Monday, March 30, 2009

Counting down...

... one week to Spring Break! And I need it. My computer at work is not functioning, the pile of grading is growing ever larger, and the students have that look of "please, let me go to the beach." Mmm... beach...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Extra extra!

Even if the word "extra" is part of the title, it does not mean the assignment is "extra credit."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009


I saw part of an interview with Pat Summitt where she mentioned that the current generation of student athletes seem to be less motivated than her previous players. And her players should be among the most motivated of any college student athlete anywhere. This ties in with a recent discussion amongst the faculty that most of the students who are performing below average are doing so because they simply aren't doing the work. Lab reports? Apparently optional. Regularly turning in homework, if at all? Just busywork. Turning in a paper worth ten percent of the grade? Nah.

Speaking of student athletes, my school's basketball team made it to the State Quarterfinals, their best season ever. Nine out of the thirteen players on the roster have taken astronomy with me.

I do not assign any work that isn't useful. Do I assign a lot of physics homework? Yeah, and if the students do it, they tend to do very well on exams. Do I make my astronomy and physics students write short papers? Yes, I do, because synthesizing and articulating scientific ideas are crucial instructional objectives. I even tell them why I give them the different assignments. I make each assignment worth a decent chunk of their grade in the course, so it is worth their time to do the assignments. Motivation has always come from within for me. I'm most competitive with myself. So I find myself wondering how to motivate students to do work they just don't want to do?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Teaching moments

A few weeks ago, I had to deal with something that had yet to confront me as a teacher - one of my students committed suicide. I was informed by the college administration, and the campus mental health director offered to come speak to my class. It is a lecture class, but I have my students do group work, so several of the students who had worked with this student were quite upset. It was a rough time, but I'm glad the counselor came and talked to the class. At least one student from that class has gone to seek mental health counseling since, so some good came from it.

I'd also like to say that I would never have suspected this student to have been in trouble from his demeanor in class. You know how after every Virginia Tech-type tragedy there is the outcry to somehow identify troubled students? If I had been asked to provide a watch list, he would never have been on it. He was outgoing, participated everyday, had made friends... the class was stunned to find out what had happened. His family and friends have my sympathies.

On a lighter note, I used Saturn's annoying tendency to gain more moons as a way to talk about how technology enables more discoveries, how the moon is small because otherwise we'd have seen it before, and how silly it is to memorize facts (how many moons Saturn has) as opposed to understanding processes (most moons are small, captured objects, etc...). Having such an example of a fact that changed since the last class seemed to have an impact.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Saturn 61, Dr. Lisa 0

Before class, Saturn only had 60 moons. Get back to my computer, and now Saturn has 61 moons. Yes, this was directly relevant to the material covered today. No, I don't make my students memorize these sorts of numbers as the universe would simply mock them anyways!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A simple request

Please, let this week be better than last week.