Age-old questions about freshman math students

7176859_a1d302e4f3_m.jpgMidterms are coming up in a couple of weeks, and while most of the students in my precalculus class are doing reasonably well, some aren’t. Here are some questions I’ve struggled with every time I teach a freshman class, and maybe some of you out there have suggestions. If so, leave them in the comments.

  1. How do you impress upon students (freshmen) the importance of coming to office hours? I don’t think I’ve had more than six distinct students visit office hours for help all semester long, and I’d consider this an active semester in terms of office hours. The rest go to the Math Study Center, study tables for football or fraternities, etc. but it does no evident good for a lot of them. I think it would do them good to come see me; but how to convince them of this?
  2. How do you convince a student that their purpose for being here, their job, is to be a student? Some of the students don’t come to office hours because they haven’t touched the exercises all semester long, and that’s because they are involved in several different campus activities which are promoted in the name of “getting involved”. The cost to their time budget is unsustainable. How to get them to prioritize time properly?
  3. How do you get students to transition from the typical high-school-math mode of “get the answer in the shortest possible time frame” to the college mode of “work hard over an extended period to really understand what you are doing”?

[Photo by kodama.]


Filed under Education, High school, Higher ed, Life in academia, Student culture, Teaching

4 responses to “Age-old questions about freshman math students

  1. coderprof

    Regarding point 1: I haven’t figured this out either. What I have done in CS is move some of my office hours to “lab hours”, where I am physically sitting in an empty classroom with computers. This has worked pretty well for CS. About half of the programming students will come to lab hours when they need help. Regular office hours produced a 10% usage rating, at best.

    Maybe there is a way to recast office hours into something else. Some students will show up for an exam prep session, for example. Is there a way to have a regularly scheduled “study hours” session outside of your office? Maybe the thought of one-on-one contact is too threatening for some students (even though in practice, lab hours contact will still be likely one-on-one).

  2. Jami

    I have to agree… going to visit your professor one-on-one is pretty intimidating, especially for a Freshman, and especially when it is a very intelligent professor (such as yourself). The better your professor is, the more you want to impress them or the more you dont want to look like a fool.

    In terms of getting students over that, good luck! Not to mention you’ve got to get them to care about the math and not just about the grade.🙂

    I was one of those to never visit my professors, especially my first year. Some profs made it very easy because of their personalities, but others are very intimidating. I have always seen this as one of the lessons that you learn in college. You learn how to have confidence in yourself and your questions and how to approach people with them. You dont have mom and dad anymore to make everything okay. It just takes time and a few mistakes to learn that.

    On getting kids to care about their class (especially math)… Its just not going to be possible in some cases. A lot of kids go to college just to get the degree, not to become experts in their field. Considering some 50% of college grads go on to get a job doing something in a different field and then everything they need to know is learned on site at the job, I dont know if this problem is as bad as you think. The fact that you are trying means something. Hopefully it will get better instead of worse as time goes on!

  3. elementaryteacher

    I’m a little confused. When I was in college, office hours were the hours the professor kept if anyone needed to come in an see him. But they weren’t scheduled as appointments. Are you scheduling students for appointments, or just wondering why more don’t show up?

    Most freshmen are so caught up in the social whirl of being away from home for the first time, being on their own, becoming adults, etc., that it’s about all they can do just to get to class and get some of their homework done. Don’t forget that some people have never done their laundry. Others are adjusting to roommate situations, finding new boyfriends/girlfriends.

    I would expect it’s a rare freshman who would come in, especially if they haven’t been keeping up with the work. Even though that’s who you’d probably say needs to come in, those would be most intimidated.

    Best regards,
    Eileen in the Middle East

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