Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lesson #1

One week down, a whole bunch to go. My MLA course has met just once, as have both sections of MATH 480 which I'm team-teaching with my colleague Timon this term. Calc III's had three chances to get together, and I'm very happy with how those meetings have gone.

The students have shown no hesitation whatsoever in getting together in groups and hammering out solutions to the problems posed to them, and they've shown similar eagerness in getting up to the board to strut their stuff.

What's impressed me most is the quickness with which they seem to have learned the most important lesson one learns in a Moore-method course: it's perfectly okay to be wrong.

"You know what happens when you make a mistake at the board?" I ask. "Does the sky open up, bolts of lightning raining down from above, smiting you where you stand?" Despite the inevitable one or two students who deadpan sardonic yeses, they get the point. Not only is it okay to be wrong, it's necessary, even salutary: often only in being wrong can you eventually be right, as trial and error often lead to full understanding. The process by means of which we proceed from error and ignorance to understanding is called learning.

I've got profound admiration for the several students in both Calc III sections who made mistakes at the board the past few days, every one of whom recovered almost instantly, retaining dignity and respect. My thanks go to all of my students for a wonderful first week, and especially to those who showed the others that being in error is just not that big of a deal.

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