Bits and Pieces

This week, rather than reflect on a topic in teaching, I’m just going to list bits and pieces of my teaching environment that I someday need to think about, do about, or forget about.

  1. I am teaching introductory calculus this quarter, the first section of four, and the focus is on differentiation. While wandering the internet I came across an online differentiation calculator that can easily differentiate all of the standard equations that I generally assign for homework practice. It will even show the steps that were followed. So it begs the question, why assign equations for students to differentiate for homework? And why ask them to show their work?
  2. I generally write my lesson plans, quizzes, tests, worksheets, etc., in MSWord using its mathematical editing application. It has worked very well for me in the past; I’ve been using it for years. Last week, however, MSWord began to inexplicably slow down after I was editing one of my files with a lot of tables with embedded graphs, text, and mathematical equations. I would type and nothing would happen on the screen. Some 10s of seconds later, my typing would begin to display.  Needless to say this is not an acceptable way to work. I ran some searches to see if anyone else had the problem and might suggest a solution. I found some references to Windows 7 and Office 2013 showing this problem, but the references were several years old. I read through some of the suggestions, and tried a few that did not require editing the registry, but no luck. Editing still seems to slow down at unpredictable times on larger files with lots of tables. I then had the school’s help desk look at the problem, but the best they could suggest was that I clean up my trash bin and temporary files and defragment the disk. None of that did anything to fix the problem. So I’ll have to think more about this next week. Oddly enough, I have Windows 7 and MSWord on my home computer, but the same files do not create the same problem.
  3. I’ve been struggling with testing and grading this quarter. It just seems to take too much time to prepare weekly quizzes or tests, including answer sheets, and then grade the weekly quizzes or tests for 100 students. I want to offer weekly assessments to keep the students engaged, but it’s really becoming too much work for me. I have been avoiding multiple choice questions, but I may be forced to try them. However, it is always more work to change methods in mid-stream so I’ll wait until next quarter to begin the change. Of course I’ve been warned that the preparation of good multi-choice tests can be as time consuming as the preparation of any other type of assessment.
  4. This week I had trouble following the work of a student on a quiz. The flow of mathematical argument seemed to make sense, and then, suddenly, it didn’t. It takes concentration and time to try to guess why a student suddenly drops exponents in a differentiation when there is no logical reason for dropping them. Some rules of differentiation can have that effect, but the context didn’t call for the rules. I stopped and wrote a note to the student to go through my online solution to the quiz and then get back to me with questions. Maybe he can figure out what he’s doing, or not doing.
  5. No matter how much I discourage the question, students just can’t seem to resist: “Is this going to be on the quiz?” Maybe I should take those questions as a message to me about my teaching, my lesson structure, my rules of engagement. Or maybe I should always just answer “yes.”



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