Semester Summary

I outlined a plan at the beginning of the semester here, here, and here. Now, we reflect. (This is really a first stab at what I will present at the JMM).

  1. The Cooperative Learning was a tentative success. Anecdotally, the students this semester probably did slightly better as a whole than my classes have done in previous semesters. Slightly, but not a lot. I think, though, that there is great potential for improvement as I become a better wielder of CL. In many ways, I was a new teacher this semester. I made a lot of mistakes, and figured a lot of things out.

    Importantly, my students seemed to be much happier this semester. Will just a few exceptions, my students really liked working together. However, most of my students would have preferred a little more lecture from me. I speculate that part of this is habit, although I think that I should include slightly more lecture—perhaps 5-10 minutes at the beginning and end of each class.

  2. Students loved the Khan Academy videos.
  3. The new grading system was a smashing success…by which I mean that it was an improvement over the old system. Students enjoyed it, and it really seemed to create a less adversarial relationship with the students. Moreover, there were a handful of students who made remarkable turnarounds. One student went from an very low F to a C, one went from a low D to a C, and one went from a low D to an AB. In my decade or so of teaching, I may have seen people make such a turnaround once or twice; it happened three times this semester. I believe that the grading system helped the students understand what they needed to do AND was forgiving enough that it was worth the time to make up the work.

    That being said, it still has many of the same drawbacks as the traditional way of grading. Students were a little too motivated to “fill in a box” rather than to learn the material. I offered team quizzes during many of the classes: when a team felt like they all learned the material, a randomly-chosen team-member could take a quiz. If he/she got the question correct, the whole team got credit for the topic. It turned out that students would sacrifice learning time to take the quiz. Next time, I will either skip these or make it into a wager—students will get credit if they succeed on the quiz, but will have to eventually make up an extra question if they get one wrong. I am not sure what I will do.

    So I will definitely keep this system, at least until I can figure out how to get closer to eliminating grades.

  4. I ran to work four days each week (with some exceptions) until it got too dark in mid-November. I miss running to work already.
  5. GTD is still working wonders. I am on the hiring committee for my department, and it is helping me keep everything organized.
  6. My Seinfeld-method of keeping track of my research time seemed to work in non-November months. I spent at least an hour on research for 59 of 78 days this semester. Of the 19 that I missed, 15 were in November.
  7. I now wake up at 4:30 most mornings. This was a monumental help in keeping up with my life. I scheduled all make-up quizzes, looked at job applicant files, and did research from 4:30 to 6:45 each morning.

    It was a great semester with great students. Now if only my 59+ hours of research had been productive.

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2 Responses to “Semester Summary”

  1. xiousgeonz Says:

    Get a bike with lights and the darkness will be less important šŸ™‚ (Or get a lot of lights and wear them!)

    I’m cruising the bloguiverse , since nobody’s here for help at the Center for Academic Success with their Math classes (since they’re over)… I work hard to get students past the “fill in the box” approach, too.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      I have reflective shoes, a reflective vest, and a bike light that I carry with me. Still, I am a little chicken to run along the mile stretch of highway that is on my commute (I am perfectly comfortable with the rest of the route). Actually, maybe it might be better if I were to run home on a less busy highway. The run would be longer (which is fine), and there would not be shoulders on the road, but I bet it would be a lot safer. Maybe I will try that in January.

      Let me know if you have any success getting the students to love learning for learning’s sake. Frankly, I think that the deck is stacked against them…and we are the one’s stacking the deck. I just need to figure out how to get it right.

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