the meeting that gets scheduled in the middle of a big block of time, the unexpected student dropping by, and so on. Having kids makes the fragmentation of time even more common and pronounced.

However, I’ve noticed something since being mostly at home with my 6-, 4-, and 1-year olds this summer so far: Not only can I count on frequent interruptions if I try to sit down and work on things, I…

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February 21, 2010, 9:30 pm

Five reasons you should use LaTeX and five tips for teaching it

Over the weekend a minor smack-talk session opened up on Twitter between Maria Andersen and about half a dozen other math people about MathType versus \(\LaTeX\). Maria is on record as being pro-MathType and yesterday she claimed that \(\LaTeX\) is “not intuitive to learn”.  I warned her that a pro-\(\LaTeX\)  blog post was in the offing with those remarks, and so it comes to this. \(\LaTeX\) is accessible enough that every math teacher and every student in a math class at or above Calculus can (and many should) learn \(\LaTeX\) and use it for their work. I have been using \(\LaTeX\) for 15 years now and have been teaching it to our sophomore math majors for five years. I can tell you that students can learn it, and learn to love it.

Why use \(\LaTeX\) when MathType is already out there, bundled with MS Word and other office programs, tempting us with its…

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February 8, 2010, 7:00 am

A simple idea for publishers to help students (and themselves)

OXFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08:  A student reads...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I’m doing some research, if you can call it that, right now that involves looking at past editions of popular and/or influential calculus books to track the evolution of how certain concepts are developed and presented. I’ll have a lot to say on this if I ever get anywhere with it. But in the course of reading, I have been struck with how little some books change over the course of several editions. For example, the classic Stewart text has retained the exact wording and presentation in its section on concavity in every edition since the first, which was released in the mid-80′s. There’s nothing wrong with sticking with a particular way of doing things, if it works; but you have to ask yourself, does it really work? And if so, why are we now on the sixth edition of the book? I know that books need refreshing from time to time, but five times in 15…

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