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First Homework Assignment:

Having a web site is not, by itself, enough; the students actually have to read it and think about it to get any value from it. My first assignment is for them to read the material contained in the web site; then, having done so, each student selects a page that they think says something important or valuable and writes me a two- or three-paragraph statement of why they chose the page they did, and sends this to me by e-mail. This serves several purposes at once: first, it gets them to read and think about the information presented the first day; second, it gets them to know my e-mail address and opens the door for further communication between the student and me; third, it lets them know that I am interested in their ideas, not just their numeric answers; fourth, it begins the course with some writing rather than with computation; and finally, it gives me insight into their ideas and expectations. For freshman courses, I also request a short "math biography" that describes their mathematical backgrounds and something interesting from it (they frequently discuss a teacher or class that was either good for them or perhaps frustrating).

Their responses to this question always are fascinating, and I enjoy reading them and writing back about what they have said. I reply to every one individually, commenting on the concerns they expressed, and pointing out the important observations that I see them making. This takes eight to ten hours, but is well worth the effort. Since most of the students express some form of math anxiety, I try to be as encouraging as possible; some describe traumatic experiences in high school, and I am sympathetic toward these. I remind them that I want them to come see me in office hours if they have difficulties, and that I will be as supportive as I can. I think that this has been instrumental in giving the students a sense of my commitment to the course, which is then reflected in their own level of interest in doing the work. Having been forced to make at least one contact with me, they seem more ready to make another later on when they need it.

The range of pages and reasons for their choices have been very interesting to see. Many students select the course philosophy page, some probably because they recognize that I think it is important, but others seem to take it very much to heart, which is encouraging. Others choose the goals or expectations, or the study suggestions, and some even select the collaboration policy. Almost every page has been chosen by someone, and most give very good reasons, too. Many comment that they have never thought about much of what I say, so even if they get nothing else out of it, that one new idea makes the assignment worth it. In their essays, most of the students commit to the ideal of actually learning the material rather than just following a procedure, so later on it is much harder for them to claim that the answer is the only important thing. In the long run, it seems that this initial interaction helps the students to feel that we are working together toward a common goal.

[HOME] Davide P. Cervone's web pages
Created: 08 Sep 2001
Last modified: 07 Jan 2002 06:56:23
Comments to: dpvc@union.edu
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