Saturday, September 06, 2008

Post #200

It's been a long and tiring week, but a pretty good one.

We're now about three weeks into the new semester, and I'm feeling good about it so far: my classes are fun, I've set a good pace in both, my students are engaged and willing to work.

The past week or so I've felt on edge about something, though, as though I've not been able to find a groove. It wasn't until yesterday morning that I put my finger on what it was that was keeping me from settling in: homework deadlines.

In every class I've taught since I started teaching here three years ago, all homework, projects, papers, projects of any kind, have always been due at 5:00 p.m. on Friday evenings. This singular deadline meant that I didn't have to think about when a particular assignment was due, it meant I could flip from class to class and be able to say in the wink of an eye when students owed me something. It was easier on the students, too, for they knew the answer they'd get if they asked me when something was due to my desk.

It's the course software for Precalc that's been throwing me off: freed from having ("getting"? I'm missing it!) to hand-grade the students' homework, I've been able to glibly toss about due dates without any restriction imposed by my grading schedule: Monday at midnight? No problem. Wednesday at noon? Fine, again...and somehow that glibness carried over to my assignation of Abstract deadlines, too, so their homework has been due willy-nilly throughout the week.

No more.

The nerve-wracking chaos ended yesterday when I informed all of my classes that I'd be reverting to the Friday at 5:00 deadline. It's a seemingly minor change, but we'll see if it doesn't put me at ease!

Meanwhile, as I mentioned above, all's going quite well. I'm well aware that we're making our way through Precalc a little more slowly than we should be, but I imagine once we get through the algebra review I'll pick up the pace a little bit; I feel that it's important to establish a firm foundation of algebraic skills before moving into a place where we'll have to apply them. I've just passed out the first written assignment, asking the students to minimize the cost of constructing a box with a fixed volume and certain dimensional constraints, and to put all necessary data and computations in the form of a written report to a container manufacturer. I'm eager to see how wel they handle this project. I'm imagining that it'll be a snap for some, and a mountainous challenge for others.

Abstract's chugging along; we've had two sets of committee reports so far. Yesterday's reports were very strong, they've already begun to break away from the "here's the answer" mode of reportage, in which they don't really comment on their peers' work so much as solve the problem for the class. "That's not really helping anyone," I've reminded them. I've exhorted them to provide helpful, respectful, and specific feedback: "good!" is as useless as "wrong!".

I was particularly gratified by one of the students' reports yesterday, in which she indicated the importance of clarity and composition, emphasizing how even if someone had the right answer it was often difficult to discern this if the proof's wording were awkward, if its structure were nonexistent. It was clear that she'd read the "Four Cs" style sheet, if nothing else.

Well, I'm off...the weekend lies before me, and I've got relatively little grading to do (a few factoring problems and a team quiz from my Precalckers...shouldn't take more than a couple of hours during some football game later), so I might actually get some down-time tonight.

Happy 200th post!

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