Thursday, February 22, 2007

Yes, I Would Like Fries

In ten minutes, I am going to be teaching my calculus class. The lecture will start, as it always does, with a three-minute quiz, in which I ask some basic questions about the section we're going to cover today. Half of the class invariably cannot get a single thing right on these quizzes, which only require you to have skimmed the first two pages of the section. This annoys me.
The following thought occurred to me last night, while I was coming up with today's quiz, and grading the previous one: In the statistics class I am taking, the instructor asks us to read the chapter before we begin covering it. Except for the first chapter, I have not done as asked, and so far, it hasn't come back to haunt me. So maybe I should cut my students some slack. But then I had a second thought: If, tomorrow, said instructor were to give us a pop quiz on the stuff we were supposed to have read, that would definitely be the last day I came to class unprepared. I've been giving these quizzes for six weeks now, and every time it appears to be a complete surprise to them.
I get that I'm teaching math, and math is hard, and no one likes to spend a lot of effort on things they're not good at. But when you're a student, that's your job. You, the working public, wouldn't go to a meeting without any idea of the agenda. If your boss asked you for a report, you wouldn't hand him a couple of dog-eared pages on which you've written a series of semi-coherent, unrelated sentences and numbers with no explanation. If you did, you wouldn't be working very long. Maybe that's the point, that the students who feel like they don't need to show up to class, or study outside of class, won't be students very long. I think I've helped a number of them out the door over the last four years.

11 comments:

Leo (you know - 3under5) said...

Hilarious to me because I JUST had the exact conversation with myself. I teach in the paralegal program at a business college. All I ask is that the students read the material, and the students never read the material. So I got to thinking - did I always got to class prepared? And the answer was a resounding yes, most of the time ... well, except for math. Because I hated math. :)

J. Bowman said...

Everyone hates math. But they could at least feign interest in their grade.

Leo said...

Don't worry. They'll be worried soon enough and then they'll start begging for extra credit!

J. Bowman said...

Oh, I'm saving that post for April.
I think I will entitle it "Surprise! You're not in high school anymore!"

Ben Schwabe said...

You, the working public, wouldn't go to a meeting without any idea of the agenda. If your boss asked you for a report, you wouldn't hand him a couple of dog-eared pages on which you've written a series of semi-coherent, unrelated sentences and numbers with no explanation.

Oh really?

Oh yeah, I don't have job, I'm a grad student.

Michael Torian said...

The type of people that do their work and show up prepared end up in jobs such as teaching and engineering.


Your students will not end up shoveling fries, but will in fact find themselves in middle management corporate positions, making obscene salaries and overloading otherwise talented engineers with poorly planned, underfunded assigments. When said assingments fail, they will blame the engineer, get promoted and receive a bonus.

You gotta love the free market.

Anne57 said...

Ok, not everyone hates math. I loved calculus...and had several grad school office mates who lived for a good math debate...of course that was engineering. I am guessing that you teach the liberal arts types who see math as core curriculum required torture.

J. Bowman said...

They're pre-business and econ majors, and they "are never going to use this stuff again." Maybe they won't. In fact, I can see how improper integrals might never come up again in their lives. But that's not the point in this case, because they could still be bothered to read a page or two.

As an addendum, though, we've reached the "math in economics" section, and it looks like most of them aced today's quiz.

anne57 said...

I had a multi-variable calculus teacher who would pick people out of a class, ask what their major was, and then tell them why multi-variable calculus was important to their future. Of course it is actually important to the people required to take multi-variable calculus--I always wanted to say something off the wall like 'interpretive dance' just to see what he would come up with, but he never called on me. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to go through with it anyhow.

J. Bowman said...

Well, for interpretive dance, you may need to minimize your commuting costs, based on the cost of parking in various neighborhoods and the mileage of the car that you're living out of.

anne57 said...

I must be pretty successful if I have a car to live in.