Monday, January 14, 2008

One down, a whole bunch to go

Day One.

A difficult beginning?

Not really.

The day was tiring, but pleasant.

I felt uncharacteristically (for a first-day-of-semester) comfortable in my first section of Calc II, and hardly more perturbed in my second section. There was a bit more nervousness in Graph Theory, but overall my ordinary first-day jitters subsided quickly.

As I suspected would be the case, I had a hard time getting to sleep last night, and once asleep I couldn't stay asleep. More than once I awoke to find the room still black in deep night. The early morning hours dragged, and I swore that the six hours or so hours I'd allotted myself were among the longest I've ever lived, wide-eyed and ceiling-staring.

My alarm went off at 5:30, and I was strangely refreshed. I showered quickly, had breakfast, and headed out, puzzling over various schemes for constructing expander graphs in my head as I walked into campus.

It was just growing light as I arrived, and it was near enough to the start of the first class period (not mine, this semester) for the earliest of the students to be poking their overly-punctual heads into their 8:00 classrooms as I entered Rhoades Hall.

The next hour or so was spent putting together a few odds and ends I'd need for my first Calc II course of the day; organizing my notes, syllabi, handouts; putting a couple of finishing touches on the website; placing the Skittle-filled candy machine in the Math Lab; responding to a few early-morning e-mails.

Then came class. By the afternoon's end there'd be 32 people in the class, only 9 of whom I've not had the pleasure of working with before. (Belladonna, chagrined, pointed out that there are only 6 women in the section. I mentioned that there's often a precipitous drop-off from Calc I to Calc II, that women more heavily populate the biological sciences than the mathematical ones.) Class seemed to go rather smoothly, despite the massive amount of crap I wanted to get through by the first day's end. After an exercise in which I asked the students to compile a list of dos and don'ts when constructing a safe and effective learning environment, and after a brief review of the essentials from Calc I, I left them with the assignment sheet for Confectionary Conundrum.

Trixie and I had a chance to catch up after class and spend a few minutes talking about the graph theory she'd been working on over break. One of her friends, a fresh face to me, lingered too, and she took a few minutes to explain to him, very well, the problems she's been considering. She's made great progress, and if she manages to push it much further, I don't think a presentation at MIGHTY would be out of her reach.

The next few hours saw me doing all manner of busywork, and by 12:45 it was time for Round Two, duked out with a smaller section consisting of a mere 18 students (half of whom are women!). The smaller section is sure to make for a more intimate environment, and already I can tell that people are more comfortable speaking up in front of each other than are the folks in Section 1. I have high hopes!

Graph Theory, having shrunk by a student, now has 16 students. After obligatory welcomes and niceties, I explained to the students the structure of the course: they'll be in charge, hands on the wheel and the feet on the gas, directing the flow and the pace of the course. I'll be there with a road map if they need it, but I'll try to keep it tucked away in the back of the glove compartment, beneath a pile of oil change receipts and a pack of 10-year-old once-minty chewing gum. Their presentations of problem solutions will dominate class time, and through their work with one another I hope that they will learn to become colleagues in discovery. (For a complete description of the "Moore method" means I'll be utilizing, please consult the syllabus.)

I apologize for the highly simplified, blow-by-blow account of the day's proceedings. Honestly, I don't have much left in me to make the day sound any more poetical than a pedestrian succession of events. It was a good day (superlative, as first-days-of-semesters go), I'm glad I've lived it, and I look forward to many more like it this semester.

I'm just beat.

Well, Calc II continues tomorrow, I'd best be off to get some R 'n' R before beddie-bye.


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