Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Everything you always wanted to know about UNCA (but were afraid to ask)

Today's MATH 179 class was the most fun yet...at least for me. I felt both major activities went pretty well, and I finally get the sense that the students in that class are opening up to and relaxing around one another, and that they're acknowledging and understanding the sort of work that I'm expecting of them.

Our reading today treated three examples of calendars that reconcile lunar cycles with solar cycles (including the very hard-to-understand Jewish calendar). As an entry into discussing the calendars, I used a low-stakes writing activity I've been developing for a bit now: "Intrigue, Confusion, and Confidence." I ask each student to write three sentences: in the first the student indicates something in the reading which intrigued or excited her; in the second she indicates something she was confused about; in the third she indicates something she feels confident she could explain well to someone else.

After writing for five minutes, I have the students pair off and compare their lists. I ask them to fill one another in if one is confused about something the other knows confidently. I ask them to come up with at least one point they'd like to bring up in discussion.

Five more minutes later, we come together as a class and compare the things we've all come up with which are intriguing, confusing, or inspiring of confidence. Students are heartened to see how similar their lists often are: they all have trouble on the same things. (Like the Jewish calendar!)

The second half of class was devoted to an activity I called "Everything you always wanted to know about UNCA (but were afraid to ask)." I passed around identical index cards and asked each student to write down any questions they had about our school to which they wanted to find answers. "I know how it can be embarrassing asking your friends or professors. Some questions seem like silly ones, and you don't want people to think 'he doesn't know that!?' " After I collected the cards, I read them aloud, one by one, pausing so that anyone in the room who had a response could pose an answer.

The ensuing discussion was fantastic. Two or three of the students proved to be particularly knowledgeable about our campus, and I feel they'll make excellent mentors as the semester goes by. It was an empowering conversation, I felt:

1. the students realized lightning bolts would not smite them for asking questions;

2. the students realized that their peers had many of the same questions they did (thereby making those questions by definition "not dumb"); and

3. the students realized that they personally often had the answers to questions their peers might pose, making them the authorities.

I'll definitely repeat this exercise several times this semester, and I'll probably use it in other courses, about course content, too.


Chad Hutchins said...

In your opinion of course, what was the most interesting question a student asked about UNCA? And was another student able to answer it?

DocTurtle said...

@Chad: "interesting"? Someone asked if the salad bar was available during breakfast in the Dining Hall (answer, which I did not know: no).

The most common questions had to do with finding on-campus employment. Understandably (see my previous posts on the budget!) this is a pressing concern right now.

What were some of your questions when you first arrived?

Chad Hutchins said...

That's interesting about the salad bar.

Freshman year seems so long ago now it's difficult to remember, but I do remember a little bit of "orientation".

So it was January 05 and we (the new kids and transfers) were in Karpen and the lady running the show said we had to pick an LS course and there were 3 to choose from. The lady then said, when I describe a class and you like it, run down and sign your name to the roster. Keep in mind this was like the second semester they were doing the ILS system and no one had any clue what it meant and we were told nothing but the description of the class.

Obviously I was very confused and I just sat there until the 3rd class was called out, then I walked down and signed my name... Mass Comm 179 Panics, Fads, and Social Outbreak... The only think I remember from that course is that we watched Family Guy for a few weeks near the end of the semester for no apparent reason...

I'm sure there was more questions I had when I first started at UNCA, but that's definitely the beauty of it, because I was away from home and it was on me to find the answers. Though looking back, I could have done a better job, in lots of areas!