Monday, February 07, 2011

Where it's at

At the end of Calc II today I asked the students to write two things on a scrap of paper: (1) whether they'd like to get the first take-home exam this Friday or next Friday and (2) on a scale of 1 to 10, how they feel about our class so far (with additional commentary as needed).

Most of the students are really enjoying the class and getting a lot out of it, giving a rating of either 9 or 10, and in one case 11, for the second question. (There were, of course, some oddballs who insisted on giving a rating of 3π or √97 or some similar silliness.) Most people loved the way the class is set up, with a high level of interaction, applicability, challenging but authentic problems, and fun. "I'm enjoying the togetherness," said one student, and another said "I really enjoy your approach. It can be overwhelming, and a lot of work. But you make it fun."

The most common concern was the speedy pace of the class: 4 out of 30 students mentioned this concern. (3 out of 30 mentioned the amount of work, the next-most-common concern.) The pace is, sadly, hard to make much slower, given how much mileage we're expected to make before Calc III. (And, as I point out almost every term, I make my way through these topics more slowly than any of my colleagues do. I know my department chair's section of Calc II is about three sections ahead of us right now.)

There are ways to make the pace and workload feel less stressful:

Do you feel like you're having a hard time keeping up with notes in class? Come to class with my "skeletal" notes already printed out: you'll have less to write and can focus more on the ideas. I strongly recommend this route. I know it's helped a lot of people in previous semesters.

Do you feel overwhelmed by the homework load? Get started on the homework as soon as it's assigned, and identify immediately any potential problems you think you might encounter. Ask me about these problems right away, so that you're not stuck asking them on Friday afternoon, an hour before the homework is due. (Things always feel more stressful right before the deadline.)

Do you feel like you're getting the ideas as we talk about them, but that they're just not sinking in as well as you'd like them to? Talk them out with your friends in the class. Draw lots of pictures as you explain the ideas to your friends. Puzzle through the pictures together and make sure you can tie the conceptual ideas to the computations that go hand-in-hand with them. Not only do your friends sometimes do a better job than I do in explaining these concepts; moreover often the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. (I honestly didn't truly understand Calc II until I started teaching it as a graduate student.)

Above all else, remember that you're not alone. We have an overwhelmingly friendly class, and I've seen how wonderfully you're all working together. Take advantage of that sense of togetherness and help each other out. You're making a great team.

Oh, and this Friday beat out next Friday, 17 to 12 (with 1 abstention). I believe I will pass out the exam this week, but please recall that you'll have a week in which to do it.

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