Thursday, February 19, 2009


This article about student expectations in the NYT combined with my observations of students taking tests today spur me to mention the following:

  • Students now expect tests to be open-book/open-note. They seem to think that's the default mode, so that on the day of the test they are surprised that they can't use their notes. When did the default mode change? Should I start calling my tests "closed notes" to prevent this?
  • I always tell my students how many questions and what type of questions (multiple choice, problems, essay, etc...) will be on each test. I announce it the week before the test, immediately before handing out the test, and keep the format the same throughout the semester. That withstanding, students still fail to complete the last questions if they are printed on the back side of the last page. I find this odd. Not only have they not completed the stated number of questions, but why NOT flip the page when all of the other pages have been double-sided? Shouldn't they look on the back just to make sure? I now try to remember to announce that questions are printed on the back (when they are), but I forgot in one of my sections today and had to send about 30% of the students back to their desks to finish the test.
  • Because of the aforementioned difficulties on the last pages of tests, I have the students turn in the tests face-down. In a couple of cases, when I pointed out that the page was blank, the students told me that they didn't answer the questions because they missed the appropriate days of class. In fact one student, in an almost accusatory tone, responded, "You know I wasn't in class that day." And that excuses the students from learning the material how? I even post my course notes on the website!

Sometimes I feel like I work harder on these tests than they do!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Just thinkin'

Two days a week, as I leave the room in which I teach astronomy, a group of students start trickling in for the next class. It's a math course, but when I asked the students what course it was, the various responses included "Math for Dummies", "Special Ed Math", and "At least it's better than being in Iraq." The students range in age from fresh out of high school to a woman who must at least be in her sixties. From the level of activity before their class starts, it is like taking a step back into high school, into one of the rowdy classrooms full of students who can't settle down after a sugar- and gossip-filled lunch break. Turns out the class has the following description:

Fundamentals of Mathematics serves as an introduction to fundamental concepts of arithmetic. This course covers the arithmetic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and exponentiation on whole numbers, fractions, decimals and percents; ratios and proportions, an introduction to the different systems of measurement, and applications of these topics. This course is intended for preparation for Prealgebra.

No college credit is given for this course. Nor for the course that is next in the sequence. These students are enrolled in the most remedial math course that is offered at the school. I can't stop thinking about how I would approach teaching this course. I can tell that they don't want to be there... either they hate math or can't do math or hate that they can't do math. I can see embarrassment on some faces. But all of them have some goal that brings them there, some certificate or degree program. Wouldn't it be more embarrassing to allow oneself to be impeded? Isn't it empowering to address one's deficiencies? Shouldn't the students be proud of themselves? How can a more positive attitude be instilled in the students ? It's giving me plenty to think about.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nineteen years

Today marks the nineteenth anniversary of my first date with Greg. That means I've been with him for half of my life. Whoa! I'm grateful for the years of fun, friendship, and cuddling and am looking forward to more.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


There is such wondrous beauty in the universe, is there not? Galaxy NGC 4921 and seemingly countless members of the Coma Cluster of galaxies, from Hubble:

Sunday, February 01, 2009

That's just how it is

I noted that the Super Bowl pre-game show started FIVE hours before the game itself. I decided to wait to turn on the TV til about an hour before the game, and what did I see? A live interview with President Obama as part of the pre-game show. This demonstrates the kind of audience that the game typically gets - huge! The commissioners of the other professional leagues must wonder how they can make their playoffs this exciting. Simple answer - fewer games! Nothing is better than a one and done playoff.

Who to pick for this game? My first Super Bowl memory is the Steelers vs the Cowboys in 1970s. I was for the Steelers then because, really, who likes the Cowboys? The Steelers' ownership spawned the Rooney Rule, an action that cannot be downplayed. Also, the Steelers' uniforms have always appealed to me. Normally they'd be my pick, but they're playing the Cardinals. The Cardinals used to play about a five minute walk from my grad student office. They've been terrible for years, but somehow they've ended up in the Super Bowl this year. I'm not a Kurt Warner fan, but Larry Fitzgerald's play has won me over. (Cute, too, gotta say.) Alright, I'm cheering for the Cardinals.