Our semester is rapidly winding up. I have about eight more course meetings to tell my students the things I want them to know before our Final Exams. Just as they are starting to reflect on the material we covered this semester, I am also reflecting on the things we covered this semester & all the things I want to do better next time.
Things I want to improve:
- I need to break apart some of my “Calculus II” learning standards. I didn’t have a complete list at the start of this term, and I realize now I wish I had made them smaller than I did. (I had been afraid of having too many, so I overcompensated.)
- I need to come up with a good “Missed Exam” policy. Since I switched to standards-based grading, I’ve focused on the current value of a student’s score. As such, some students have missed (skipped?) entire exams and have wanted to make up the exams on a later date. This has been extremely difficult on my side of things, since it usually means writing an entirely different test for them, grading it at a different time, etc. I am philosophically stuck with what to do. On the one hand, I want a policy that says “You must take the exam on the specified date, unless truly unforeseeable circumstances beyond your control occur.” On the other hand, if my idea is their grade ought to reflect their mastery of course material, and not “mastery of this topic with a deadline of Wednesday,” I am not sure how to implement such a policy.
- I need to come up with a good “Schedule of Expectations.” Some students have been consistently behind the course, in terms of what problems they are able to solve. To help students in the future, I think it would be good to have some kind of date-to-learning-target function that tells them, “You should master this learning target before this date.”
- I need to make grading quickly a bigger priority. I know I have gotten behind schedule on various assignments this semester. This is always an issue. Things pop up, kids get sick, cars need maintenance, and somehow “grading assignments by the next class period” is one of the first things I let go of when life gets hectic. I want to hold myself to a higher standard about returning work quickly.
- I need to have on hand problems for re-assessment, so if a student wants to re-assess a particular topic I don’t have to think up new problems on the fly.
- I’ve implemented something I’m calling “Madness Mondays” in Calculus II. I’ve been taking class time to talk about mathematical things that aren’t directly related to what we’re talking about in class. For example, today I spent a while talking about the Hilbert Hotel. I’ve really enjoyed this part of the week. I have been impressed by the curiosity of my students. I’ve also been really pleased about how great they are at asking interesting questions. I think that talking to them about this random assortment of topics has helped them get away from the idea that “the point of math class is to solve problems and get the right answer.” Instead, I hope they now see that one major point of math class is to get them to think about mathematical ideas, outside of the context of any particular homework problem. But what I want to do is formulate a complete list of topics for Madness Monday, from which I can pull ideas in subsequent semesters.
- I want to learn ALL of my students’ names. I’ve always struggled with this. I made this a priority this semester, and I have learned a higher percentage of names this term than ever previously. But I’d really like to get better & learn all of their names.
The above isn’t a complete list. I always think of dozens of things I want to do better, so this is only a start.
The last thing I want to do better is I need to be less hard on myself. I think I am probably my worst critic. Often times I walk out of class kicking myself for messing up a problem, or for not explaining something the best way, or for not spending enough time on this or that, or … At the end of the day (semester?), I wish I could give myself a break. My goal should be gradual improvement over time, not 100% perfection in every class on every day in every semester and with every student.