Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Finishing Up

Still have one student that needs to take a make-up final, but I'm basically done for the semester. I all honesty, I probably checked out a few weeks ago. I've got something like a vaguely un-scheduled week ahead of me (besides a Flying Karamazov Brothers show!), until a math conference in Georgia in the second half of next week. People tell me it'll be good to go. That remains to be seen. And basically as soon as I get back, I start a summer programming internship at Rosetta Stone. Could be something. So with my loose week, I just gotta bang out a thesis so I don't have to come back in the fall...

Err, right. So this post was supposed to be about thoughts about my class this semester. Things that went well (it ended). Things that went poorly (the other parts). Things to do differently next time (next time‽). Something I can look back on in the fall for guidance.

So... reading assignments with homework due before we talked about it in class didn't go hugely well. I stand by the method. But I've also been reading about how homework itself, as a graded assignment, sucks (maybe start at joebower.org if you want to follow along at home), so I'm a little torn. Halfway through the semester I switched to the following setup: read the book for Tuesday, and submit a "discussion seed" based on the reading, as your homework assignment for Tuesday. I then used the those discussion seeds as what I brought up in class Tuesday, and then had written problems due Thursday. Seemed to go fairly ok, as a setup. Basing class time on questions students had actually submitted seemed like sort of a fun idea. Having the questions as a Google Docs presentation seemed to work ok.

My students really seemed intrigued when I showed actual housing cost data, so I should work to bring more actual data into my classroom. I was also thinking it might be cool to have guest speakers, maybe from banking or realty. Perhaps I'll look into that more for next semester. Probably the best thing about this class is that students can actually mostly see it as something useful. Putting money in an account, saving up... sorta easy to relate to, I think. There's some amount of intrinsic motivation there, if I can just capture it.

One important thing I didn't know going in to the semester was what sorts of students took the course. It's a 100-level course; I was expecting mostly freshman and sophomores. No dice. Probably half of my class was graduating seniors, many of whom already probably knew basically all of the material. I sorta have a hard time believing these students should actually be allowed to take this course... this is part of the stupid game I hate about education when I think about it these days. I had friends in undergrads who, as graduating actuarial science seniors, took 100-level "finite math" sorts of classes. This seems like what sorta happened with the class I taught this semester. The impression I get is that many of them were then upset with the class for being boring. What the hell do you want from me? Other students, in the last few days, have mentioned that they thought I did well trying to balance for these students along with those who actually didn't know much of the material coming in. I think it helps that mostly the students who didn't need to be there stopped showing up.

Another thing I didn't know coming in was the content of the course. I was reading the book along with the students. Turns out, there's very little material. In a few-minute wrapup I did on the last day, I told my students how essentially we did one thing all semester: move money around on a timeline. Compound interest is just iterated simple interest. Bank discount interest is just simple interest from a different perspective. Annuities formulas are just conveniences for dealing with many things moving around at compound interest. And that's all we did. I'm a little curious to see if I could teach all of the formulas in a week or two. Knowing this, I intend to go faster next semester and cover more material. I think this should help with some of the boredom issue.

I'm toying with the idea of using next semester, when I'll likely be teaching the course again, as a chance to have the students write their own textbook. There were enough errors and oddities in the textbook we did use, I have a hard time believing we couldn't do better. We'll do a big collaborative project, as the entire class, writing a book. I think a project like this could be good for having students involved and interested. I also think it should be a good way for students to learn the material - you learn best by teaching. And, finally, I think we could make a pretty decent book.

Each semester we math grad students are given a teaching request form, where we get to request what to teach the following semester. Basically it's one of the four calculus sections (two levels of calc 1 and calc 2), and then occasionally this financial math course, or a calc 3. On my form, I requested to teach this financial math class again. A friend thought I was joking when I told her. My advisor asked if I was a masochist. I think, having gone through it once, the next time can't help but go better, which will be nice. I know the material now, and might not be quite as caught off guard by my class being mostly seniors. Also, the class has no emphasis on algebra, my current frustration with calculus courses. I do need to try to design better assignments that have students explain their work more, but hopefully I can sort something out. Writing a book should be good for that.

Anyway, I'm off. Take 'er easy.

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