Friday, November 30, 2007

The Perversity of Self-Referential Teaching

When I taught my students version one of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus (the one which tells you how to take derivatives of functions involving integrals), I said:
Isn't this easy? Don't you wish the whole test was going to be this? Well, I will go ahead and tell you that when I put one of these problems on the exam, half of you will forget and miss it.
I say this every time I teach the section, in the hopes that it might make the material stick. This time I went one step further and added:
That will be true despite the fact that I have just told you this.
I thought possibly that this statement might make at least a few more students decide to remember it. (It seemed to make an impression at least; they did laugh.)

Well I gave the exam this morning, and it turns out that in fact more than half the class forgot it. I think somewhere around 80% forgot it. Maybe next time I will try: "Everyone gets this problem every time, so don't bother to study this at all."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Spring Semester

I have a schedule for Spring now. I don't have any more 8 am classes--Yea! I'm also scheduled to teach three sections of math for elementary ed students--also Yea! And I'm teaching Discrete Math, which is worth a cautious and qualified Yea (?)!

Discrete was my favorite class in college, and it was also the "sexy" class that convinced many people to be math majors. It is the course where students learn to write proofs, and the topics tend to include things like set theory, formal logic, and combinatorics. (Of course, I got to take it with a realio trulio set theorist, so how cool is that?) The only problem is that since then I've been at two other schools where Discrete Math seems to be a major problem (including this one), rather than a joy. I have no idea why this is, and I wonder if I'm up to doing the job my professor did with my class. I hope so. I think it's a very cool course, even though it's not in the area I ended up in.

I'm not sure why, but I've already had two students try to get me to sign an override form so they can take Discrete Math even though they haven't taken the prerequisite yet. Hint to any students thinking about this: The answer is no.

Friday, November 16, 2007

In which I play with squeaky toys

The university is having College Bowl type of competition in which all the departments put together teams of students to compete on general knowledge questions. The Math/CS department put together a team a few weeks ago using a preliminary competition. Since I was the first person who didn't say "no" when asked, I played MC and read the questions (which someone else had downloaded from a College Bowl site.) [I received some kudos on my reading, by the way, because I didn't trip too badly over reading all the odd place and people names that fill the various literature, movie, geography, and history questions. I had to point out that this just meant I was good at reading confidently, not that I had any friggin' clue how to pronounce any of these things.] The students responded by squeezing a squeaky toy (since we don't have buzzers), then got to answer the question. We selected a team based on how people answered.

This afternoon, we had scheduled a practice round, where students would compete against a faculty team. (The faculty team won't otherwise compete in any way.) Since I again didn't say "No" when asked*, I've ended up on the faculty team, so this afternoon I got to play with squeaky toys too. Of course, this means someone else had to be recruited to read questions, but that was apparently more appealing than having to show up on the team. I understand this, since I had the distinct impression I was going to look like a complete idiot. (There are plenty of things I know I ought to know as a generally educated person but don't; I just do my best to keep anyone from finding out about these.)

I spent the week studying by reading An Incomplete Education and setting my TiVo to record everything history related that I could find. I also looked for other random trivia that tends to show up in these things. (Did you know all 14 mountains more than 8,000 meters above sea level are all in Asia, either in the Himalayan mountain range or the Karakorum range? The first man to climb all 14 was Reinhold Messner of Italy. If you count height as measurement from base to top, the tallest mountain is actually Mauna Kea in Hawaii at over 10,000 meters, but that includes a portion beneath the ocean. The deepest point in the ocean is the Challenger Deep in the Marianas trench off the coast of Southeast Asia, which is 2 km deeper than Mt. Everest is tall.)

As it turned out, I managed not to look too foolish, and in fact one thing I found in Incomplete came up. (One of the 12 supreme court decisions the book listed as ones everyone should know.) So I feel like some studying paid off. But there was nothing about mountains.

* "I'm just a girl who can't say ..."