I have two sections of Discrete Math this year, one in the morning and one right after lunch. During the fall term, each of these sections had 7 students. We all sat at a single group of desks together and had some great conversations. A number of the students have spoken to me about how much they enjoy this atmosphere. It does not work for everyone of course, some students prefer not to have the expectation of participation, they would prefer to quietly observe and have more time to think before speaking. Our school is on a trimester schedule and this Discrete course is set up as a trimester course where students can move in or out and not have the demands of previous knowledge from this course. So, I have done some thinking about how to make this course modular. One of my sections expanded from 7 students to 16 this term and we are in the process of figuring each other out and how this new group will mesh. One of the students who has been in the class the whole year commented that class seems more quiet this past week. Interesting that more than doubling the size of the class has resulted in a quieter atmosphere…
All of the above is just to sort of set up what our week together was. We started a probability unit this week and so far all of our energy has been spent on counting techniques. When does or matter? When does and matter? What is the difference between them? What is the deal with that ! function anyways? When can we tell whether replacement matters? These are the kinds of conversations we have been having and I have had in-class activities for us to work on together while I have been asking them to do some reading and some HW on their own outside of class. The great Wendy Menard (@wmukluk) shared some fantastic resources that one of her colleagues shared. She was also kind enough to spend some time on the phone last weekend to serve as a sounding board. One of the decisions I made was not to spend much time emphasizing notation together in class. For example, our text explains permutation notation pretty cleanly, points out that our calculator writes 10P4 while you might also see P(10,4). It clearly shows that this calculation is 10!/(10-4)! while also introducing this notation in more general form of P(n,r). In class we had a number of examples of drawing some subset of members from a group, so I thought that the text’s approach and our class approach would support each other. I also figured that any students flummoxed by the text notation would ask me in class what the deal was. So, the first HW question on Wednesday night was this in fact – Which is equivalent to P(10,4), 10!/4! or 10!/6! ? We had a quiz scheduled for Friday and on one of the questions I gave the students the numerical value of P(26,3) and asked for an explanation of how to get that answer. On Thursday I had a couple of review problems thrown together from the textbook author’s supplemental test bank. I planned on starting class by fielding any HW questions then turning them loose to work on the review problems. In my morning class I projected their HW from Wednesday night and had the first HW question on the board. Not one student knew what P(10,4) meant. They asked whether that was a point on the plane. I have to assume that they did not do the reading or the HW on their own. I quickly untangled the notation, pointed out how it matched some other conversations we had and then gave them their review sheets to work on. That was my morning class of 7 students. After lunch I had the book projected with the first HW question. Not one student in that class knew what P(10,4) meant. I decided to remark on the importance of doing the reading and the HW and then just gave them their review sheets and sat down.
One student came by on Friday morning during my free time to ask me a question about the notation and she remarked that it was clear I was disappointed (annoyed?) that no one had done the HW. She wanted to make sure she understood that notation. Each class on Friday began with me answering questions before the quiz and I do not recall anyone in either class directly asking me to revisit the P(n,r) notation at all. I have not graded the quizzes yet but I know that there were a number of students in my second class that either left the question about P(26,3) blank or simply wrote something to stumble into extra credit. A number called me over to ask about it and I said this was something they needed to know. I do not remember my morning class as clearly, they may have been in a similar boat.
So, as I think about this I realize that I made two very different decisions with my two groups of students and I am not happy about either of them. In one class I came to their rescue and explained something that they clearly could have come to terms with – in some way – on their own. In the other class I let my annoyance take over and I did not address the question at hand. I also realize that my students, especially those in my second class had two decisions to make. On Thursday night, after seeing my disappointment/frustration they could have gone back to their reading and either understood it themselves or they could have checked in with me during review on Friday. It is clear that a number of them did not do that. So I am faced with yet another decision when I grade what are likely to be disappointing papers. I feel that I want to get across a pretty clear message about responsibility but I also need to recognize my responsibility here. It is reasonable, I think, to see my role as someone who expands the conversation from the text, not as someone here to simply recite what the text already explains. But I also recognize that I have 9 students who are new to our class and all of them are new to me as a teacher. If they are used to teachers making sure that every question in their text is also addressed in class then my idea about my role might be a bit of a shock and I did not spend much time together on Monday explaining this about myself. However, I also have 14 students who were with me all fall and it is pretty clear that none (or very few) of them did the reading and the HW either.
I am not happy with myself that I let my annoyance get in the way of clear thinking. I am also not happy that I was not more clear with my morning class about my disappointment that none of them had done what I asked. I am not happy that so many students did not do the reading or the HW. I AM happy that I had a student come by and clarify the question for herself while also recognizing that she should have done so on Wednesday night. I feel that including the question when I compute the grade will likely have a pretty significant impact on many grades as it was one of four questions on the assignment. I also feel that it is a reasonable question to ask, but it relies on notation that I did not explicitly present.
I have been reading a number of the DITLife blog posts and there is a constant reminder about the number of decisions that we make on the fly everyday. These are complicated decisions and I know that I hope that I make them clearly. Here is a case where I think I was probably not as clear thinking as I should have been and I will likely need to make a decision about grading that will, luckily, not have to made on the fly. I have a bunch of new students who are only one week into their experience with me. I want it to be a good experience where they grow as scholars. I need to think carefully about how I respond to this disappointment – in my own behavior AND in the decisions they made.