Opening Day: Spring Semester Begins

Yesterday was the first day of the spring semester. (At this point of the year, it feels awkward to call it the spring semester.) I had a wonderful week at the Joint Mathematics Meetings last week. I got home on Saturday pretty late and very tired. Sunday, I lounged. Seriously. I didn’t do any work at all. I slept in a little. Then I took a nap with my preschooler cause she needed a cuddle. Before I knew it, it was 3pm. So, it was a good thing that I had taught each of my courses before and had spent serious time getting mentally ready for them over the break. I didn’t have every piece of paper in place by Monday morning (I still don’t), but it was not a disaster. So, how did it go?

Differential Geometry

Regular readers (hi, mom!) know that I have been thinking a lot about this, and that I have an unconventional plan. I have decided to refer to this structure as “unteaching” a course. I explained the basic idea and the reason for it, and described the first assignment. Not ten minutes had passed. Then things got a little awkward. I think the students were just so surprised that I didn’t have a whole fifty minutes worth of activity planned for them, that they didn’t know what to do. Most set themselves the task of starting to look through the books I brought with me. I still think this will work out, but I wonder what is going to happen tomorrow.

Euclidean Geometry

I followed my “usual plan” for the first day, and things went well. (I am on iteration nine of this particular course, so I have some things figured out.) This is a Moore Method course, so we practiced the structure of presenting and critiquing. This went well. We got a theorem. I explained all of the basic structure and rules (and a little of why I chose them) and then sent them off to do some mathematics. I am a little concerned that there are so many students–25 is a lot for a Moore Method structure. Not too many, just a lot.

Math in Decision Making

This is a IBL course, done as a “group work modified Moore method.” I only have 25 or so students and it is a relief. Apparently the last minute check on placement test scores forced six students out of the course. This is inconvenient for those students, but convenient for the rest of us. I seem to have a good group. They dealt well with being asked to participate, and we had a good, light-hearted conversation about the mathematics. It will take time to set out the right classroom culture, but yesterday was a good first step. I have decided to have semi-regular homework so I can give them feedback on their writing and they can practice on some of the more important ideas outside of class. I think I will do homework about once a week, and it will be short and focused.

All in all, a good first day. Now I have to go finish polishing things for day two.

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4 thoughts on “Opening Day: Spring Semester Begins

  1. On the first day in pre-calc I asked students to come up front to explain answers to a group project we did. I hope I didn’t scare anyone off. They did it, but were pretty nervous about it. On the second day, they seemed to be working hard on the activity I gave them, so I think we’re starting out well. I’m teaching that, Calc I and Discrete, and have had all of them working together a bunch these first two days. (I had fun at the jmm too. Too bad we didn’t manage to meet up.)

  2. It is too bad our paths didn’t cross in San Diego.

    Students come around on presenting after a bit. but they have to see that failure is an acceptable part of the process and presentations are important and expected of them. and the first presentation for each student has to have some positive aspect to it.

  3. So what happened in differential geometry? You explained the course in 10 minutes, and then said “Get going!” Then the students didn’t know what to do?

    I think that the problem is that I don’t know what you expected them to do. Weren’t they supposed to start by making a plan of what they should learn? Were you expecting them to skim the textbooks to get an idea of what the class could be about?

    Again, I like your idea; I am just confused.
    Bret

  4. Yup. That is kinda what happened.

    I am not entirely sure what I expected either. they started looking through the books I brought. Near the end of the hour I pointed out that we would prefer to work with parametrized objects rather than with implicitly defined ones, and we talked a bit about what that means and the general problem of finding parametrizations.

    today was a bit weird, too. I asked them to pair up to discuss. about half way through class I asked if anyone had any “large scale” items for their outline. We got a few things to think about, and then I wrote some general questions on the board to try and help them focus the work.

    Friday will be a big day. If all goes well, I will give them the first project assignment. If not, I will give them more guidance and ask them to do better for Monday. I think I will use a variant of Dana’s felt tip pens structure, too.

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