Tuesday, May 6, 2008

THE SEMESTER IS OVER, AND NOT SOON ENOUGH FOR ME

(Editors note: This evening or tomorrow I will be posting a letter to the General Counsel for the VA and Valley Baptist. I will be demanding that the VA suspend it contract with Valley Baptist. I have the proof that Valley Baptist is a threat to veterans. When I brought this matter to the attention of CEO Wesson he was dismissive and in my opinion unprofessional in a way which demonstrated how Valley Baptist got to the point of being a threat to the welfare of veterans.)

Well things got a lot better in the math department this semester. There is still a great deal of room for improvement. (When is Juliet just going to hire me to clean up this mess - they read the blog and do what I tell them to do - it is time I am paid for my services)

My regular readers remember my complaint about how in the math lab anything but math was being done by the students. The math department decided the lab tutors could not be trusted to do their jobs, (and they still cannot be trusted, unless their job is to flirt with the girls and encourage loud and distracting noise,) and required that the math instructors supervise the math labs. This appears to have inspired the students. This was a good first start.

In my view math is probably the hardest subject to teach because no one really knows how to teach it. Every student learns differently. Unfortunately most math is taught the same way - an instructor writing problems on the board without any concern with whether or not the students are following along. The problem with math instructors is, they get it, and fail to understand the majority who do not get it.

There really needs to be a concerted effort to study the process of learning math. The battle may be lost until this is done. This semester I had a student who has been with me for two years. I remember when I was concerned that he was so learning disabled that it was best to just give up. Until his final he held an A in his Intermediate Algebra course. He could do quadratic formula problems with the speed of light. He could solve a parabola problem visually. On the practice final he got 42 of 44 problems correct. But then the final destroyed him, and he ended up with a C - maybe with some sympathy he might still get that B.

What happened? I watched students in the lab with the speed of light plow through problem after problem. I watch my students move their pencils in ways I thought were physically impossible. But this is when they are relaxed and under no pressure. Also, somehow testing on the computer causes many of them to freeze. Part of the problem is, when you enter and answer on the computer if you misplace a "," in an ordered pair, the answer is wrong. This really unnerves the students. The computer program is not consistent - sometimes the box for the answer already has an opening and closing "( )" sometimes it does not. The answer is marked wrong if the student fails to notice that it does not have the "( )"

Test anxiety for students in remedial courses is real. The math department needs to address this problem if it is to improve the pass rate of its students. I propose that the students be allowed to put all their answers and math on paper so that the paper copy can be reviewed by the instructor. Remember the remedial course is as much about getting the student ready for real college level courses as it is about teaching the subject. The two should go hand in hand.

Two of the instructors allowed me to get to know them this semester. In one case I was allowed to enter the classroom to see what a review session looked like. I was impressed. It was not as drab as I had expected. Both instructors care deeply for their students. In the end this will not matter unless the department continues to address the underlying problems.

[1] Test anxiety; [2] unrelenting noise in the lab (where tests occur) by students on their cell phones, and at least one tutor constantly flirting with the girls, and [3] addressing the problems with the anxiety caused by testing on the computer. A correct answer is still a correct answer even if the computer cannot read it as a correct answer.

I just know my paycheck is in the mail.

No comments: