"Context rich" means the problems are stated in very real-world terms as a story with the student as the protagonist. Ideally the students identify with the problem and have a motivation for deducing a fact or setting a operational limit of some kind. These problems are usually harder than standard textbook exercises as they require the student to build their own scaffold for expressing the question in mathematical terms. Toward that end the problem statements never include a picture or name any variables; those are decisions that the students have to make.
These days are opportunities to get personalized help with a subtle skill that forms one leg of the foundation of the material. An opportunity to get gentle criticism of approaches that don't work and pointers toward ones that do.
My summer classes are three hours long, which means that dedicating an entire instructional day to problems gives us time to do three to five of them. That's enough time to ensure that I can make more than one complete circuit of the class and talk to everyone a few times.
Last week I had the first full length problem day of the summer.
Some students started abandoning ship after their group had solved the second of five problems that I had provided. Only twenty percent of the class stayed on to finish the fourth problem.
Now I told them that I don't take attendance and I don't enforce their presence in my classroom, so it's not like they are breaking any rules. But I also told them that I don't have to enforce attendance because no one who doesn't already know the material will pass if they aren't in the room the vast majority of the time. I have statistics to back up that claim.
And here is the clincher: the students who left the earliest are the same ones who have been struggling with application and analysis tasks on the tests; the very people who would have benefited most from expert guidance avoided taking advantage of it.
- Pissed Pumpkin
Horse, water, etc. Your Office of Access, Retention, Success, and Engagement may refuse to acknowledge this, but we understand.ReplyDelete
Now you know why I always bring a heavy-duty staple gun to class. It helps, since I only grade on deliverables, too.ReplyDelete
More seriously: now you know why I grade only on deliverables, and never punish students for childish, unprofessional conduct by lowering their grades. It isn't necessary: immature behavior greatly lessens how much they can learn, and that does affect their grades. Every time I have considered it for some annoying little shit, all I need to do is look at their grades, and see that I don't need to. It's striking how few exceptions there are. Of course, if they are doing things that harm the learning environment for others, I don't hesitate to stop them, but I still don't lower their grades, only for that.ReplyDelete
It helps, of course, to be a bullet-proof full professor and former department Chair with tenure, and always have a heavy-duty staple gun handy.
That, and of course grading on deliverables ensures that the grades stick.Delete
Sounds like you've set up ideal circumstances for learning (both the content and skills of the class and soft skills such as the value of persistence/working through frustration and/or boredom). You've also explicitly told the students how to get the most out of those circumstances (which is more than they'll get in most outside-the-academy situations).ReplyDelete
It seems to me that you've done what you can, and perhaps all that you should. Yes, it's possible that there are one or two students in the class who would be open to the argument that they could make better use of the opportunities you're offering if you approached them individually, especially at a strategic moment such as after a test on which they didn't do very well. It's also possible that a whole-class announcement might hit home for one or two at such a moment. But you've already told them once, and it's hard to believe that they haven't heard similar advice before, most likely often enough that the possibility that effort and results bear some relationship to each other is stored away somewhere in their brains, available to be called up as a possible solution to their present situation.
I'm reminded of the parable of the sower. In some ways, it seems unfair: is it the fault of the ground that it is rocky, or of the seeds that fell there that they cannot grow? Should the sower have been more careful? (maybe, but apparently he has his own constraints). As with many human situations, it's clear the whole setup is not ideal, and it's not clear exactly why it can't be ideal, but it's also clear that the sower will, and should, keep sowing, and that some grain will result, and that is good.
Ugh! Pissed Pumpkin, the interwebs ate my longer response, but in a nutshell, I experienced the same thing in my three-hour spring semester writing classes. Exactly. The. Same. Thing.ReplyDelete
They're adults. If they choose to tea party up, that's a decision they need to live with. I'm so over trying to make them see the value of the work we do. I'm so over trying to show them the importance of the scaffolding I do in my classrooms. I'm so over trying to get them to realize that everything we do in class is something to benefit them, and that their participation -- individually and in groups -- is something from which they can learn and something that may directly affect grades on bigger assignments.
I had a student who issued this complaint to me this past semester, loudly and angrily and in front of the whole class: "Well, I don't see YOU writing these essays!"
"Of course not," I said. "I earned the credit for this class while I was in high school, and I earned my degrees before you were born. I wrote the essays. Now it's your turn."
The look on his face was gratifying, to say the least.
As in the words of Neill Innes (the 7th Python), "I suffered for my art, and now it's YOUR turn." One of the best things about Kids These Days is that they think I made that up.Delete
Thank you all. Just reading your kind words bucks me up a bit.ReplyDelete
I should know these things. I've heard them often enough; here and from in-person mentors. I've adopted bits of your advice over the last few years. I've tried to adopt "don't care more about their education than they do" as my teaching motto. I really have.
But I still get sense of personal failure when a group of student don't seem to be latching on to even the most basic material. I'm starting to dread grading this term because of the pure number of really incomplete or even incoherent papers I know I'll find in the pile.
I think that a few (two to four of them) may be down to language issues: foreign students who have good day-to-day English, but may be struggling with the denser sentences and six dollar words that appear in my lectures and especially in my written materials. (I've learned to supply simpler synonyms as I go along when lecturing. I can't seem to break myself of the habit of high-powered vocabulary I picked up in grad school and research, but at least I can make those words a learning opportunity.) I've emailed the people responsible for international recruiting to find out if they have suggestions (other than "dumb it down", I pray).
As for the rest ... I just don't know.
Class before the midterm exam. Four of twelve students show up. I do some review. Eleven of twelve show up for the exam. Next class, one. One student. Like they can all teach themselves the material.ReplyDelete
With students like these, I have not even the slightest twinge of conscience, regret, or hesitation as I award them the grades they have rightfully and richly earned. I was called onto the Dean's office for this once, but I dined the night before on baked beans and cabbage, so he won't do that again. I grinned through the whole thing.Delete
P.S. I'm a full professor with tenure, a former department Chair, on all sorts of committees since my university rather needs my advice and knows it, and I bring in lots of external funding (probably not by the standards of an R1, but certainly for here, but then they wouldn't need my advice as much if we were an R1, or even an R2). If you're not, don't try this at home, kids!Delete
Let's not forget our motto: Don't care more about their education than they do.ReplyDelete
The problem here is that it just isn't possible to care less than none at all.Delete
Ah, but "equal to" is also "not more than."Delete
So why the hell is it so in vogue to drop the "n't" from "I couldn't care less"?Delete
Hm. I grade on participation (it makes about 1/4th of the grade), but I'm starting to re-think that. The almost-grade challenge student I had last semester (http://collegemisery.blogspot.com/2016/04/i-feel-grade-change-acoming.html) ended up passing by one freaking point.ReplyDelete
Did she work hard on the final paper? No! She worried about her participation grades! She nitpicked homework grades, she handed in stuff late...
But I teach remedial writing in a flipped format, so in the in class work is absolutely essential. I figured the only way to get the dears to take it seriously was to grade it.
But yes, I'm seeing the results in their deliverables either way, so maybe that is where the grading should be focused.
Cool, PP, you followed through on expanding your BINGO card entry.ReplyDelete
Perhaps students are applying game theory to the the situation, consciously or not. There are numerous other things they want to or have to do right now, and there's at least the possibility that they'll be able to make up for the "lost learning" (from skipping part of the problem day) on their own later, closer to the time when it will "count", by cramming. What they fail to realize is the time it takes for the knowledge to sink in, measurable in days.ReplyDelete