Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pretrial discovery

You may recall that in addition to my dedicated service to the Writing Intensive subcommittee and my interest in writing and writing pedagogy, I also double as a math professor.

Today my Calc I classes spend their respective class periods meeting with one another in groups as they took part in the first-ever "pretrial discovery" I've organized for the Newton v. Leibniz project. The brainchild of one of the students who took this course last semester, this activity was meant to give the various parties a chance to meet with one another (Newton's team with Leibniz's, Leibniz's team with Leibniz's colleagues, both litigating parties with the historical/mathematical experts, and so forth) and coordinate arguments and defenses.

For the most part I think the hour or so was well-used. Certain parties dove into the project with gusto. Nora, Leibniz's lead attorney in the first section, was champing at the bit as she met with Newton's team. I'm eager to see how valiantly she defends her client next week. Meanwhile Nicolas (playing one of Newton's colleagues), though a bit more subdued than Nora, clearly had victory on his mind as he talked through various arguments Newton might use in order to win the case. With each jab I threw his was as devil's advocate, he feinted feistily and jabbed back. I think he'll make a good witness.

While I'm actually on the subject of math, I should say a little bit about a project in 280 that's threatening to come off the rails. Though for the most part the course is running along smoothly and the students are doing marvelously, the only new component to the course, the student-authored textbook, has stalled on the semester's roadside. It's partly my fault, as I've been lax in instituting deadlines and laxer still in spurring the students to work. This is in part because they've already got leviathan tasks facing them with Exam 1 due tomorrow, a new homework set to be handed out in class tomorrow and due next week, and various high-level handouts to digest and deliver in class.

I hope to spend a little bit of time tonight in helping the students get their shit together:

1. There are several sections of the first "chapter" already written in languishing on the "textbook forum" on Moodle. I'll collate them into a single document and ask one of the students to take a stab at editing over the weekend.

2. Though hesitant to do this at first, I'll bow to the suggestions of one of the commenters on this blog and one of the current students and put together a "checklist" of issues that should be addressed in the first chapter. I'll pen similar checklists for the second and third chapters and distribute those as needed. (We're in the middle of the third chapter, on sets, right now.)

3. I'll put off asking students to work on the second chapter until a bit later in the semester; it might make a good review topic at the semester's end, when we're likely to have at least a little free time.

4. I'll firm up a clear and coherent schedule for the writing of the third chapter, to commence at the end of next week.

So that's 280 these days, folks. It's really a joy of a class this semester. Last term's class was so large that it was overwhelming and unwieldy. Though I loved many of the students in the class, teaching the course was a tiring enterprise. This semester's class has rejuvenated me.

Before I go I should mention that I invited my new colleagues from the College of Charleston to collaborate with me on my assessment of REU students' technical writing. I'm excited to see what comes of this project, and delighted to get to work with my new friends.

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