Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Day Three, going strong

Today was the second day of actual classes for me, and they went very well, substantially more smoothly than Monday's classes overall.

My 280 students did a remarkably good job in poring over the "Does good writing matter?" handout I've now used four times to encourage students to generate criteria for strong writing in nonmathematical subjects: they made a few observations no previous students have made, and they weren't the least bit shy in making them. For instance, they pointed out that the response I'd clearly intended to be the strongest one suffered from overuse of jargon and generalities, which can both be used to disguise ignorance; the "balance of power" buzzphrase was the one at which one group's ears perked. "People tend to write like that when they don't really understand what they're talking about," one student said. Nevertheless, most agreed that the second passage was still superior to the first, which despite its attention to detail frequently rambled far off topic. (Of course, the third, intentionally written to be sparse and grammatically disjointed, was everyone's pick for last place.)

Yes, the conversation regarding that handout was a lively one, and the ensuing one on the mathematical counterpart, "Does good mathematical writing matter?," was equally spirited. Already they're picking up on some important aspects of well-written proofs (complete and grammatically correct sentences, utmost clarity, etc.; as Belinda asked at one point, "so we should be writing as though we're writing to aliens who have no understanding of what we're talking about, trying to make it as clear as possible?"). When the time came for me to solicit volunteers for discussion leaders for the first "official" handout, several were more than willing.

So far the students seem sharp, outgoing, and eager to work.

Both sections of Calc I went well, too, as the students took turns presenting (in pairs) on the precalculus topics they'd been asked to review for today. Some of the presentations were understandably a little rough, but all were satisfactory, and some were positively outstanding. In the first section, those presentations dealing with the Vertical Line Test, asymptotes, and rational functions were particularly strong, involving appropriate and explicit examples. Ino and Nadia, for instance, were spot on in their discussion of asymptotes in the first section.

Today also brought me the chance to meet several more students during their "meet 'n' greet" interviews. A few were shy, as many were eager to set on the semester. It turns out that several (5 out of 15) of my 280 students are math licensure students, a disproportionately large number, as I mentioned a few posts back.

Tomorrow will be the third day of classes for Calc I, and a break from 280. Further bulletins as events warrant.

Oh, and: I've just put together a rough draft of my proposal for the 10th International Writing Across the Curriculum Conference in Bloomington, Indiana in May 2010. I hope to speak on the intentional disciplinary writing instruction I've been doing for the past two summers during the REU.

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