Friday, August 27, 2010

Week One: done!


In Linear Algebra today I used rampant tidal locking as an explanation for the fact that this past week has easily been the longest one ever.

It's been a long week, but a good one, and I've gotten a lot done. More importantly, I feel I've set the appropriate mood in all of my classes. The Calc I kids are slowly starting to come to life, and Linear's just getting better and better.

I've now had "get to know ya" meet 'n' greets with about 20 or 25 of my new students, and these have been uniformly fun. As always my students very in every conceivable way: age, prior education, academic background, major, motivations for study. I've got young, old, quiet, bold, math-minded, math-shy, self-directed, and diffuse. A couple share my love of poetry, one my fascination with early human evolution. Some are sarcastic, like Dwight, the student in my second Calc I section who showed both bravado and cojones by merely modifying the work I'd done on the board to solve an earlier problem, instead of transcribing his own solution from scratch. Others are retiring, like Bertie, whose description of greatest common factors was practically unintelligible owing to the quiet of his voice.

So far, aside from a little bit of hesitation on the part of a couple of the more outspoken students, all of the feedback I've gotten on the structure of the courses (both highly student-centered, Calc I to an extent I've not taught it in the past) has been positive. A couple of the Calc I students have even commented appreciatively on the use of writing. One thanked me for asking them to write in order to more deeply understand the difference between two oft-confused rules for exponents (when do you add 'em, when do you multiply 'em?): "I didn't do so well the last time around in calculus, but I feel like I'm going to do a lot better this time."

One of my nontraditional students (I'm always happy to have them in my classes: they're generally so much less shy about speaking up) expressed some concern in my meeting with her on Tuesday morning. "Am I going to be prepared for Calc II by the end of this semester?" I assured her that we'll do all of the computations we'd do in a theorem-driven calculus course, and we'll learn all of the concepts we'd learn in that setting...we'll just approach them all from a much more useful angle.

"Don't worry," I said. "We'll get there."

In fact, freed from having to put together a punctilious list of soon-forgotten limit laws, we're making good time: just a week in and we've already computed the slopes of several tangent lines, having figured out that that's what we need to do in order to solve the problem posed to us on Wednesday morning.

Yup, classes are going well.

In other news, I've finished the first draft of an introduction to my book. I'm quite satisfied with it. It charts my personal history with writing in the discipline of mathematics, highlighting the ways in which I've grown as a writing instructor as I've progressed in my career and indicating the empty spaces in the writing literature which need to be filled. Tomorrow I hope to start work on either the first or the fifth chapter (these are the two whose structure I can most clearly envision right now).

Now, bed calls. Students: please let me know what you thought of this first week. Where do we go from here?

Oh, and: 400th post!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that Linear is off to a great start. The engaging and innovative style of teaching you employ has everyone feeling very positive about the course and learning a lot already. I know it's not going to be without its challenges but usually hard work pays off. I still remember the paper you had us write at the beginning of calc I. It really solidified my conceptual understanding of what derivatives actually were and I think that this first writing assignment is going to do the same for systems of linear functions. Here's to a great semester!!