Thoughts while grading finals

I’m at a stopping point for the day in grading my GE 103 finals; the linear algebra final is coming up on Thursday. Unlike last year when I live-blogged my calculus final exam grading (it was on the old blog, no longer online), I’m not going to give a play-by-play of the grading here. Instead, I’ve been keeping a Sticky on my Mac’s desktop with a running list of thoughts as they come up. Here they are, relatively unpolished, with more probably to come as I grade more this week:

  • I’m not interested in teaching any subject or any course which does not specifically aim for, and does not specifically result in, the following: a significant change in the way students see the world, a significant increase in the creativity and curiosity of the students, and a significant refinement of the students’ ability to think analytically and learn on their own.
  • Students need to be able to apply serious reasoning to an appropriate context and work hard, and THEN actually enjoy the satsifaction of having done so. Where does this idea come from that learning and fun are mutually exclusive? My 2-year old doesn’t have that idea.
  • Final exams week is a model for how our campus should look all year long: students asking questions and coming to office hours, all the laptops checked out of the student center, people getting together to study, people talking about what’s going on in their classes (even in a pejorative way would be better than not talking at all) — there’s an air of a significant undertaking being taken seriously.
  • I want students to cease believing in the existence of “math people” and start thinking of themselves as people whose lives will benefit from knowing math/quantitative reasoning. Sure, there are some who are better at it than others, but math is not an all-or-nothing affair — everybody has to know quite a lot of it.
  • A key concept that I didn’t get across to GE 103 nearly well enough is the idea that correlation is not the same thing as causation. Nearly every student who saw the graph with a positive correlation between the two variables said that one causes the other. I really regret not having stressed the truth on that better.
  • Also, I should have really stressed the idea of common-sense reality checking of answers. I have students thinking that a $500 savings account will be worth $80 in four years, that the monthly payment on a $209,000 house is over $1 million, and so on.
  • How do we teach responsibility? By giving students choices to make, rewarding the responsible choices, and making students fully aware of and accountable for the irresponsible choices. If you don’t do this early and often in a college curriculum, it will NEVER sink in to students until it’s too late. Let irresponsible behavior slide for a moment in the first year and you have established a habit for the next 4-5 years, if they last that long. I think a small but too-large number of profs give students second, third, etc. chances thinking that they are doing the students a favor, when in fact they are laying a cracked foundation for their education. But it sure makes them popular!
  • A lot of my students think that different people have differing levels of ability to learn — and that these differences cannot be compensated for by hard work. It’s mathematical predestination.
  • For the love of God, students, stop worrying about points. Start thinking about the rest of your life and trying to acquire curiosity and sincere interest in the subjects you are studying. There is apparently an inverse relationship between a student’s concern over their points and grades, and how much they care about the subjects they study.
  • It’s apparent that a lot of students have never attempted to read or understand the comments I put on their HW and tests. Students are still making the same costly and time-consuming mistakes as before — phrasing probabilities as odds, cranking through 48 iterations of interest calculation for compound interest instead of using a formula., etc. That can’t be a sign of effective learning.

Like I said, more to come.


Filed under Education, Higher ed, Liberal arts math, Student culture, Teaching

3 responses to “Thoughts while grading finals

  1. For the love of God, students, stop worrying about points.

    There is, unfortunately, nothing in college culture to dissuade students from focusing on grades (except for the few colleges that don’t give grades).

    We have grading scales in our syllabi.

    Students have to get a certain grade in our courses to avoid repeating them.

    Their college transcripts compute their term and cumulative GPA.

    Special honors are afforded those who get a high enough GPA.

    Every student understands what the G in GPA stands for, and a few even know how it’s computed.

    Most of us give a grade to every assessment instrument we use in our classes.

    Yep – they’re pretty conditioned by us.

  2. daniel

    the fact of the matter is every one does have differing levels of ability…this simply means that while we may able to able to learn math, we will not all learn it equally well. while hard work may get me (a person who does not excel at mathematical modes of thought) far, it will not get me as far as your hard work will get you (a person who does excel at mathematical modes of thought). i work hard. you work hard. i achieve something. you achieve something more. why? differing levels of ability.

    i see this frequently with language. some students work hard to achieve just a little progress. others work hard and achieve greater progress. all human beings do learn a language and can learn to communicate in another one, however not all humans can/do reach the same level of competence in their second language that they have in their first…and some are not considered even to be terribly competent at their first. again…differing abilities.

  3. Daniel – I’m not denying any of that. My point here is that a lot of students see those differing levels of ability, ascribe 100% of the higher-achieving students’ success to pure heredity, and then just give up. They reset their goals for the lowest level possible because the highest level possible may be difficult or impossible for them to attain. There’s no sense that they should strive for excellence even though they may not become absolute experts. It’s an all-or-nothing mentality that really holds students back once they’ve convinced themselves of it.

    I never ask any student to become an expert in the class they are taking overnight. But I do insist that they work hard, attain the basic goals of the class, and get as much out of the experience as possible. But a lot of students think that working hard doesn’t make a difference and expect any success to come from native ability. it’s a curious way of thinking, since many of these students are athletes and no serious athlete would think that excellence in a sport comes from pure native athleticism.