## Tuesday, October 4, 2016

### Office Hours Playlet

Scene: A moderately disorganized office with papers strewn about and piles of books on the floor. The room is dark because there are no windows. A student walks in.

Matthy Matthew: Good morning. How's it going?

Struggling Stephen: Not so well. I came in to talk to you about last week's exam.

MM: Okay, let's take a look.

Student pulls out exam, revealing a score of 36% F. MM flips through to look at SS's mistakes.

SS: I really struggled with the graphing problem. Can we go over it?"

MM: Sure. The inequality is x - 3y > 6. We need to try and get the y alone, so we subtract x from both sides. What are we left with on the left?

SS: Three y.

MM: No, we have negative three y.

SS: Why is it negative?

MM: In the original problem, it was x minus three y. The coefficient on the y is negative three. That term is negative.

SS: Okay.

MM: So we're left with -3y > 6 - x. What do we do next? How can we get the y alone?

SS: We subtract three. No, we subtract negative three. No, we add three.

MM: No. The y is being multiplied by negative three. The opposite of that is dividing by negative three, so if we want to get the y alone, we need to divide by negative three.

SS: Oh.

MM: So we're left with y on the left hand side. What do we get when we divide six by negative three?

SS: Two.

MM: No, we get negative two. A positive divided by a negative is a negative.

SS: Oh.

MM: So we're left with y < -2 + (1/2) x. We have to flip the sign because we divided by a negative.

SS: Okay.

MM: So, we start our graph by plotting the y-intercept. What's the y-intercept?

SS: One half?

MM: No, it's negative two. The y-intercept is the constant term: the one without the x.

SS: Oh. Where do we put it?

MM rolls eyes as he loses patience, since graphed at least fifteen examples in class using the y-intercept.

MM: We look on the y-axis and go down two units to negative two.

SS: Okay.

MM: Now, what's the slope?

SS: One half?

MM: Yes!

MM gets just a little too excited, considering the student had already made four mistakes on the problem. Standards have clearly been lowered.

MM: So we go up one unit and to the right two units, and that gives us another point. And we keep going until we have a nice line.

SS: Okay.

MM: Now, we need to shade one side of the line. Do we shave above or below?

SS: Above.

MM: No, we need to shade below here. Since y is less than negative two plus one half x, we shade below. Because we want smaller values of y, and smaller values of y are on the bottom of the plane.

SS: I have a question.

MM: Yes?

SS draws a "greater than" sign and a "less than" sign. Student points to "greater than" sign.

SS: This sign means "less than," right?

MM sighs. We spent four days on inequalities, looking at dozens and dozens of them, and still this kid doesn't know which is which.

FAST FORWARD FIVE MINUTES

MM helps SS solve an absolute value equation.

SS: I don't think we actually covered these in class.

MM: Yes, we did. We spent a day on them.

SS: Well, they weren't in the study guide.

MM pulls out a copy of the study guide and leafs through it.

MM: Here. There are actually three problems in the study guide addressing these problems. I believe we went over one of them during the review session.

SS: Oh.

[+]

I understand that some students come in with weak backgrounds, and many struggle with the material. But these are some of the most basic things we've covered over and over, and it's exhausting when students totally flub the first month and then think that they can just fill in a small gap here and there and be prepared. And then they go and accuse me of testing them on something we didn't cover in class.

1. A problem here is that this student doesn't need to fill in a small gap. He needs to fill in the Grand Canyon. That's introductory algebra, which most of us do at the start of high school. Remedial math is needed here and that requires a lot of effort on the part of the student. Clearly, MM isn't putting in much of an effort. When you point out where in the study guide the material is and the response is "Oh", the student needs to make a big change in his mindset. Good luck. You'll need it.

1. To be clear MM is the professor.

2. Shoot - my mistake. I shouldn't comment before coffee.

3. Well, in point of fact, once this story passes through the adminiflake's lens, it WILL be seen as "Clearly, MM isn't putting in much of an effort."

MM, what have you done to facilitate student success today? It breaks my heart to say this, but this student's cluelessness and inability to find the information in the study guide are prima facie evidence that you are failing your students. You've got to meet them where they are. You need to be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.

(BTW, I like my martini dry, like my humor.)

4. And I like my coffee black. Like my soul.

5. I think you've just explained my prediliction for black coffee as well.

2. Clearly, the solution is to decrease funding for this underperforming program, open up admissions standards, allow students to decide for themselves whether to take remedial courses, and increase the number of courses in "student success" created and mandated by the Office of Student Appeasemnt and Retention.

1. Clearly. The customer is always right.

You have a bright future as an administrator!

2. Yeah I hate this shit. Administrators became a thing because PROFESSORS ran the colleges and we had work that we DIDN'T WANT to do. When the fuck did they seize power? And apparently Deans aren't PROFESSORS anymore usually? When did we let evil become so much stronger than us?

3. Exactly! And then when that doesn't work, send the faculty off to professional development again.

4. Shit, I forgot to put "remediate the professoriate" into my original plan. I also should have worked "accountability" into it.

I agree with Peter. There's not a lot to do for a student who is this far behind. Assuming you are teaching more than just one student, you've got other demands on your time. My strategy is to do what MM did then send the student off with sime practice problems to solve by himself and tell him to return when he's completed them. Now the kid has some skin in the game. If he comes back, maybe he's more dedicated than you thought - good for him. Help him some more and send him off with more practice. He will probably never come back but you've done your part to help him. Move on to the kids who need your help and are capable of accepting it.

It amazes me that a student can get a 36% and say that the grade is due to just one problem. If he had gotten that correct, he still would have failed.

1. There's quite a lot that amazes me about some of my students.

I already gave him a worksheet of extra problems (specifically about solving basic equations) and told him to work on it with a tutor to make sure he was doing the correct steps each time. Clearly he didn't follow through on this.

I feel lucky in that that most of my students have a better idea of what their capabilities are and where they stand. I haven't ran into too many problems that this community collectively sees. But every once in a while there's a student who's just so out of touch with the reality they're in that I'm left baffled.

4. Not trying to be a troll, but I think there's a typo--the slope should end up as 1/3. And yes, I have multiple versions of this conversation every time I hand back exams. One student tried to convince me that his "scale" drawing of the solar system with the asteroid belt outside Neptune, missing Uranus, and fun-house mirror scale was "just like I did in class."

1. "I think there's a typo--the slope should end up as 1/3."

Oh, snap. FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!

2. Balls. I quit.

This is what I get for trying to write this post on my phone. See kids? Always show your work neatly on paper.

3. For a phone user you did a bang job with the italics HTML code. Unfortunately it did not work, but having it in the text allowed me to fix it easily - except for the 2 I just saw "less than" etc.

4. Uggy, please tell me the conversation included the sentence: "But Dude, Uranus is missing!"

5. Sadly, no. Plus we all train ourselves to pronounce "UR-uh-nus."

6. Urinous is the scent that emanates from bushes outside frat houses.

5. Maths is so weerd.

6. Gawd, I feel for ya, bro. This is my life--but in English, or Anguish, as I like to call it. I hand out "D's" like candy on Halloween, and so few students are willing to put in the hard work to come up to speed. Sigh. Sigh. Double-damn sigh.

7. The "but we didn't cover this in class" followed by the "actually, here it is right here in the lecture slides" interaction can be simultaneously a very frustrating and very satisfying prof-student interaction.
The balance tips when the student follows up with "no, that wasn't in the lecture" (what, you think I inserted additional lecture slides to lie to you?) or "oh my god I'm really sorry, I really need to pay more attention!!" (much more satisfying because it is likely the student will from now on be on the ball).

1. I'm noticing far fewer apologies than I used to.

2. Just a lot of blinkng and the occasional grunt.

8. To this day my favorite all time "math" posting came from RYS more than 10 years ago:

summer = research!!
woot!
no students
just sweet sweet mathematics

9. Torquemada in TrainingOctober 4, 2016 at 7:36 PM

I had a student hand in an essay that ended in the middle of a sentence. When I asked WTF she said she said she got to the 250 word limit so she stopped. My latest fantasy is to be a drill instructor at Parris Island.

1. I gave up on telling students to make their papers as long as they needed to get their point across. They need a little hoop to jump through or they just look for the hoop.

10. Stupid like that should not be allowed in the voting booth.

1. Assholes get elected 'cause assholes get to vote.

-- Pat MacDonald.

11. I'm just proud of myself for being able to follow the explanation (I did learn how to do this stuff once upon a time -- 9th or 10th grade in my case, I'm pretty sure. I could still rearrange the equation pretty reliably if you told me which variable to isolate, but I'd need a refresher on the graphing).

Of course, if by some odd circumstance I had a test on this stuff coming up, I'd study. But that doesn't always seem to occur to students these days. A friend who gives a placement test in a mathematically-oriented discipline reported that one student failed the same kind of question -- a relatively simple conversion -- on 3 iterations of the test, and, when questioned, couldn't explain why (s)he hadn't reviewed how to do that kind of conversion after the 1st and 2nd failures. Apparently she was sure she belonged in the class, so of course she should pass the placement test.

12. OOO, always, always, ALWAYS they are testing, testing, TESTING their boundaries! They're like little kids who don't want to go to bed, or lawyers, or VELOCIRAPTORS---only not as SMART.