September 14, 2011, 8:00 am
Happy Hump Day! Here are some items of interest from the past week:
September 8, 2011, 7:30 am
Two things I noticed at the start of this semester were (1) the number of articles and blog posts coming out about “syllabus bloat” (see Profhacker, for instance), and (2) the insane degree to which my own syllabi have bloated. My Calculus II syllabus is 12 pages long, for instance, and I wasn’t exactly using 36-point font.
I liked (in a chagrined sort of way) Barbara Fister’s metaphor very much of the syllabus as Terms of Service. Put together all the boilerplate, all the course policies, all the tables of grade assignments, etc. and what you have is not very different from the Terms of Service (ToS) agreements we all click through without a glance when we start up new software. And that’s not a good thing:
The trouble is the syllabus-as-contract is not only tiresome to read, it’s not inspiring. You must, you can’t, you ought – that’s not an itinerary for a trip to someplace…
September 6, 2011, 8:00 am
There was a comment on this post back on the old site that I felt deserved more than just a reply. Raphael said:
…I flinched when I read this sentence:
“The ideal result is that the child/kid/student has a sense of being understood, cared for, and valued.”
There is one big difference between being a child and being a student. A child, I guess, has to be supported no matter what in the bounds of somewhat well-defined rules/values. You know your child is being stupid (like painting a green sky) but you still say it is doing great. It is part of the process.
As a student, I am on the verge of becoming a professional. What I need from my teachers (which includes other students, assisstants, professors) is honesty. If I do well, I need to hear that, true. But if I mess up, I need to know, too. And maybe the latter is more important. I have to learn my weaknesses so I can work on…
May 10, 2011, 7:42 am
This past Saturday, I was grading a batch of tests that weren’t looking so great at the time, and I tweeted:
I do ask these two questions a lot in my classes, and despite what I tweeted, I will probably continue to do so. Sometimes when I do this, I get questions, and sometimes only silence. When it’s silence, I am often skeptical, but I am willing to let students have their end of the responsibility of seeking help when they need it and handling the consequences if they don’t.
But in many cases, such as with this particular test, the absence of questions leads to unresolved issues with learning, which compound themselves when a new topic is connected to the old one, compounded further when the next topic is reached, and so on. Unresolved questions are like an invasive species entering an ecosystem. Pretty soon, it becomes impossible even to ask or answer questions about the material…
December 22, 2010, 12:00 pm
Image via Wikipedia
Robert Lewis, a professor at Fordham University, has published this essay entitled “Mathematics: The Most Misunderstood Subject”. The source of the general public’s misunderstandings of math, he writes, is:
…the notion that mathematics is about formulas and cranking out computations. It is the unconsciously held delusion that mathematics is a set of rules and formulas that have been worked out by God knows who for God knows why, and the student’s duty is to memorize all this stuff. Such students seem to feel that sometime in the future their boss will walk into the office and demand “Quick, what’s the quadratic formula?” Or, “Hurry, I need to know the derivative of 3x^2 – 6x +1.” There are no such employers.
Prof. Lewis goes on to describe some ways in which this central misconception is worked…
April 17, 2010, 6:15 am
This article (1.2 MB, PDF) by three computer science professors at Miami University (Ohio) is an excellent overview of the concept of the inverted classroom and why it could be the future of all classrooms given the techno-centric nature of Millenials. (I will not say “digital natives”.) The article focuses on using inverted classroom models in software engineering courses. This quote seemed particularly important:
Software engineering is, at its essence, an applied discipline that involves interaction with customers, collaboration with globally distributed developers, and hands-on production of software artifacts. The education of future software engineers is, by necessity, an endeavor that requires students to be active learners. That is, students must gain experience, not in isolation, but in the presence of other learners and under the mentorship of instructors and practitioners. …
April 11, 2010, 2:56 pm
One of the fringe benefits of having immersed myself in MATLAB for the last year (in preparation for teaching the Computer Tools for Problem Solving course) is that I’ve learned that MATLAB is an excellent all-purpose tool for preparing materials for my math classes. Here’s an example of something I just finished for a class tomorrow that I’m really pleased with.
I was needing to create a sequence of scatterplots of data for a handout in my Functions and Models class. The data are supposed to have varying degrees of linearity — some perfect/almost perfectly linear, some less so, some totally nonlinear — and having different directions, and the students are supposed to look at the data and rank the correlation coefficients in order of smallest to largest. (This is a standard activity in a statistics class as well.)
I could have just made up data with the right shape on Excel or…
April 8, 2010, 8:17 pm
One of these days I’ll get back to blogging about the mathematics courses I teach, which make up the vast majority of my work, but the MATLAB course continues to be the place where I am working the hardest, struggling the most, learning the biggest lessons about teaching, and finally having the greatest sense of reward. This week was particularly rewarding because I think I finally figured out a winning formula for teaching a large portion of this stuff.
This was the last in a three-week series on introduction to programming. We had worked with FOR loops already. I had planned to look at WHILE loops in the same week as FOR loops, then have the students play around with branching structures in week 2, then have them apply it to writing programs to do numerical integration week 3 for use in their Calculus II class in which most of the class is currently enrolled. But the FOR loop stuff we…
April 5, 2010, 12:00 pm
To end the first half of the semester in the MATLAB course, I gave students a lengthier-than-usual survey about the course — a sort of mid-semester course evaluation. I have a load of interesting data to sift through and analyze, relating to various aspects of the course and tagged with metadata about gender, GPA, major, whether they live on or off campus, and so on. I hope to finish analyzing the data before the semester is over. (Ba-dum-ching.)
One of the questions I asked was a mirror of a question I asked in the beginning: On a scale of 0 (lowest) to 10 (highest), rate your personal comfort level with using computers to do the kinds of things we do in this class. I’m thinking that there are affective issues about working with computers, and especially MATLAB, that are never discussed but which play a huge factor in student learning. (We seem to just tell engineers to suck it up and…