Trying Something New

Trying Something New

I know the math that I teach. I know how to explain the concepts and I know how to explain the mechanics. I am not as good at explaining the applications. That is something to continue to work on. But if I can explain the concepts and the mechanics, why aren’t my students universally more successful than they are, at least with those parts of the class? I think that the students’ ability to manage their workload is a big part of the problem and I think that I am not completely successful in setting the tone that I want to.

Here I’ll share my latest attempt to address these issues and then I’ll ask you to share what you do!

Before this quarter started, I sat down with my favorite course and typed up a page of directions for every day of the quarter. Each page was to be used as a cover sheet and the work listed therein was to be submitted at the next class meeting. I decided to purchase a binder and binder dividers for every one of my students, in an attempt to set the tone of high expectations and high commitment. It cost me about $2.25 per student. I didn’t have time to assemble the binders, so I just took in all of the components on the first day of class and wrote directions on the board for the students to follow to assemble their binder. They were very appreciative. When they left class on Day 1, every student had a checklist of exactly what they needed to do each day of the quarter…organized in a binder. And almost every one of them is turning that work in each day! Since I believe that workload management is one of the greatest obstacles to success in the calculus classes, I am hopeful that this daily submission of work will translate into an increased success rate and better grades in general.

The world has changed a lot since I was a student. As in the past, students are oftentimes taking 3-5 classes.  Only now, students might have 3 or 4 resources to access per class! With such complexity, it can be quite difficult for a student to keep track of exactly what they need to be doing each day. Just as our workload (and the complexity of our job) has increased with the advent of email, SLO’s, increasing numbers of committees, and online resources, so has the workload and the complexity of student life increased. It may be mutually beneficial for us to simplify our own lives and the lives of our students by providing this kind of resource at the outset of each quarter. Then we could all focus on the more important tasks of teaching and learning.

Imagine if we could increase success rates by investing a few dollars per student! Wouldn’t that be amazing!

Now it’s your turn. Tell me something that you’re excited about or something that you use to great effect, even if it no longer excites you…


2 thoughts on “Trying Something New

  1. I love it! I’m all for these types of simple, concrete measures. Sometimes I think these very concrete things can potentially be the most effective. I’m curious to know how the student response and if you think it helps with student success. One thing I have learned to do is tell students the specific number of hours they should expect to study for my exams. When I would tell them, “Study a lot” it was too vague and left too much room for interpretation. Now I give them a specific number as a minimum they should be studying. I don’t have any solid data on the effectiveness of this practice, but anecdotal evidence seems to indicate many students do use the number as a guide post to help them figure out the appropriate amount of effort.


  2. On the first day of class, I normally specify, in a file, all homework problems, with due dates, for the quarter. Generally I grade only a small selection of the assigned problems and don’t tell the students which ones those will be. I have had a lot of complaints about too many problems taking too much time so this quarter I broke the assigned problems into two categories: quiz preparation and graded. I do not collect the quiz-prep problems but I do use them to create quizzes; I collect and grade the ‘graded’ problems, generally 6-8 problems per week. I assign more difficult problems for grading to offer more challenge than is found in the quiz-prep problems. The graded problems are somewhat like a take-home quiz. I’m not sure how I’ll know if this method is better or worse than my normal approach, but maybe the tests will tell.


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