Thursday, October 31, 2013

This Week's Big Thirsty. A Class That Rocked.


Q: What was it about that class, you know, the one a couple of years back, where everything worked? The students were attentive and engaged. You never stumbled. You tried something new and that shit rocked! And there was a moment in week 9 where you thought, "Shit, I've finally figured this job out. It's going to be candy and gravy from now on." Only it wasn't. You've tried to get back that mojo. You've tried to make it happen again. And so far you're still looking. What was it about that one class that was so fucking great?


20 comments:

  1. Classes are golden when the "workers" drive the class culture, and you just have to lead them.

    The "workers" are developed using the 12 O'Clock High Leadership model. If you've never taken training in this, you should seek it out. It works! Been doing it forever with all my groups.

    A summary...

    http://www.movieleadership.com/2013/05/29/is-twelve-oclock-high-the-definitive-movie-about-leadership/

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    1. Thanks, C0101 - that was well worth a look!

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    2. In context, I didn't think so.
      The now deleted comment under Kimmie's post certainly was, though.

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  2. Never a whole class, but sometimes a few weeks pass and everything I imagine will work does. It is lovely. But for me it's always when the students are very involved with it. When they buy in to the idea of the unit.

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  3. It is generally a critical mass of engaged/good students. I had one where about a third of the class came in prepared and asked questions and turned the class into more of a discussion and they seemed to a) raise the bar for everyone for what the norm was and b) make it clear the others should feel comfortable asking questions as well. It was lovely.

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  4. I've been so lucky at my newish SLAC in the PNW. The kids that come in are really high achieving. But I've never gotten through a whole class with everything rocking. I never can stop the end of the term lull, sometimes starting a downturn before Thanksgiving. Well, like right now I've got a class that is just exhausted. Their brains are turning off. No candy or gravy for me.

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    1. SLAC in the PNW? High achieving kids? Hey, I'm on the market...

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  5. You're right. It was about 9 years ago. I had bright, creative and engaged students. Haven't come close since then.

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  6. I'm with PhD Up: still waiting...and it looks as if it won't happen here (at the UG level, at least.) Only 3-4 of us ever teach honors classes, and I'm not one of them. The problem is that what more or less worked 20 years ago would be too hard now, for students taking the same classes; they have gotten so much weaker.

    Except right now I have a committee assignment that's a little like that: preparing a few bright self-selected kids for a national competition in my field. We meet once a week to discuss problem-solving strategies, and work on non-trivial problems (also for me) in real time. You know what's great? I don't have to "adjust my speech" when I talk to them. I say something without breaking it down into chewable atoms--as if to a colleague--and they understand immediately. That's a rare experience. Only five kids (all men).

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  7. Sorry, I'm still new here. Is the page broken? There hasn't been any comments in 5 hours. That seems odd. Is anyone seeing this?

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    1. Not as far as I can see. There are more and less busy days and hours. Cal even posted a list of them sometime within the last few months, but I can't find it at the moment. Things will likely pick up as evening rolls westward over the continental U.S., and proffies grab their drink of choice and peruse CM.

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  8. I was lucky last fall: the day I had an observation (scheduled with quite tight timing due to various deadlines), I happened on a text that worked really well, with a class that willing to talk. I had questions to ask that drew multiple right answers, the students were willing to elaborate on those answers, and we were able to pull it all together into a few broad, relevant, conclusions by the end. Phew! Teaching majors in my field, which I rarely get to do, definitely helped. Even then, though, I experienced the mid-semester slump--->end of semester collapse that Darla describes. I tend to assume that it has something to do with our students population (generally bright/good students with way-too-busy schedules, in part because they're trying to pay for college at least partially through paid work done while going to college), but I'm pretty sure that Darla's population is quite different, so maybe not.

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  9. I had a near-perfect class last Spring (I even wrote about it). I think the planets, stars, and shoes all aligned to provide that particular set of diligent students. And even they started to wear out 3/4 of the way through.

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  10. All classes have distinctive personalities, and they are set by a small number of students. Also, some classes have higher bonehead densities than others. The last time I had a good general-ed intro astronomy class for non-majors was in Fall 2000. It was good because 3-4 students were inquisitive and unafraid to ask questions often, and this encouraged others to join in. In most other sections, the students sit there inert, like retarded sea cucumbers, no matter what I do. This problem has become noticeably worse in recent years, no doubt because of NCLB.

    My introductory modern physics class is fun to teach because the material covered is so cool: relativity and quantum mechanics, the mysteries of the Universe! Still it often scares me how innumerate the engineering students can be.

    Most upper-level astronomy classes are usually pretty good. Disturbingly often, though, they're not good enough to warrant the amount of effort I put into them. I had to struggle, so that in order to make it, my students are going to have to be better than me. But as in the words of The Forty-Year-Old Hippie, "Four hundred acid trips and they've all been bummers, but I haven't given up yet."

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    1. I think the polite term is "learning disabled sea-cucumbers." 8-)

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    2. I've seen some sea cucumbers better able to function than some of my students...

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    3. Sea cucumbers are well adapted for their environment. Modern students are not. They most certainly are not for the world that awaits outside the academy.

      And all right, "developmentally developed sea cucumbers," then. As if that's going to look any better on those unemployment forms.

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