Sunday, December 10, 2006

The proverbial Morning After

Well, it's all over and done with.

I think.

There are a few minor details to wrap up with one or two folks, but nothing major. The third exams, the last journal entries, the presentations and concomitant posters are all graded and ready to hand back to those eager enough to come and retrieve them. (C'mon, y'all! Come and get 'em!)

Moreover, I've finished grading.


In the end, I'm really disappointed that I've got to hand out grades: how difficult is it to boil down all of the interactions, inquiries, examples, applications, projects, presentations, portfolios, and other assorted whatnots we've collaborated on in the past few months, and end up with a residuum summed up by a single letter?

I tell you what: put simply, it's a bitch.

But it's done. And ultimately many people in the class did very well. There's a pretty large number of As and A-minuses, a fair smattering of Bs and Cs of various sorts, and only a puny handful of anything lower.

Beyond the grades, there are the lessons learned. I hope that in the case of our class we've been able to transcend cliche and put some truth into that truism. I can't speak for the students in the class (I'd love it if they'd take the time to speak for themselves in the comments to this post!), but I know I've learned a lot.

1. I am never, ever going to do this with a class this size again. Ever. I'm figurin' the upper limit for this method is something in the ballpark of 15 students. At that point I could have an eminently manageable 5 teams of 3 folks each. With that small a number of teams, I could make the rounds in the classroom during group exercises and be sure of hitting everyone at least once. I could schedule team meetings more regularly to ensure frequent updates, and the teams would be small enough to allow for easier scheduling of research meetings. We started out with thirty-three students and ended with thirty, and as hair-pullingly frustrating as the size of the course sometimes made the daily proceedings, I'm quite frankly awed that more people didn't drop midway. I have nothing but admiration for the patience and dedication of those that stuck with it.

2. This method of learning is not for everyone. Those that fared best were those who were more used to courses run along these lines, and those whose learning styles are at odds with those assumed by a more "traditional" classroom. For instance, those who identified as "visual" learners were likelier to find our class useful. Others, more used to the run-of-the-mill lecture format, felt a bit out-of-place and longed for those infrequent days when I'd stand at the front of the room and yammer. As the semester wore on, I developed a balance between the applications-based guided discovery exercises I'd envisioned for the course and a more lecture-led semitraditional format, all based upon the worksheets I turned out, one or two per week.

3. This method of teaching is not for everyone. As folks who've had me for other courses can attest, my teaching style is probably best characterized by the word "enthusiastic." A number of other words have been used to describe my teaching (few of which, fortunately, are unprintable), but this is the word which predominates in my teaching evaluations at the end of every semester (runners-up include "approachable" and "accessible"). And honestly, without the charisma and energy that I put into my classes, I have NO IDEA how I would have made it through this semester. WARNING: if you plan on teaching in this manner, make sure that you've got lots of free time, and boundless energy. Even with all of the preparation I did in advance, I was still blown away by just how much I had to do to keep up with the work. A lot of this labor was on account of the size of the course, but much can be attributed to the method alone.

4. Some innovation is appreciated. Team quizzes, for example, went over enormously well. I'm keepin' those: you can be sure that every course I teach from this point forward will include some variant of that activity. This blog's been a popular feature, too. For a while there, before everyone was occupied with exams and presentations and other geegaws, I was getting at least one or two comments per post (and as many as 14 at one point), which ain't bad considering all of the other faaaaaaaaar more interesting blogs there are out there that my students could be reading. (By the way, a shout out to The Comics Curmudgeon, one of the baddest blogs on the internet.) Change of Basis, too, will live on, in modified form, as I move into the planning stages for next semester's classes. Look forward to my continued chronicling of my teaching adventures. There are several of you from Linear who are continuing on with me, either in 280 or in Number Theory...keep reading, folks, and keep posting!

I've learned more lessons than this, but those are the biggies.

I've gotta go for now, but hey, 365ers! I really would like to hear what you feel you've gotten from this class, so please feel free to leave a comment or two on this post: let me know what you've learned, what lessons you'll take with you.

This'll likely be the last post I make on 365 for quite a while, but I'll be back soon with updates regarding next semester's courses. And I'm slated to give a talk on the writing component of our class in January at the big annual Joint Meetings of the American Mathematical Society and Mathematics Association of America. I'll be sure to let you know how that goes. (And yes, Fiona, I'll let you know as soon as I hear about the Information Literacy Intensive status for the class...but I'll be seeing you in 280 in the Spring, so I know you won't be going anywhere!)

Au revoir, then. To everyone in my class: thank you. Thank you for your hard work, your time, your cooperation, your willingness to try something new, your everything. Take care, and have a wonderful Winter Break!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr. Patrick

I believe the class went well overall; I do agree that it is frustrating to see a single letter (with a plus or a minus) summing up all the work that went in to the semester. I've always tried to work hard in classes, and maybe it was the format of the class which inspired such work, but I actually feel the wear of all the work we did in the linear class: whew.

In no way complaining to you or about the class, but speaking from direct experience and making a statement: it is very frustrating to work so hard and have all that work fall to a tiny point of a single letter. My grade is fair but it is so unfortunate that so much work went into the class to earn that little letter grade that, for just a moment, it feels like all that work was in vain.

But I only feel that way for just a moment.

On the bottom line, I know you worked hard, I know I worked hard, you know I worked hard, and from being in the class I have grown so much in my people-skills. So, regardless of the final grade, your class was a wonderful and valuable experience. Thank you so much for taking the time and making it a great class.

Merry Christmas,