Test corrections– in person this time!

So I posted here about the test correction format that I have been using for the last several years.  Overall, I’m happy with it (over and over again, students have told me how helpful it has been to go over their tests, and having to look at why they missed something).  I’ve been meaning to tweak it some, because it’s definitely not perfect, but it is useful.

For our third exam, I required students to meet with me in my office to go over their corrections. This was quite possibly the best thing that I have ever done.  It let me actually talk to them one-on-one– ever since class sizes have ballooned, the actual interaction with each student has naturally declined.  I could ask them to elaborate on their explanations, and in person I could much better tell who had the right idea, and was having trouble communicating it, and who was writing random BS in an attempt for extra points.  I could also give a student a similar problem for them to work for me right then.  I’ve always been dubious of the students that wrap up explanations with “I am confident that I can now work this kind of problem correctly.”  It turns out most of them can!

This is definitely something that I’m keeping.

My only real problem with the system I used was that I forgot to black out the times that I taught on Monday, and I had to email eight or nine students and reschedule those appointments.  Whoops!  Bret Benesh posted awhile back about Google Calendar’s appointment feature.  I might try that.  It also solves the problem of having fewer time slots available for the classes that don’t get the sign-up sheet until later.

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Why I want my students to blog

I posted the other day about one of my plans for the spring semester, and Christopher (quite rightly) pointed out that I needed to articulate why I wanted to have my students create public blogs.  And so, since right now I desperately need a break from the grading of projects and writing of final exams, here is a first stream-of-consciousness-style post of why I want to have my students blog publicly.

First off, I want students to write.  I want students to write about math, and I want students to write about learning.  Writing about something forces you to clarify your thoughts, helps you strengthen what you know, and realize what you don’t know. Writing also provides an avenue for exploring the metacognitive skills and building the critical thinking skills that I want my students to have.

Of course writing doesn’t necessarily mean blogging.  Deciding to make the writing public has a whole other slew of motivating factors.  For one thing it’s more “real”.  I really do think that that authenticity is important.  So much of what students have been asked to do– so much of what I have assigned myself in the past– is either monotonous skill practice, or just feels superficial or fake.  If I’m going to make a writing assignment of explaining a particular idea to a hypothetical student, then if I’m the only one reading it, it’s artificial and the main thing most students will think while writing is “Is this what she wants?” whereas if the assignment is going to be public, my gut feeling is that more students will think in terms of “Is this a clear explanation?” and “Would this actually help someone understand?”

Which brings me to another reason I want them to create public blogs.  I firmly believe that every person has a responsibility to contribute to their culture. I don’t know if that sounds heavy-handed or not, but it’s a strong belief I have, and I could go on about that a bit (and might in a future post), but here I’ll just say that this is a value that I want to share with my students.  I want them to grow to see themselves as creators, rather than just consumers, and to recognize that they have something to give, and that the giving helps them grow and learn.  (And now I’m being both heavy-handed and cheesy.)

Another goal I have is for the students to get more comfortable with technology.  So often, people assume that the current generation was raised with technology, and comes to college tech-savvy, but that’s not really been my experience.  There are some that are, but so many more that aren’t.  And that misperception also assumes that all of my students are 19 years old, which is far from the case.  But even the traditional-aged college students aren’t usually great about dealing with technology.  They’re on facebook, and they play video games, but they’re not comfortable tinkering.  I’m not sure exactly what it is — a lack of courage? — but I want to encourage them to tinker.

I also want my students to have a little fun with it.  A few years ago, I had a student that made up a quotient rule dance.  Making up something like that, and posting a video would be great.

Funnily enough, when I think of what I’d ideally like to see in student blogs, I think of some of the quilting blogs I follow (for those unaware, there’s quite a large crafting blogosphere).  The posts of my favorite ones are fairly focused on the subject matter of quilting, but there are all different kinds of posts– there are posts that show off finished projects, posts that describe frustrations in mastering a technique, posts that talk about fabric choices, posts that have detailed photo- and/or video-tutorials, and maybe even a post that’s just a cute picture of a cat sleeping on the current work-in-progress.

I would want student blogs to focus on learning math.  Posts about learning would be great: describing trying out different study strategies, evaluating how well they worked.  Posts about math: summarizing concepts; creating graphical organizers to connect concepts; creating tutorials; finding existing tutorials on the internet and possibly reviewing them.  I also plan to encourage posts on technology.  There are tons of math tools out there.  Students could review one, or write a tutorial on how to use a particular tool to achieve some particular goal.

That’s an initial brain dump, anyway.  Now I really do have to go write some exams– I promised myself I would get two of them done this weekend so that I could focus on meeting with students next week.  I look forward to hearing any initial reactions, and I’ll be posting refinements soon.

Planning next semester

So I finally got a tentative schedule for next semester, two sections of Calculus I for Life Science, and one section of Precalculus.

The idea of teaching pre-cal makes me a little nervous.  I’ve only taught it once before.  The teaching of it went fine, but the class comes with a TA.  Last time, I was totally unprepared for how much work was required to supervise a TA.

But I am glad about the Cal I for Life Science.  It is the perfect class for my spring experiment.

I’m going to have the students create public blogs.

Writing about math.  It’s going to meet with some student resistance initially, I know that.  I’m considering making it an opt-in thing: at the beginning of the semester, students get to choose whether or not they want to participate.  If they do, then a different grading scheme will apply to them.  To encourage buy-in, I’d let students know that they could move to the traditional grading scheme at any point in the semester if they choose to.  (But not the reverse– you can’t start your blog mid-April and have it count.)

At first I was thinking about making a rubric and having certain types of posts worth certain amounts of points, but on reflection, that’s just about the opposite of what I want to go for.  So now I’m thinking grading it more as a portfolio.  I’ve been looking at some resources on portfolio grading.  Most of them are intended for English Composition courses, which is helpful, but I’d be grateful for any pointers to other resources, particularly content-focused ones.

I’ll post more about it as I continue to process my ideas.  For now, I have to get back to grading, so I can finish this semester up.  (Is it terrible that I’d much rather plan than grade?)