This is the very last week of 2022 fall semester so it’s a good time for me to do a short reflection about how it went. From the frequency of my posts in the past half a year, you can probably guess this is a very hectic semester for me. It’s my first semester going back to teach in-person since I joined the math department here in 2020 August. Many adjustments and way-finding (in literal sense) had to be done before I’m finally comfortable with equipment in lecture theatres, seating arrangements in smaller classrooms, the printer and scanning machines etc. I don’t know how other new hires survived their first semester. If you went through it, you know what I’m talking about.
I did mastery-based grading for one of my courses, MATH3120, and by the 3rd last week, I realized there is just too much work for myself to handle for a class of more than thirty students. I’m spending in average 4-5 hours per week outside classroom to have one-on-one meetings with students. And since the frequency of tests is much more often than a typical course, it means a lot more time spent on writing test questions, printing and marking. I just didn’t anticipate this amount of time required to pull it off. Students did show immense appreciation of the course structure and many of them told me they would not have done as well if not for the re-testing opportunities. They also enjoyed being able to do presentations, either in-person or online. By this point of the semester, they have done 134 presentations in total. I’m really proud of what they achieved in such a short semester. But would I do it again for a class of similar size? Probably not unless there is significant more support available from the department.
For my other course MATH2720, we did four short tests before the final exam. I changed the test format slightly: after test paper was distributed to students, they were asked to put away their pen, read through the test papers, and talked to their peers about these questions. This discussion period usually lasted 5-8 minutes. After that they wrote the test papers individually. They welcomed this format with enthusiasm and told me how helpful it was to address stress and anxiety associated with tests. We will be able to say more about its impact on student’s learning experience once we collect all relevant data, and conduct some interviews. I probably will keep this format for future tests if time allows.
Another lesson learnt is how useful it is to have a system to give students extensions for assessments when needed. I set up an Office Form the beginning of the semester where students can ask for assignment extensions. They don’t need to reveal why they need one. They only need to submit it to let me know how much extension they need so I can update it from my end. It was used 77 times by students from two courses. With this system in place, students who traditionally didn’t know it’s possible to ask for extensions now realize it’s possible and are comfortable to use it. I’d like to believe it made my courses more equitable and is definitely something I will keep for future courses.
I have more thoughts about community support both for students and junior faculty members but that will be for another post. Wish everyone a happy December and hopefully we can all rest a bit before Jan semester is here.
We are half-way into the semester and students from all three of my courses have taken at least one test by this point. In order for me to find out what they feel about the test, and the course in general, I sent out an anonymous survey a week after MATH2720 students received their test 1 score. This was done right before Wednesday’s lecture. A QR code was projected in front of the classroom. As students walked into the room, they can scan the code and still filling up the form. 41 responses were recorded so about half of the class took the survey. In Test 1, students were given about five minutes to talk with their peers right before they write the test paper and I’m curious to find out what they think about the activity. The purpose of the activity is mainly to alleviate stress. To many of these students, this is their very first in-person test since 2020 March. I understand many of them feel extremely anxious towards math tests in general. The activity offers the opportunity for students to talk it out, and to orally review the test topics with their peers. 28 (roughly 68%) of them find it somewhat helpful. I do plan to change the format a bit in Test 2: they would be able to open up the test paper, look at what’s on the test, then have a short discussion with their peers. No writing would be allowed during this period. I will do another survey afterward to see how people think of it.
I’m also curious to know which part of the course students find the most useful and the response here is so diverse that I’m having a hard time interpreting it. The number of people who find attending labs as the most useful part of the course is roughly the same with the number of people who find it least useful. So my guess is maybe some students didn’t read the instruction of the ranking question carefully: the item on top corresponds to number 1, the least useful, and the item at the bottom, corresponding to number 5, the most useful. I do feel the design of this question is a bit counter-intuitive: if something is at the bottom, I’d assume it’s least useful, but then it corresponds to the highest number so even though I did clarify what these numbers mean, my guess is some students still place the least useful item at the bottom.
Majority of the students started doing review about two days before the test and they felt the main reason they couldn’t solve a test question is due to unpreparedness. Most of them do feel their input matched their test grades and almost everyone mentioned they will practice more for future tests.
Hopefully this self-reflection activity helps students to think about how they are approaching this course. It definitely offers some valuable insight for me as an instructor though I do want to find out what happened to the ranking question.
This is my first week going back to teach fully in-person after joining my current department in Sep 2020. I had A LOT of worries before stepping into my classroom on Sep 7th: how will I walk from one class to the next one (in a different building) with only 15 minutes in-between? will students remember how to sit in a room and attend lectures? Will I be able to write on whiteboard/under document camera/on my computer screen fast enough? Do I have all the adapters to connect things? Will I be able to find the mic? Most importantly will we be able to connect?
Five minutes into the lecture all these worries melted away: a technician kindly showed up right before my lecture to make sure things work, students were excited to be back in the classroom and eager to engage with their peers and me. We did a short game for MATH3120 in the beginning: I gave out popsicle sticks when students stepped in the classroom and asked them to find their group members based on the number written on the stick. They spent the next ten minutes chatting with each other and getting to know each other. I told them it’s okay if we can’t cover all the topics for the first week. I believe building a learning community is more important. I have a lot of group activities planned for the next twelve weeks for this class and I can already see them working and supporting each other.
For my other large Intro to calculus course, the classroom setting is not ideal: there’s no proper desk for students to use, just a small piece of wood they can pull out from one side of the chair that’s only big enough for an A4 notepad. The chairs could be more comfortable: only hardwood and they have to sit for 75 minutes for my lectures. I may give them some opportunity to stand up and walk around in the future. The room is very stuffy and poorly ventilated. My CO2 monitor recorded 1300+ which was far from being safe. I will try to keep all windows open and hope that helps. In spite of all of these, my students were absolutely WONDERFUL! I started the class by addressing their concerns that I collected in a pre-course survey and answering a few common questions they posted there. We didn’t exactly finish where I’d like to be but I’m happy with the pace and how engaging students were. Clicker questions certainly ignited a lot of interesting discussions though next time I need to make sure the class is searchable when it’s set up. Only about half of the class managed to access iClicker for the first class but I’ll make sure everyone can use it from next week on.
Overall I enjoyed being back to campus: there is nothing more rewarding than seeing how excited students are in the classroom and walking among them when I teach. Here’s to a wonderful semester ahead!