Posts Tagged ‘Reflection’

Lessons Learned from Fall 2019

January 28, 2020

Fall 2019 was an interesting semester for me. I taught two classes, and one was the best course I have ever taught, and the other was my worst.

My best class ever was my capstone class. I basically gave the students an open research question, and they went to town. I got to see them successfully get through all parts of the mathematical process, and it was a joy to see them succeed. I am thrilled I get to teach this course again this semester since it went so well.

My worst class ever was my statistics class. It was bad for a whole bunch of reasons, including but not limited to: I lectured way too much, the students had really bad attendance, some of the main technology we used just wouldn’t work (I had to switch at midsemester), the students did not submit assignments, I didn’t provide enough support on how to study, etc. There were some awesome students in the class whom I loved working with, and I liked working with all of the students. The class just didn’t, well, click for some reason. This wasn’t a terrible experience—I still liked teaching the course—but it just fell flat. I am thrilled I get to teach this course again this semester since it went so poorly.

Here is my takeaway: I am at my best when give the students more leash to explore. I have a tendency to over-construct my class, which restricts what students can do. I am going to work on letting students explore more.

Here are some specific examples: last semester, I had the students use real-world data. They collected data for one project, and I handed them the data for the other three. I gave them the types of data sets they had available, they set up a hypothesis test about the data, and then I handed them the data to simulate them collecting it. This isn’t a horrible idea, but the students didn’t get too excited about my data sets (the life span of ball bearings is less exciting to college students than one might think).

Instead, I am going to have the students collect the data for all of the projects. The project where they collected the data was easily the best one last semester, so I am hoping all of the projects will be improved. I am removing the constraint of “Bret has to give you the data, and the data must be excellent.” I really think that was a barrier to learning.

We will see how it goes this semester!

Semester Summary

December 17, 2010

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.