50 shades of graphite November 1, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, teaching.
Tags: colors, grading, pens, pink
This seems like an odd thing to ponder, but it makes sense to my currently sleep-deprived brain: does anyone know how people tend to react to ink color? I know a lot of my students get upset when they see red ink. I tend to use gel pens, however, and use a lot of pink and orange in particular for grading. The funny thing is, they almost seem to think this is neat or cute. (This is somewhat surprising as most of my students are male: I would’ve expected them to roll their eyes at me for being stereotypically female because I use a pink pen…) Lime green is another popular color.
Honestly, though, it seems like they react far more positively if I stay away from using the dreaded red pen. They’re also more likely to read my feedback. Last year, they requested me to use pink in particular when one student chuckled about his comments being written in that color. I told them there were other possibilities, too. No, they wanted pink.
Has anyone else observed this?
And yes, I’m aware the graphite is used in pencils and not pens. I just couldn’t come up with a more catchy title.
Matrix multiplication October 24, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in math, older son, teaching.
Tags: math, matrix, older son
The older boy was working on matrix multiplication in math. He got very testy with me: “Why do I even need to know this?” I replied that it’s used all the time in calculus-based physics. That disappointed him as he would like to take it some day.
He was super frustrated because the explanation on the computer was very…verbal. Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate my favorite linear algebra book, so I tried to go through and explain it while making some diagrams.
He still had some problems and then kept asking if they were somehow related to Punnet squares. Um…not really.
And then he made this diagram.
I have to admit that it’s not how I would think to multiply matrices…or at least I think there are easier representations. (In my mind, at least.) However, this did work in that it made sense to him, and once he had figured out enough to draw this, he was able to finish the rest of the problems on this concept.
This just goes to show that we don’t all think the same way, I suppose. The way we think about things may not always be the easiest for someone else.
Unwarranted weeding October 16, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, teaching.
Tags: advising, majors, students, switching majors, weeding
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Sadly, this isn’t a post on gardening whatever you may think of the title.
It’s advising week, meaning students must check in with their advisors and get permission for their courses next semester. I usually have a couple students who come to me for help either because their advisor isn’t familiar with all the requirements or because they aren’t terribly helpful.
This week, however, I had another interesting reason for a student needing extra help: their advisor was basically trying to talk them into switching majors. I thought this interesting because this student hasn’t even completed their first semester yet, and from my observation, they are a pretty good student. So why would their advisor tell them to start thinking about alternative career paths?
Once I started talking to this student, they explained that they were in precalc instead of calc, so the argument was that they were going to be behind because they wouldn’t be able to start taking some of their major classes by the second semester of their sophomore year. This seemed like a weak argument, so I began discussing things with the student further. Unfortunately, that just made me more upset.
The student was in precalc because, on the math placement exam, they were one point short of being placed into calculus. The test has a hard cut-off. This is a different scenario in my mind than a student who placed into precalc versus trig (the next class down) by one point. Second, this student knows a bit about engineering because both parents are also engineers.
Probably what upset me the most was that this student is not your typical 18-year-old white male that represents about 90% of the students I have. I don’t know that this played into the discussion (as in, I honestly think that the only consideration prompting this discussion was the student’s math placement), but I would think that there would actually be more of an effort to retain such a student.
My personal feeling is that student placement is, at least in part, due to circumstances of their schooling. ”Weeding” students out based on that parameter is not a smart idea as there are a lot of bright kids who come from rural schools and don’t have either advanced classes or highly competent teachers. If a student gets to college and is really struggling in their courses after a semester or two, that’s a different story, and then I think it might be healthy to talk with the student about switching majors. Or maybe they will decide to change majors of their own accord. Either way, I think they need the opportunity to prove that they’re capable before you try to push them out. You may lose a lot of students who don’t belong in the program, but you’re also going to push out some people who are very bright and capable.
One giant leap…sideways October 2, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, teaching.
Tags: education, teaching
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One of the assignments I give my students is to do a group presentation. For this assignment, each group discusses one of eight subfields of electrical engineering in front of the class. It seemed like a good idea because having me present for an hour on different fields seemed kind of absurd.
Last year’s effort was a disaster. I do realize these kids are college freshmen, but I was surprised at what a mess the presentations were. I decided it was probably my fault: they weren’t prepared and needed more guidance.
This year, I gave each group a sheet where I laid out what I wanted them to cover, how to break it up, and a couple starting points for doing their research. I figured it was bound to go better than last year. I was partially right. Some of the groups did an excellent job on their presentation. The groups that didn’t at least included some of what I wanted.
However, I’d say that the class really didn’t get much more out of this year’s presentation than last year. This leaves me wondering if I should scrap this approach to the project. However, I’d really like the students to have a better idea of what sort of areas they’re interested in when we start looking at schedules and they begin picking electives. I’m contemplating just giving them a list of web pages covered each subfield and having them write up a summary of their favorite two.
There are some rather practical implications in dealing with the problem this way. First, it means more grading for me. Second, it effectively eliminates two class periods worth of activities for me, and I’m not sure that I want to add anything in to replace them. I’m not a fan of filling up space just because, but when your class meets once a week 16 weeks, two weeks can have an impact. Finally, how can I be sure they are exposed to all of them and not just the first one that looks cool?
I hope that, if nothing else, the students are getting the idea of how frustrating it can be to watch someone else give a bad presentation.
I’m being used for target practice… September 27, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, teaching.
Tags: favoritism, frustration, incoming freshman, students, target, teaching
Have you ever had a student who felt like they were above doing the homework for a class?
I have the problem frequently because my class is required for all incoming freshman. Somehow, there will be one or two that will fall through the cracks and end up taking it as an upperclassman. Or maybe they come in as a transfer student and someone thinks it’s a good idea for them to take the class. This is never a good situation as most of what I have to tell them, they may have already learned by trial and error. However, in fairness to the other students, I have to make them jump through all the same hoops that they do.
Many times I get the question, “Do you really expect me to do this?”
Yes. I do.
At which point they roll their eyes. And tell me they want an A in the class.
The problem, which they don’t seem to realize, is that I have set out standards to which everyone needs to adhere to pass the class. Everyone has to contract for a grade, so it is abundantly clear what’s expected from them at the very beginning. If I let the standards slip for them, then I can get called on favoritism. On the other hand, the assignments are relatively easy that I don’t understand why they don’t just do them and turn them in. What’s wrong with having an easy class now and again? Some of these students put more effort into getting out of the assignments than they would if they actually just sat down and did them.
To some extent, I can understand it. There’s this notion that freshman need this class to succeed. If they’ve survived for two years already, it’s not unrealistic to think they don’t need the class. But someone puts them in there, and they claim they can’t get out. This leaves me stuck with treating them like trained monkeys, and I can understand the resentment. It does seem like it makes a little bit more sense to have transfers take it, but they don’t resent it any less.
I think the real problem is that they just don’t want to be there, and I’m the only person handy as a target for their frustration.
Barely breathing… September 23, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, teaching.
Tags: adjunct, grading, teaching
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I’m teaching again this semester, and they asked me to take an additional section for a different department. What they didn’t tell me, however, was that this particular section is on a different schedule than the others. It’s half as long, which means I have twice as much prep and grading to do for this section on a weekly basis, and it’s different from the prep for my other sections. Given the class is around 30 students, that’s about 60 homeworks per week in this class alone.
So not worth it. It’s completely wrecked my schedule the past couple weeks. The good news is that I only have about 3 more weeks of class and that section will be done…leaving me with the other four. It’s not easy to handle 100+ homeworks each week, but when the additional 60 are two *different* ones, it gets insane.
Remind me never to do this again…especially since the amount I got paid for this section was about 80% of the amount I get for one of the other sections.
I just hope I can get through this without too much burnout.
Dress for success, i.e. dress like a man September 14, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, teaching, work.
Tags: clothes, professional dress, teaching, women in engineering
This week, I had a speaker from the career center come and talk to my classes in preparation for a career fair. He spent some time talking about appropriate dress, and showed examples of potential outfits for both sexes. I found this quite interesting, especially given a previous discussion on the topic of women’s dress on EngineerBlogs.
The first thing that caught my attention was that he said that women should wear their hair up if they want to be perceived as more professional. As a woman who has long hair, I can totally see this. I’m also not terribly happy about it because when my hair gets to a certain length, I start getting headaches if I wear it up. Beyond that, though, I think it’s interesting because of potential social implications. The speaker said that a woman who is willing to expose her neck comes across as more confident and competent. But that does make me wonder why…and the only thing I’ve been able to come up with is that women who wear ponytails look a lot more like men. Men who are considered ‘professional’ tend to wear their hair short. A woman who puts her hair up and exposes her neck looks more like a man with a short haircut, and men, in general, are going to be perceived as more professional. I may be wrong about that, but I couldn’t help but wonder.
Women’s clothing choices seemed more limited, IMO. It seemed like men could wear a lot of different things and still look ‘professional’. (I do have to note, however, that men don’t have extremely wide wardrobe choices to begin with.) By contrast, women’s clothing varied so much more in style, and most of them were not professional. Make sure you wear sleeves, be careful of color, watch the jewelry, etc. Beyond that, one of the outfits was one that I think a lot of other women would find professional or stylish but apparently weren’t perceived that way by potential employers. I’ve seen women criticize other women’s clothing, but apparently some of the choices that were being criticized as ‘unfashionable’ were being judged differently by employers. This makes me wonder if it’s not a good idea to get ideas of professional dress from other women, particularly if the field is much more male-oriented.
Beyond that, I had to wonder if presentations like this are ultimately harmful. On the one hand, I think it’s good to make sure the students understand the implications of their dress choices. Still, I have to wonder if these presentations reinforce ideas about what is professional and not, leading students to eventually make evaluations of others based on what they were told. I sort of feel like this is perpetuating a system where people are evaluated based on their clothing choices, especially on how feminine they look, rather than their technical ability. This is particularly frustrating because my observation is that someone who is quick to catch on to what constitutes professionalism may not necessarily be the best engineer.
Inflexible students September 6, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, teaching.
Tags: college, notetaking, teaching
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One of the assignments I give my students is to choose a class and try three new note-taking methods in that class. This means that I ask my students to step outside of their comfort zone and try something new for three hours of their life. The idea behind this is to try and see if they find something that helps them learn better in my (admittedly weak) attempt to teach them to be self-regulating learners.
And it never fails: I have half a dozen students who will inevitably tell them that they simply cannot do the assignment. You see, some of them simply don’t take notes. Others already know that what I’m asking them to do won’t work. And then a lot of them have classes where they get powerpoints, so of course they have no need to take notes or consider trying new ways of notetaking.
When I tell them they must, they seem to think that I simply don’t understand why they have a very good reason not to do it and, if I did, I would obviously just excuse them from such a superfluous assignment.
The funny thing about this is that the notetaking assignment is optional. They don’t need to do it if they don’t want. But they always seem to come up to me and need to justify why they don’t have to do it.
The disappointing thing to me is that this demonstrates how rigidly some of them are stuck in their ways and aren’t open to new experiences. Isn’t that what college is about?
Computers will make our lives better! September 3, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, engineering, teaching.
Tags: bugs, computer, computers, teaching
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Some days I really wonder. I mean, my research would be almost impossible without computers. However, I sometimes wonder about using them so much for teaching.
On the one hand, computers are very helpful if you’re attempting to implement universal design in a classroom. Computers make things far more accessible.
And then there’s the other hand…
After last year, I decided that I would make one major change to the class. I decided that, as much as possible, I would not accept in-class submission of homework assignments. There are a few assignments my students must do on paper, such as their course schedule. However, they have several assignments that are, more or less, short essays. There are also assignments where they need to submit a file, like a powerpoint. In order to avoid all the hassle of collecting assignments and handing them back (especially given one of those hassles is that it’s easy to lose submissions that are not handed in with everyone else’s), I figured that electronic submission would be a great way to keep track of these assignments.
Except…it seems like we’ve been plagued with technical difficulties so far this year. Last week, a couple of the students couldn’t get in to submit their assignments. (One brought his laptop to class to show me the problem.) Yesterday, I was trying to post class notes, which students need to do their next assignment, but it wouldn’t allow me to upload any files. Today, we can’t access the online classroom at all.
Obviously I’m going to give the students extra time because of these issues, but I hope they’re resolved soon. I’m not sure I can deal with issues like this all semester.
Warping young minds when it’s convenient August 29, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, teaching.
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Now that classes have gotten into full swing, I’m going to try to remember something if I ever have control of the class schedule: never teach some classes in the morning and some in the afternoon.
I teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, I have one class in the mornings on both those days, one class in the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday, and two classes plus office hours on Thursday. (I’m using the break between classes for my office hours, since I have to be there anyway.)
I have to admit that this schedule really wrecks the whole day. It is somewhat my own fault. I agreed to teach an additional section, which happened to be the Thursday morning class. It’s only half the semester, but it’s also longer than my other classes and I’ve had to change the content a bit to accomodate the different schedule. I know that’s going to make it worse for me until the end of October.
I also seem to have more students than last year. Enrollment was already up in the department, but the new section adds another 30 kids to the nearly 100 I already had. I am so not looking forward to grading.
If it was up to me, I’d love to teach one class for 1 1/2 hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays…with 10 students. I don’t see that happening soon, though.