Can there be a difference?

A new quarter has started.  I have already taught five class sessions of discrete math.  I’m following the same format as last quarter with only slight changes to the assigned homework problems.  There was only one week off between quarters so there was no time for substantial change in the form or content of the course.  Some changes are pending but they will have to wait until summer break and the fall quarter.

Some notes on the first week.

  • I have more students this quarter who are having trouble following the lectures and completing the homework.  A few have approached me after class to say that they don’t understand the homework or that the homework is too hard.  A few have dropped the course.  This phenomena of early drops and start-up anxiety is not unusual, but this quarter it seems to be more pronounced.  Normal variation in class behavior?  A different profile of students?  I’m not sure.
  • One student, a non-native speaker, approached me after class to tell me that she could not understand the text book.  She read the chapter and used a dictionary to try and understand some of the mathematical terms that she did not recognize, but even with the use of an interpretation dictionary the meaning was not clear to her.  Discrete starts with a development of propositional and predicate logic.  Both require a focused look at what lies beneath informal mathematical so that the informality can be formalized.  I know that it is tempting to just present the mechanics of logic and stay away from the translation of English-language statements into and out of the mechanics, but the students need to ‘stand under’ the formality, not only ‘stand on’ the formality, so that they come to ‘understand’ mathematics.
  • I gave a quiz on the second day of class.  A quiz on an introductory chapter that the students were assigned to read on the first day of class.  The questions on the quiz were mostly about prerequisite knowledge so, in theory, any student should have been able to take the quiz without reading or studying.  Some were clearly ready.  Some were clearly not ready.  I did something with this quiz that I’ve never done before.  I graded the quiz without deducting points; everyone who took the quiz got full credit, but it was obvious from my comments and corrections on the quiz when a student had not earned it.  I did this both for them and for me.  The first week of class is chaotic; some students would not find the time to prepare.  Some students added the class on the day of the quiz.  Why discourage students with a harsh assessment on day two?  But I need an idea of what the students know, or need to work toward.  Right now I am satisfied with my approach.
  • Community colleges are reemphasizing  equity again, trying to keep more students in the game longer, with more successful outcomes.  How does this translate to teaching?   The curriculum doesn’t change; the course outlines don’t change; the time in a quarter does not change.  What is changing?  Tutoring and consoling resources are increasing and early recognition of problems is being encouraged.  I’m trying, this quarter, to identify early students that seem on the edge in any way.  Sometimes it’s easy–the students self identify.  Sometimes its hard–there are always students who start out strong and finish weak so it’s harder to know of their troubles until it’s late in the quarter when it’s more difficult to do much about troubles.  But this quarter it’s my goal to not make excuses for myself, but rather to identify the students who need extra help, early.

That’s it for this week.  We’ll see if things are different as the quarter unfolds.

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