Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Any Given Monday

1. The Meeting
First, I spent a productive hour in a meeting with other faculty members. Then, the meeting devolved into a gripe session about the governor’s recent visit to our campus. Many faculty members feel that our president and chancellor should have sought their approval before allowing Schwarzenegger on school grounds. You should be proud – only two outbursts passed these not-yet-tenured lips.

My view may be a bit simplistic, but I figure one photo-op isn't a bad price to pay for support of massive funding increases for schools like ours. The inconvenience was minimal, and I doubt anyone inferred from his presence that our college is a bastion of political support for the governor. Anyone who watched the last state election - with Schwarzenegger’s initiatives on the ballot - knows what extensive efforts the unions took to defeat his propositions. Lest I dimish all chance for tenure, I will stop there.

2. The Office Hours
There’s nothing like working with students to lift your spirits and refocus your mind. Last night I held online office hours for my Calculus II class.

Here’s how it works: I sit on the couch in my (pink) pajamas with cookies and milk at hand and my laptop ready. At 9pm we all logon to the same website and dial into the same conference line. At this website we can draw on the electronic whiteboard – equations, graphs, doodles – and chat in the textbox. We take turns discussing difficult problems and deriving their solutions. This tool has been an invaluable for helping those students who work fulltime and can’t visit me on campus during the day. Here we are in action with an excerpt of erudite student chat:

Bob starts to write what he got for the second derivative. “This is the one that makes me swear.”

“They all make you swear,” says Rita.

The banter continues. I’m not sure how they manage it, but my students can solve math problems on the computer screen, chat through the text window and talk on the phone line all at once.

Bob was temporarily disconnected.

“Sorry, I just got kicked off.”

“For swearing.” Rita doesn’t miss a beat.

3. The Midterm

I could procrastinate no longer. I promised the midterms back on Tuesday. This is for a math class of elementary education majors. We delve into the how’s and why’s of math concepts that most people take for granted, and we explore techniques for introducing these topics to children. So, an exam in this class isn’t of the typical equation – solution variety. Instead the exams contain questions about how to explain topics or how to correct a student’s misconception. On this particular test I included a question about division by zero. “How do you explain the difference between 5 divided by 0 and 0 divided by 5?” I asked.

Oh Lord help me not to swear in front of the class or quit my job. Seventy-five percent of my students got this wrong; they didn’t understand the meaning of either. And yes, we spent copious amounts of time on this concept in class. Dear Lord, I promise not to let these people be elementary school teachers until they know that it's impossible divide a number by zero.

4. The Other Half

Meanwhile, John and Piper spent the evening holding down the beanbag and playing EA Sports (It's In The Game!) NCAA football. That evening, Texas beat Texas Tech 66 - 0.

I wonder what Tuesday will bring…

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