The Coming Disasters

Sometimes, teaching feels like this:

Students have this conception that the math will just happen to them. If they show up for every meeting they will somehow magically learn. I, the Great and Powerful OZ, will cause you to be enlightened! Yeah…no.

How do we tell them that they have to fight against their lack of understanding? How do we explain that only sustained and deliberate practice turns a novice into an expert?

There I am, waving at my differential geometry students. “Hey, do your project. Tell me what you need.”

There I am, waiving at my math in decision making students. “Really. You gotta just try it a bit. Don’t just sit there.”

And there I am, trying to nudge euclidean geometry students: “Which problem are you working on? Come see me. You can’t just watch all semester.”



6 thoughts on “The Coming Disasters

  1. I feel your pain.

    “How do we explain that only sustained and deliberate practice turns a novice into an expert?”

    I think that the problem with that sentence is the word “explain.” I am not sure it can be done. I am beginning to think that “experience” might be the only way to learn.

  2. But they’ve had 12 or more years of training in thinking that math is just some procedures that the teacher shows them and they copy. It’s probably hard for them to imagine the math that you and I have in mind. I do have the same worry about my discrete math students. I want them struggling with the problems on their own time and in class. They don’t do the homework, and expect 3 hours a week to be enough to learn this? Nope. I need to find a way to push them harder on that issue, I think. But we did have a great class on Wednesday.

  3. I’ve always wondered if a detailed explanation delivered to the whole class of what their failure will look like and how it will happen would work. The classes where I’ve seen the most office hour participation have been the ones where the homework, (graded weekly), is impossible to do without the help of the professor. As the grades get worse, office hour participation ratchets up.

    I’m assuming seminars on how to be a successful student exist at most universities, but they probably need to be repeated in class at some point. I’m sitting through my third explanation of Legendre polynomials this year, so I know we’re not above repeating material to students. However, since entering grad school I have yet to hear the following few ‘good habits’ proclaimed by even a single professor:

    1. Go to office hours if you don’t understand. Stay until you do understand. Know you understand by repeating what you just learned to your professor
    2. Work out the problem you’re asking about during office house don’t take it home where you’ll be lost again six hours later.
    3. If you work on a problem for more than half an hour, move on to something else, and take the problem to office hours.

  4. You are both right. (And I saw that post, Sue. It looks like you had a wonderful meeting.) I just despair that giving them enough space to blossom also gives them enough space to wither.

    And Hamilton, I hadn’t thought to try describing the typical “non-engaged” failure to students. I wonder if it will cut to close, when I would rather be encouraging.
    But this is Week four. Pretty soon, it might be too late.

  5. Like plants that have to be ‘hardened’, they need a gradual change in their environment. I think we need to give them some structure to help them move forward, and then slowly open it up.

  6. I agree, Sue. I feel like I am providing as gradual a change as I can manage, but some just don’t adapt. I am despondent over the possibility of extinctions.

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