Course Goals

Right now, I have two sections of Calculus I for Life Science, two sections of Calculus II for Life Science, and one section of Business Math.  That’s an overload.  In exchange for teaching five in the Fall, I get to teach three in the Spring (four classes is full time at my university).

Part of the purpose of starting this blog in the fall, when I have next to no time, is to reflect in advance for the Spring, when I will have time (and energy) to experiment with my classes.

So the first thing that I should probably consider is:  What do I really want my students to get out of my class?

It’s actually an interesting question.  Obviously, there’s specific math content, but there’s plenty of stuff in addition to that.  For several years, I’ve been putting the following on all of my syllabi:

Course Goals
In addition to the content objectives above, throughout this course we will be working towards several overarching goals.  These goals include, but are not limited to:
•  Problem-solving skills.  We will be tackling problems without being told exactly how to solve them, by applying the skills we have learned.
•  Metacognitive skills.  We will be analyzing the way we think and articulating our thought processes.
•  Communication skills. We will be communicating complex ideas in precise language.
These skills should serve you well, not just in future math classes, but in a variety of settings that you are likely to encounter.

Looking at this now, it occurs to me that these are skills, not goals.  Well, the goal is to build and strengthen the skills I suppose.

Honestly, I’ve been using the same “Course Goals” for all of my classes since I was a grad student.  It’s time for a rewrite, and I’m trying to think what I want to include.  I do plan on tweaking them slightly based on the class (at the time I wrote the goals above, I was teaching developmental math, so every student was going to have to take a college-level math class after that).  But I’m don’t think the tweaks will be large, since these are actually goals that I work on in all of my classes, although the emphasis may be different.

I do work on other goals as well, but I’m not sure I need/want to add them to our first class day discussion of what to expect in the class (which is what I use my syllabus for– I don’t actually photocopy the whole official syllabus.  There’s too much university- and legislature-mandated crap in there.  I put that up on the course TRACS site, and they can download that if they need it.)

Other skills we work on include technology, technical reading (stealing that name from Mylène ),  studying strategically, being a independent learner… I know there are more, but I can’t really think of them at the moment.  I suppose I’ll come back and comment if they pop into my head.


Post-Processing Exams

Allison over at Pi Crust wrote about how she’s revamping her test corrections process, and I thought I’d share mine.

I’ve been using a variation of this for several years now, and I haven’t tweaked it much for the past couple of years.  It’s been working well for me (students who complete the bonus assignment tend to do better on the next exam), but I’d welcome any feedback, if anyone cares to comment.

Identifying Challenges

Last Spring, the most common single comment on my student evaluations from my two College Algebra classes was “Nice, clear notes”.  While it was meant as a positive from the students, it stung a little.  I hadn’t been teaching the way that I would like to.

So I figured I’d start by identifying some of the challenges that keep me from teaching the way that I’d like to teach.

  • Class Sizes.  In Fall 2007, I had a Business Calculus class with 24 students.  Twenty-four!  It was a great class.  My other classes around that time were between 30 and 40 students.  Before that, I taught as a grad student in the developmental math program, when the class sizes there were capped at 30.  (Bliss, I tell you!)  This semester every class started out at 48 students.  Last year was close to the same.  I’ve retreated into lecture when dealing with that many, but I’m trying to break out of that this year.
  • Time to Prepare Before the Semester Starts.  This is something I’ve never had.  I’m at the bottom of the totem-pole at work, and they don’t announce teaching schedules for junior lecturers until about two weeks before the semester starts.  And then, you can’t count on it– I’ve had my schedule changed at the very last second (like on the actual first day of school) and I’ve been burned by putting 40+ hours of planning into a course I end up not teaching.
  • Time During the Semester.  It takes time to plan a good lesson.  Time always seems to be in short supply during the semester.  This will always be true, but it’s worth mentioning.

So… there’s more challenges than this, of course.  Student resistance to nontraditional teaching methods could be a whole category of challenges.  I’m not putting that on here, though, since I was willing to tackle that challenge once upon a time.

Now that I’ve got these written out, I’m realizing that I’m focusing here on things that are outside of my locus of control.  I suppose that’s why I’ve felt so powerless to change things.  I know my time management could be better, and I’ll be working on that.  The real trick is dealing with the class size issue.  You just can’t treat a group of almost-50 the same as a group of less than 30.  But there’s got to be ways to deal with helping large groups of students construct meaning.  That’s the goal for this semester– Lots of experimentation to see just what works.