March 07, 2017

Calc III and me - still thinking about what I learned.

I have an idea for a series of posts where I write down all the stories that I end up repeating frequently to my students.  At the encouragement of @profnoodlearms on twitter, I'm writing down a story that I tell my students (and sometimes colleagues) based on an experience I had as an undergrad taking a math class at the University of Northern Iowa.  Here it goes:

Calc III was the first math class where I needed to copy down everything the prof wrote on the board. It was the second math class I took in When I got to class on the first day, the professor walked in and started to fill up the blackboards with notes. Seeing boards filled multiple times wasn't what was new to me. What was new was that I was in a math class, and the notes had as many full sentences as there were equations. In a one hour class, the professor probably filled four sets of full-sized boards at least three times.

That first week, I just wrote down a few things that I thought were important. I was trying to use the strategy of listening closely, paying attention to what I thought were the most important points and writing those down in addition to anything that didn't make sense. I felt that strategy was compatible with how I had previously learned math, so I figured it should work for Calc III as well.

There was a quiz at the end of the first week. I got the quiz back on Monday of week 2. When I saw how poorly I did, I thought to myself: “Message received!” I changed my note-taking and studying habits. I immediately started copying down EVERYTHING that the professor put on the board. My hand was hurting with the amount of writing I was doing. But, the changes I made in class and in studying paid off. I did much better on later quizzes and exams.

A week or two before finals I was waiting for class to start and I overheard two students talking behind me. “I haven’t been to class for awhile. What’s going to be on the final?” one asked. The other said, “I don’t know, I haven’t been here for awhile either.” I was blown away. I could not comprehend missing a single class and being able to keep up, yet somehow these other students felt they could miss several classes in a row.

By the end of the semester, when I heard that conversation between the other two students, I realized that I was thankful the professor had made it clear I needed to study from the start of the term. It forced me to keep up right from the beginning of the term.  I also learned (in retrospect -- I didn't appreciate it at the time) that sometimes you have to adjust your study and learning habits in order to be successful. The sooner you can make that realization the better off you will likely be.

When I relate this story to colleagues, I have two main points that I think are important:

1.) There is value in giving an assessment and getting it back to the class as soon as possible. Students will have a chance to realize they need to adjust their studying sooner rather than later.

2.) When colleagues talk about how students today don't study as hard as they did in their undergrad years, I point out that probably when they were in class there were more students like the ones I overheard than students who were as studious as they were. After all, we are the ones who became faculty.

So that's it!  Part 1 of N in a series of stories I often tell my classes or colleagues.  Now all I need is a catchy name for this series...

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