Thursday, October 7, 2010

This is hard.

I had enough today. Who told these 'flakes that everything was supposed to be easy? Isn't learning about challenging yourself?

Student (about in-class assignment): This is hard!
Me: No, it's not. It's difficult.
Student: Isn't there an easier way to do this?
Me: Yes, there is. You can submit it half done, with a comment on the bottom telling me how "hard" it is, and receive an F like you did on your first essay.
*snickering in the background*
Student: Oh. Well, can you at least show me one more time how to do this part?

I wondered silently why I should bother. She didn't understand the first three times I explained it.


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  2. If she's having that much difficulty grasping the simple parts (I am making an assumption that this is a relatively elementary concept in your field/essay writing) things in your class, then I wonder if she is in the right class. Does she have a documented disability that she hasn't told you about? Or, she just hasn't had that so-called Aha-moment (Which is when she will stand up and start singing, "Take on me!"). Or, she's just not going to ever figure it out.

    Mathsquatch *this posting comments thing is hard!* out.

  3. Mathsquatch, I got the A-Ha reference, and I loved it!!! Unfortunately, the song is now singing in my head and I'm not sure I'll be able to get to sleep :)

  4. Our flakes think of education as a game in which effort is traded for grades. Learning don't enter into it.

    Thanks to rampant consumerism in society, and to anonymous student evaluations of teaching being taken far too seriously by university administration, our flakes think of themselves, quite wrongly, as customers. As Len from Las Cruces wrote in his RYS post of 3-28-2009, “We don't challenge them because - my god - the customer in them won't stand for it.”

    See "Generation X Goes to College," by Peter Sachs, for a more detailed description of this mindset. The concepts of “the pleasure of finding things out” or “the life of the mind” or “lifelong learning” are all very alien to this mindset.

    I frequently need to remind my science classes that, unlike some areas of human endeavor, there's no way to fake your way through this. You either know it or you don't. Therefore, do the homework even though it counts only a little. If you don't, you won't know the material during the exams, which count a lot.

    Some of them don't like this message. The all-time topper was a student I had at a college near Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Like many students there, he aspired to be an astronaut. He astonished me when he repeatedly asked, "Why is this so hard?"

    How in heaven's name could anyone not know that it's difficult to become an astronaut? To be fair, this kid wasn't typical. The home environment he described was chaotic, and he was unusually socially maladjusted. He was not particularly talented as a mathematician or a scientist, either: rather than an idiot savant, he was merely an ordinary idiot.

  5. Just today, in my physics class for majors and engineers, a student asked me whether we had an undergraduate course on M-theory. He got mad at me when I told him we didn't. This was probably because it's currently very fashionable among theoretical physicists. (It's a variant of string theory, which purports to explain all of physics from just a few equations.)

    I can sympathize with him somewhat, since we do cover M-theory in our graduate course on field theory, but undergraduates at my university are forbidden by the administration from taking graduate courses, a policy I abhor. Still, he didn't have anything close to the mathematical background he’d need to be able to understand the subject: I asked him, and he'd never even heard of group theory.

    At least I had a snappy comeback: "Well, since there's still no experimental proof that M-theory is correct, it may not be worth your while anyway..."

  6. I'm experimenting with a bit of proaction with my classes this term.

    I added a slide to my before class Announcements presentation saying, in effect: "the love is about to go out of our relationship."

    Their first major paper was submitted this week and the midterm exam is next week. They have been taking minimum value weekly quizzes but in one fell swoop 50% of their final grade will be determined. They also will be receiving some direct feedback on their writing.

    [As an amazing Luddite aside, one student brought in a hard copy of his paper, apologizing that he knew I asked for electronic submission but he really would appreciate some feedback on his paper, so would I mind jotting some comments down? He seemed genuinely surprised when I told him that the major word processors have "review" features allowing comments to be added.]

    So on the slide I reminded them that I do not "give" them grades, they earn them.

    The midterm is a compilation of quiz questions graded automatically by ANGEL. They received a rubric explaining the standards against which their paper will be judged. So I am not laying in wait, gas can in hand, ready to flame them to a crisp, I'm just going to compare what they submitted to the aforementioned standards.

    One can hope ...

  7. I'm not so sure that students seek to exchange effort for grades. I'm more convinced that they seek to exchange money for grades, or being on the roster for grades. Effort? Shit, that's a relative term anyway.

    What my students THINK is effort is a complete joke. They think they're so tough and street smart, but they're a bunch of academic pussies. They want something for nothing. They want to FAKE their way through every fucking assignment. They usually don't listen, don't apply much of anything they learn about writing to their actual writing, and then wonder why their grades suck.

    I teach comp., and it's astounding how they think that our lessons on splices, fragments, and other errors--which I tell them WILL AFFECT THEIR PAPER GRADES--are merely theoretical, not that they know what "theoretical" means, mind you.

    They think it's all just a bunch of yadda yadda teacher-talking bullshit. But then their essays come back covered in red ink with a fat "D" on them. No mercy...


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