Friday, August 18, 2006

R 'n' R

I'm supposedly taking the day off today, giving myself a three-day weekend before classes start up on Monday.

I woke up this morning at about 2:00 a.m., unable to sleep. It was hot, the dogs were shoving me out of bed, and I had The Polecats' "Make a circuit with me" stuck in my mead. None of these factors are conducive to sleep.

As I lay awake, I got to thinking about MATH 365 (what else?): what could go wrong?

I've already identified resistance to what could be called tactfully a "highly non-traditional mathematics classroom environment" as the number one challenge that I must overcome in putting this course into action. But there are other pitfalls, too.

I'm a little worried about the team work: every time I've run with team work in the past, there's been at least nominal resistance on the part of some students. This could be because a number of students fail to appreciate the benefits that come from learning to work in teams...heck, I was one of those students: as I admitted in an earlier post, I hated team work as a student, and I often fought against it by endeavoring to do all of the team's work myself. What bugged a few folks in my Calc II classes last semester (the first course I'd taught in a long time that had had a somewhat substantial team work component) was the impermanence of the teams: one of my best students (for whose opinion I had a great deal of respect) questioned the efficacy of "changing out" the teams at various points in the semester, indicating that he would have gotten more out of the experience had the teams persisted throughout the semester.

That student also questioned my commitment to team work, and though at the time I was a little bit offended by this implication, I realize now, after all of the thought and effort I've put into designing team exercises and activities for this coming semester's Linear course, that he had reason to question my commitment: my plan for team work last Spring was, at least compared to this Fall's class, inchoate and incomplete, at best. I wasn't as committed as I could have been, as I should have been, I must admit. I wasn't committed enough to choose the proper team assessment techniques, to provide framework to facilitate team work, or to schedule class time for students to spend in team-(and confidence-)building exercises.

I've done my homework this time. I feel ready now, but will the students?

It's also going to be hard for me to remove myself entirely from the role of "lecturer." As my students (and some of my colleagues) know, I'm less of a "lecturer" than many, if not most, math teachers...but my role in the upcoming course will demand that I remove myself even further from that bully pulpit: I'm anticipating having to consciously (at least at first) distance myself from standing at the front and giving out all of the answers. I'm going to have to grow even more accustomed to long, awkward silences.

This post falls under L. Dee Fink's 11th Step in the planning process: answering the question, "all right, what could go wrong?"

Answer: a lot. But we'll see it through.

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