It’s been a few days since the last article, because I’m already digging out from grading, prep work, committee stuff, engineering stuff… But I just finished grading the first semi-major homework set from the calculus classes, and I’m seeing some things (possibly for the umpteenth time):
(1) It’s pretty clear that most of the students in the class have never been asked or expected to justify their reasoning and have never been held accountable for anything but the parity (right/wrong) of their answers. I insist that students give thorough, detailed explanations of their solutions on everything, or else they suffer grave grade deductions. They are giving a good-faith effort to do so, most of them, but often it’s like reading the first few paragraphs written by somebody who just learned English — really unpolished, pretty obvious that this kind of thing is brand new to them. What exactly goes on in those high school math classes, anyway?
(2) Maybe the approach I have been taking to the first 2–2.5 weeks of a calculus course — namely, to go through a meticulous and thorough review of precalculus concepts with the big ideas of calculus (slopes, rates of change) woven in — needs to be changed. There are some students who are really not in the right place, and should be either in our precalculus course or else in a different major that doesn’t require calculus. The slow and lengthy precalculus review might be providing nothing more than a false sense of security; the students who are going to do OK in the course could all go at twice the speed, and for the students who are not going to be OK it doesn’t matter how slow I go. Perhaps I should just plan on getting the precalculus stuff done in a week and go as fast as I need to in order to accomplish that. That would give the at-risk students a realistic sense of what the course is going to be like, and not bore the others.
(3) Just two weeks into the semester and already I have four potential academic dishonesty cases on my hands, all from calculus and all from a 5-point problem on a homework set. That’s smal potatoes, but I’ve made a commitment to seek out and destroy academic dishonesty down to the roots this semester, so if these students broke the rules then they’re going to get hammered grade-wise — 0 on the assignment, the letter grade for the course dropped one letter, and potential dismissal if there’s a second violation — and all for 5 measley points that they could very well just have done without (maximum points for the course = 700). That’s just stupid.