Friday, June 06, 2008

Twenty-five minutes to go...

...At least that's what it feels like.

Desdemona, our REU student who's scheduled to arrive first, should be here within the next hour and a half.

Am I ready?

I've spent the last couple of weeks putting together material for this year's program, and now I've got a list of learning goals, a rough timeline, a list of about 45 possible research questions, five handouts involving set theory, graph theory, and metric geometry (and several more on the way), five handouts on Mathematica, four handouts on LaTeX and the structure of mathematical research papers, an exercise asking students to uses research databases to track down primary source material, and a map of North and Central Asheville, complete with markers indicating locations of yummy eateries and other useful establishments. (All of these are available on the REU website, here.) Not to mention a couple dozen research and survey articles on various topics of interest to me.

Still I don't feel ready.

I'm just anxious, giddy as a schoolboy on the first day of class.

I met with Lulabelle and Casanova yesterday to talk about the direction our new year-long writing assessment study is going to take. Suffice it to say we've got a mountain of data (both quantitative and qualitative), making the selection of research questions a leviathan task. For now we're focusing on collecting the final round of data from the previous year's participants, including syllabi and course assignments, as well as statements regarding these folks' experience in constructing and applying the writing rubric we all worked so hard to put together.

Lulabelle's visibly more relaxed since we've finished up with Austin. I hope she's able to get some good nights' sleep in these days.

After our meeting yesterday I stayed on to help her out with reading math papers (a scary proposition for a non-math-type person!), and then we talked about Kevin Rathunde's work on family environments that are most conducive to optimal experience in children. (I came across a reference to Rathunde's work in reading Csikszentmihalyi's Flow for our upcoming summer learning circle, and tracked down the original work, appearing as a chapter in Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi (ed.) Optimal experience: psychological studies of flow in consciousness (Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

Central to his study are five traits (all starting with 'C'; a fitting companion piece to my "Four Cs" rubric!): clarity (of rules and purpose, providing a stable set of experience parameters), choice (giving children the opportunity to direct their own experience within clearly defined parameters), centering (of activity in the present, making it an "autotelic" activity worthy of pursuit for its own sake), commitment (or trust, giving children a feeling of security that will enable them to boldly strike out on their activities), and challenge (ensuring that children are given tasks that are adequately interesting).

A question to ponder: in what ways are these traits best developed and nurtured in the classroom, and to what extent do they there serve the same roles as they do in a "well-flowing family" context? (I can already see how these traits mesh well with what I've always thought of as "good teaching practice.")

That's a question for later, since in the middle of my typing the above paragraph, Desdemona arrived with her family in tow. She's now safely moved into her dorm room, alone for the night but not for much longer.

I'm so excited!

And I just can't hide it!

I'll attempt to keep control.

But I'll still like it.

Until next time, ponder the following: just how long did it take Dr. Csikszentmihalyi to learn to spell his name? And how long does it take him to type it?

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