Monday, November 30, 2009

What Makes A Good Teacher Can't Always Be "Measured"

We are always asking the question "What makes a good teacher?"  There is always some sort of "training effective teachers" seminar/webinar/class/conference going on.  We seem to always want a top ten list, and if we can check off each of those items on the list, then we will know that someone is a "good" teacher.  I disagree.

I know I'm a good teacher.  That's not conceit.  It is simply an accurate statement of fact.  I know my subject and I handle it well.  But I would expect that of any teacher.  That doesn't necessarily make me a good teacher.  What I think makes me a "good" teacher are things that can not be taught in teacher training classes or evaluated in teacher evaluations.  I think that a "good" and/or "effective" teacher is defined by a lot of "invisible" things.  I also know that each class of students has its own group dynamics, and brings to the classroom its own unique abilities and challenges.  So I can not always follow the same "check list".  I may be drawing off of different resources within myself as I go throughout my day teaching one group to the next.  But in the following paragraphs I will attempt to express just a few of the "invisible" things that I think make me a "good" teacher.

I think that I am a good teacher because I am not impressed with myself.  Some college math teachers (and I've sat through many college math classes in my day and conversed with many colleagues in the 20 years since) are so impressed with themselves because they have math degrees, that they think everyone else's intellect is below theirs.  I don't feel that way at all.  I don't go around talking "math speak" all the time so that everyone in the classroom and out of it thinks I'm intelligent.  My personal feeling is that if you are taking a math class with me it is because at this particular moment I know more math than you do.  And my job is to help you learn it, so I will.  However, once we step outside that classroom door, I too become a learner.  There is plenty I don't know, even about math.  I have learned a lot from my students about subject areas other than math.  I never assume I know more than they do about anything except for the math class I'm teaching.

In fact, just today one of my students was explaining to me and the class about how different types of airplane engines work.  Then he started talking about wing shape, maximum acceleration, fuel efficiency and a bunch of other things that I didn't know anything about.  I learned a number of things today that I had no clue about before class started this morning.  I was very impressed with what he was talking about and I said so.  And I told him that I was glad that he had talked about that.

Another thing that I think makes me a "good" teacher is that I always try to start where I know the students are comfortable.  When I am teaching I always start of with a simple example of a concept that the students are familiar with and then keep kicking it up a notch and showing the connection to the more difficult concepts. I use a lot of visual explanations, even in harder levels of math, in order to give the students something to grab onto that is concrete.  I don't treat math like a subject that is above my student's intellectual capacity.  I treat it like a subject that I believe they can learn.

Furthermore I encourage and reward effort. I know when a student is making a sincere effort and trying to apply concepts they have learned.  The student may not always get to the right answer the first, or even second or third time, but then again some mathematicians work for years on a problem before solving it.  So in light of that, two or three tries isn't bad.  I give plenty of room for students to "fix" mistakes and try again. I am extremely patient. And no matter what the question, I always treat the student with respect and answer the question. I don't think questions are "stupid", even when they are very simple questions.  Sometimes a student has to see something on a very "simple" level before making the jump to something harder.

As I talked about in another post, I value "learning" over "regurgitation".  But that also means that I need to be sensitive to each student.  And I need to know my students enough to understand their successes and their frustrations.  I need to be able to tell when they are "learning" versus "memorizing".  So I need a lot of discernment.

I also need to know within myself if I am functioning at maximum capacity, and I need to know when I'm not.  And if I am not at my best, I need to think about why that is.  And I need to know when I need a break.  Since I am under contract from semester to semester, I have an advantage, I think, over full time teachers.  Every 16 weeks I can assess whether or not I need to step back and take a break.  I can assess how many classes I can handle, if any at all.  I can assess the relationship with my administration and decide whether or not I'm happy with it.  If all systems are go, I step back into the ring for another 16 weeks.  If not, I sit on the bench for a semester and rest, regroup and rejuvenate.

So how do you measure humility about your level of education?  How do you measure patience?  How do you measure discernment?  How do you measure sensitivity?  The answer, of course, is that you can't.

So we are back to square one.  How do we measure what makes a "good" teacher?

As always, I welcome thoughts and comments.  I would like to hear some of your thoughts on "invisible" or "non-measurable" things that make us good teachers.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Give Thanks

I have fond memories of attending Thanksgiving Eve services at different churches my husband and I have been part of over the years.  But I think I most enjoyed Thanksgiving Eve services at the church we attended during the years that we lived in Michigan.  Below are the words of a praise chorus that we used to sing often in that church.  And in addition to Sunday mornings, it was a chorus we would sing on Thanksgiving Eve.  In such a few words it really sums up the greatest of our Blessings.

Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son


Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son

And now let the weak say, "I am strong"
Let the poor say, "I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us"

Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son
Give Thanks

In addition to the blessing of Jesus Christ the Savior, at this time of year especially, we pause to mention other blessings that may sometimes go unnoticed.  And so I am doing that now.

When I think about my life, the word that jumps to mind is "ordinary".  To the casual observer I suppose there is really nothing special about it.  We are an average, every day kind of family.  We never made any famous scientific discoveries.  We don't hold any public offices.  We aren't well known business owners.  No, we simply get up every day and go to work and school.  At the end of the day, as the lyrics of a country song so well put it, there is always "Too Much Month (at the end of the money)".  Like many other people, our cars break down, our kids get sick, our jobs sometimes get on our nerves, etc.  But this is nothing new.  Ordinary people have this life.

Now some would say, "be thankful, it could be worse".  I personally think that's a bad reason to be thankful.  First of all, by the same poor logic I could counter with the comment, "get depressed, it could be better".  But that too is faulty reasoning.  And being thankful should not be based on the condition that it could be worse.  Being thankful should be... well... being thankful.

So today I am expressing thanks for just a few of the things that make my "ordinary" life "extraordinary".  I am thankful for a wonderful spouse who loves me.  I am thankful for children that are enjoying life.  I am thankful that my husband's job is stable as far as we know at this time, and is not likely to be subject to any "down sizing due to a bad economy".  I am thankful that I live within walking distance of the ocean.  I am thankful that I live within an hour or two drive of the White Mountains.  I'm thankful that I am in good enough health to be able to consistently enjoy walking, swimming, biking, hiking, snow shoeing, and any other activities where I can enjoy the beauty of the area where I live.  I am thankful for the people I have met over this past year who have broadened my understanding of my world around me.  I am thankful for the people that I have known over the years that have shared a friendship with me.  I am thankful for the country I live in and for the form of government to which I am subject.  For while my country and my government may have its faults, its blessings far outweigh them.  I am thankful for the freedom to worship God as I choose.  I am thankful for the amount of access I have to information and news of all kind from around the world.  I am thankful for the freedom I have to respond to that news and information as I please without having to fear for my life or liberty.

Obviously there is much more that I can mention.  But as I said, these are just a few.  And in the light of even these few things, my life starts to look "extraordinary".  You'll likely never know my name.  I doubt I'll ever be famous.  Hopefully I'll never be infamous either.  I like to sing, but I'm pretty sure you'll never be downloading my music from iTunes.  I like to talk, but I'm sure you'll never hear me in any public speaking context.  I like to write, but I'm sure you'll never be reading a book I've written.  No, I'll just keep getting up every day and being "ordinary".  But I have an "extraordinary" amount of things for which to be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tiananmem Square, June 1989

More Views From The West

A couple of weeks ago I was writing about the 20th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall.  It was an event that changed history.  And last week there was a lot of joyful celebration commemorating that event of November 9, 1989.  However, I could not look back at the events of the Fall of 1989 without remembering what happened in the Spring of that same year in another part of the world.  And so in this post my mind is going back to Tiananmen Square in the Spring of 1989.

The best perspective of those weeks comes from the first hand accounts of those who were there.  The News coverage left unforgettable images in the minds of those of us who watched from the other side of the world.   It seems that the images that are so vividly stamped in our minds from Tiananmen Square are of that fateful day in June when military tanks plowed through large groups of protesters.  But the events that led up to June 4, 1989, I don't remember hearing so much about.  For a few weeks prior to June 1989, it seems that large numbers of students and young people formed an unarmed, peaceful protest.    Perhaps they were a generation of people that had more access to news and information from other parts of the world than previous generations did.  Perhaps they were inspired by news that may have somehow made its way into China about stirings going on in Eastern Europe, such as Poland's "Round Table Talks".    Perhaps they were full of hope and the belief that freedom of speech should be a basic human right.  Perhaps they had ideals about being subjects of a government that did not oppress its people.  Perhaps they wanted to be able to express their views and ideals in the ear of the government.  Whatever the reasons, it appears that a great many younger people were attracted to the idea of peaceful protests.  And so in the Spring of 1989, in and around Tiananmen Square, large groups gathered to speak out, listen to speeches, talk about their ideals, press for a more democratic form of government and hope for change.

If the Chinese government had been hoping that the protests would quickly fizzle, obviously they were wrong.  If they had been hoping that this would be something that college students would quickly forget about after a few demonstrations, they were obviously wrong.  And when the crowds did not disperse on their own, the government began to issue warnings and express its displeasure.  Did the masses of people gathered in and around Tiananmen Square not believe the warnings?  Were they not familiar enough with their own history to know the reputation of the Chinese government for handling dissenters?  Did they not believe that their own government would turn on such a large group of people?  Who knows?  Perhaps they did not even think of any of these things.  Perhaps their ideals and demands for democracy seemed so reasonable to them that it did not occur to them that there would be consequences associated with the protests.  Whatever the case, when the government's warnings went unheeded, they decided to resort to drastic measures and call upon the military to not only disperse the crowds but to also crush the hope.

And so suddenly the world was hearing about the Massacre in Tiananmen SquareThe Military had orders to just shoot indiscriminately, and so they did.  From the other side of the world we were horrified.  But in all honesty, I don't think we were shocked.  To hear news reports that the Chinese government would do whatever it took to quench its people's hope of basic human rights was really no surprise.  It seemed consistent with decades of reports of the Chinese government's oppression of its own people.  This time it was just on a very large scale that made news waves around the world.

And then, once again, as it apt to happen after a big event, the news coming out of China quieted down.  Here and there over the years stories have continued to trickle out about various human rights violations; but nothing as large scale or horrific as Tiananmen Square in 1989.

I remember in 1989 that China attempted to deny the extent of the devastation of that first week of June in Tiananmen Square.  One new reported quoted a government official as saying that American reporters "made a big to-do out of nothing" when reporting about Tiananmen Square.  The Chinese government to this day makes claims that "no one died in Tiananmen Square".  People in China are still forbidden to publicly talk about it.  It is almost as if there has been and continues to be an effort on the part of the Chinese government to remove all recollection of June 4, 1989 from the collective consciousness of its people.

However the rest of the world has not forgotten.  We too were there.  We saw it happen.  We know it was real.

Today the people of China are being held captive behind what is commonly referred to as "The Great Firewall".  Internet access to news that we have here in the West is greatly restricted in China.  Information that is so readily available to us, and which we take for granted, is greatly restricted for the people of China.    All coverage of the 20th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall was blocked in China.  However, as we saw in Berlin, walls can not stand forever.  Even the "Great Firewall" of China has its chinks.

And so my hope is that similarly to the way we watched physical and figurative walls fall in Eastern Europe during the late 80's and early 90's, we will soon see the "walls" that surround China fall.  Along with many of the people there, we in the West also hope on their behalf for a government that is more inclined toward Democracy.  We hope for a society that values basic human rights for all its people.  We desire to see freedom of speech able to be exercised among the population there without them having to fear for their lives.  And we hope that someday soon the people of China will be able to publicly remember, honor and mourn for those who died in Tiananmen Square in June of 1989.  We hope that the government of China will own up to the errors of its past, learn from its mistakes and together with its people move into a future of freedom.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It's 2010

(almost)

I Must Have A Job Where I'm Allowed To Use A Computer!

For those of you just joining me, this is a continuation of two earlier posts from this past Tuesday and Wednesday.  The more I've been thinking about this past week and the things I talked about in Tuesday's and Wednesday's posts, the more I've realized that in the world in which we live it is not feasible to have a job where you are forbidden to use a computer!  I also have come to the conclusion that it is not an option to allow anyone, no matter who they are, to refuse to use a computer.  This realization inevitably will determine where I work.  So my decision is made.  It will not be at a job where I am forbidden to use a computer.

Additionally I have realized that not only do I need to continue to use the skills I already have, but I must continue to develop and explore new skills.  I need to be in an environment where there is opportunity and encouragement to investigate new programs and uses for technology.  I must be in an environment where I can share what I know with others, and where others are sharing what they know with me.  I need to be encouraged to make use of whatever technology I know how to use, and I must be given opportunity to explore, learn and use even more technology when it applies.  But certainly I can not be working in an environment where it is expected that I take steps backwards to a time when technology did not even exist.

At the present time, my "tech savvy", as it relates to technology and education, may not be too extensive when compared to some other educators, but I have been making use of what I've known was available to me.  I use Classroom Presenter when teaching, which allows me to not only write on my Tablet PC with my stylus while projecting to the screen at the front of the room, but also allows me to keep previous slides open so that I can go back if a student has a question.  (I love playing with all the different color pens and highlighters too.)  I can also import slides from other places into my current "deck" that I have open.  But it's even more useful than that.  Classroom Presenter is a handy little piece of free software that the students can also download to their laptops.  That way, if I should so choose, I can use a wireless router so that I can "broadcast" myself as the server and have the students use their laptops to connect to me.  The students can then have the same screen in front of them that I am writing on.  The great thing about it is that they can take notes right on top of my notes if they want, and then save it to their own laptop.  They can also open up blank slides if they want to add additional notes to mine and save their own "deck" on their laptop.  Also I can have them write/type something on their screens, like a practice problem, and then "send " to me and I can see what they just did.   I also have a web site.  If a student goes to my web site he/she can click on whatever class he/she is taking with me and then download the class notes from each day of class.  That way a student won't miss anything.  And the student also has all my notes right there in from of him/her for when he/she is doing homework or taking a test.  This is also a great way to be prepared ahead of time for an H1N1 outbreak.  Even if they can not make it to class, students will always be able to see what I taught each day in class.  Students can also download the syllabus and other forms or information related to the class.  Students can also access grades and attendance records.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, I use MathZone and MyMathLab in my math classes.  While my personal preference is MyMathLab, both are good programs.  Students can supplement in class instruction with additional "teaching" from e-professor, video examples, written explanations and free 24/7 online tutoring.

Until just a few months ago, I didn't even know what else was out there.  But since I've started following other educators on Twitter, I've learned that there is so much more to investigate, so much more to learn and so much more that I could potentially incorporate into my classes.  As I mentioned in Tuesday's post, the educators that I follow on Twitter have made me excited about the variety of opportunities to combine education and technology. I wish I had some of them close by so that I could get a little first hand coaching from them.  I've realized that what I've been doing so far in my classes is like just barely getting your toes wet in a swimming pool of technology.  Now, thanks to other educators, I know about Wikis, Voice Thread, Prezi, Wordle, Google Docs, classroom blogs, a web site called Visual Calculus, RealWorldMath.org, TheFuturesChannel.com, Learner.org, Xuru.org... and the list goes on and on.  I'm always getting links to all kinds of interesting information about technology in education.   I found out what Ning is - never heard of such a thing until a couple of months ago.  Now I belong to a couple of different networks.  Truthfully, my head is spinning.  But I think it's all very exciting.

So with all my excitement and desire to learn and explore more of this, I went off in search of other like-minded educators.  Where better a place to start I thought, than at my place of employment - a college.  Well.... suffice it to say that quickly got me nowhere.  However, I wasn't going to let that slow me down.  I figured I'd start inquiring of my students.  I figured surely the current generation would know what I was talking about.  After all, this is their world.  Surely out of the thousands of students cruising around on campus, someone must have seen some of this technology implemented in their K -12 years.  Well... if I thought students sometimes look at me like I have two heads when I try to explain math concepts, you should have seen how they looked at me when I started to inquire about these various uses of technology.  All of the students I talked to said they had never seen or heard of such things, and certainly not in use in a classroom setting.  And I really think they were being truthful.  But I didn't realize how truthful until this week when I was told by my department chair that the students were complaining about having to use the computer to do homework.

And that has about done me in.  As I mentioned in another post, I decided that this is one of those times where I take a break from the teaching relationship for a while.  I need some space.  I need a little breathing room.  I need time to process.  I need time to decide whether or not I am willing and/or able to continue to dwell in an environment where the individuals around me, be it my students, my colleagues or my superiors, are not aware or are trying to pretend that the world in general, and the world of education in particular, is not changing around them - literally exponentially with every passing day.  Do I want to be part of the reason that if a college student from 200 years ago walked into a college classroom today, he would not notice one thing different?  Do I want to be part of the reason that higher education is accused of not having changed in 400 years?  No, I have decided that at the moment I don't want that.

Now granted, math is a bit different from other topics.  It's not a psychology class where we can discuss how having to do math homework makes us feel.  And it's not a subject that lends itself to a lot of opportunity to discuss Health Care Reform.  It doesn't give a lot of room for debate about various medical ethics issues.  However, statistics does tie into many discussions such as debates about Health Care Reform and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I bet you could have some good discussion in 50 minutes about what kind of statistical "proof" students found to support one view or another.  Math is certainly something that shows up in the sciences and medical research.  Perhaps someone from a medical research institute could come in and talk to us about cellular research and exponential rates of growth when studying cells in a lab.  And thanks to TheFuturesChannel, I now have an idea about how to take an Intro to Algebra lesson about Co-Ordinate Systems and Relations and Functions and tie it into a discussion about endangered species.  Unfortunately, college classes tend to be very pressed for time.  And how much you can fit in varies from group to group depending on your students.  But these ideas are a start.  Can I work some of this into my classes?  I'd sure like to give it a try, even if it is only once or twice during a semester.  But it wouldn't depend only on me.  It would also depend on my students.  Something would be required of them also.  And it would involve a computer and a little research.

It is unlikely that I could transform math into a subject where students are lining up at the door to take a math class.  But I do know that it can be a little more than just lecturing and doing examples from each section of the text book and then having students regurgitate a problem that they had copied from the text.

However, none of this will ever happen if I have to give way to students who pretend that they can't figure out how to use a computerized homework program.  And so this past Friday I let my department chair know that I will not be available to teach in the Spring semester.  I chose not to expound on any of the reasons.  I just simply said that I will not be available to teach any classes.

However, I am not completely leaving the classroom.  I also teach part time at another local college.  And I will continue to do so.

I suppose on one level or another I'll always be teaching.  It's what I love and it's what I do.  And I'm good at it.  It may be in a classroom.  It may be in private tutoring.  It may be in the context of a different type of job altogether.  It may be that I am simply teaching my children each day as I am guiding them on their journey through childhood and into adulthood.  So in that respect it will always be happening.  But as far as the classroom goes... For the moment I will be spending a little less time there.

So we will see where my journey takes me next.  After the New Year, in addition to continuing to teach college math classes part time, it is my intention to be working part time in corporate again for a while.  I have no idea what I'll be doing there.  But whatever it is, I can guarantee that there will be a computer there and that it will be an integral part of my job.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Do We Intend to Answer President Obama's Call or Not?

Having a couple of days to think about the events that triggered Tuesday's post has resulted in bringing to the fore a variety of emotions.  The more I think about the current generation of students having the audacity to complain about having to do homework on the computer, the more I respond with shock, disbelief and disgust.  Surely you CAN NOT convince me that it is more difficult to maneuver your way around MathZone than it is to play WoW (sometimes during math class).  Who do these students think they are kidding?  Well, come to think of it, they are obviously pulling the wool over someone's eyes since there is a concern about students not being able to comfortably navigate their way through MathZone.

But more importantly, I also have been thinking about how President Obama recently called upon Community Colleges in particular to be there to carry students into the future as they turn more and more to Community Colleges in this difficult financial time.  It seems like the country is suddenly looking at Community Colleges in a new light.  We suddenly are being recognized for what we have been doing all along - preparing students for entering the work force or continuing on to a four year degree.  We've been doing our job all along, and we've been doing a good job all along.  But now suddenly all eyes are upon us.  They are looking to see if we can indeed deliver a competent work force.  They are looking at us to see if we can in fact deliver competent students to four year institutions.  And I must admit, that particularly under the glare of that spotlight, I am embarrassed to admit to the world that I am going to have to give way to students who refuse to be computer literate it the 21st century.  It is embarrassing and it is nothing short of unacceptable.

What are these students going to do in a couple of years when they find themselves required to work with different programs at their place of employment?  What are they going to do if they find the program to be a little clunky?  What are they going to do when the program doesn't generate reports as easily as they would like?  Are they going to fold their arms and refuse to work?  It's an interesting question, isn't it?

Now I understand that using MathZone isn't a life changing computer skill.  But it is a computer skill.  I have spent many years in corporate, and I've used plenty of "clunky" programs.  A lot of times I found myself saying "if I knew how to write code, I'd change this, this and this about this program".  A lot of times I commented that "the programmer obviously didn't ever need to use the program he/she wrote".  However, it was what I had.  So I learned it and I worked with it.  And I did a good job at it.

I also find it unacceptable that such a HUGE step backwards to doing homework by hand and grading homework by hand would even be given the slightest twinge of consideration in the year 2010 (or almost 2010).  We are looking at potentially changing the face of education over the next decade.  We blog about it, write dissertations about it, go to workshops about it, read books about it, tune in to webinars about it...  Colleges that are trying to sell themselves as "progressive" and "equipping students with 21st century skills" are featuring "blended classes".  Even K-12 is embracing it.  It is the wave of education that we are supposed to be riding.  Every article I've been reading over the past six months is indicating that "blended classes" seem to result in high levels of learning.  (Of course that may just be the advertising of the Colleges offering blended classes, but I don't think so.)  And what better way is there to move people in the direction of  "blended classes" than to offer them high quality face-to-face instruction while also offering them the option to watch e-professor if necessary, and then some homework questions online.  What more can a student ask for than to be offered instant feedback on every single homework problem? What more can a student ask for than to have an explanation and a free tutor available online 24/7 for every single homework problem?  What more can a student ask for than to have a detailed written explanation of their homework just a mouse click away?  What more can a student ask for than to be able to sit in class with face to face instruction and have the work explained to you and have your questions answered, and then follow that up by going home and having e-professor explain it again and walk you through homework problems?  What ever on earth would make them refuse to participate in such an opportunity; and not only refuse to participate, but to complain about it??

I'm truly confused.  And every minute that I sit here writing this and thinking about students refusing to do online homework, the more confused I'm getting.  What are they thinking??  And what are we thinking by allowing that??

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"You Will Be UNassimilated; Resistance Is Futile"

So.... yesterday I had a brief meeting with my department chair about what classes I'll be teaching next semester.  I was informed that for the upcoming Spring semester she is not giving me any College Algebra classes.  The reason you ask? Well, who ever knows what the truth really is, but I'll tell you the reason she gave me.  It's because I USE COMPUTERIZED HOMEWORK!!!

I guess that needs some explanation, so here it goes... In our College Algebra classes we use a book that ties into MathZone.  MathZone, for those of you not familiar with it, is a program for homework, generating tests, reporting various details about student progress (or lack thereof), etc.  Access to it comes free with the College Algebra book if you buy it new.  If you buy a used book, you do have to pay separately for access to MathZone.  However, since MathZone links to the book, if you take a class with me, you DON'T HAVE TO BUY A BOOK at all.  If you don't mind reading from an online book, for my classes, you can just purchase the access to MathZone, which is about 1/4 of the price of a hard copy of the book.  Once you have an account, it is valid for two years.  MathZone also gives you written and video explanations for practice problems in each section.  And you also have access to FREE online tutoring 24/7.  Any time day or night, you can click on the tutoring room.  If no one is live in there, then you just send your question, and someone, somewhere in the world will respond.  You will get a response 24/7.  Not bad so far, huh?

Well the deal gets even sweeter in my classes.  I have the homework set up so that at the end of each section there are about 12 or 15 mandatory problems that get graded.  When you go in to do them, I have a help button available that allows you to see a detailed, step-by-step example of a similar problem.  Then when you are done with the exercise set, you submit it.  The computer will then give you a print out of which problems you got right and which ones you got wrong.  Then it gets even better.  I have it set so that you can go back in a second time and fix the problems that you got wrong.  So you can potentially get a 100% on every homework assignment.  Pretty sweet, huh?

It gets even better...  I don't put any due dates on the homework.  This semester class ends at 11 AM on December 18.  So guess when the homework is due.  Correct!  On December 18 at 11 AM.  Now, of course, I strongly suggest to students that they do the 12 or 15 mandatory problems for each section after each class while it is still fresh in their minds.  But in case for some reason you don't have time to get to it, or you have a busy week, you can do it any time before December 18.  No points taken off for late work.  No penalties for not getting it done "on time".  No pressure in my classes about it at all.  Pretty nice deal, huh?

But wait, it gets even better... In my classes, homework counts as 50% of your grade.  Yes, that's correct.  I said 50%.  So basically if you are willing to take a little time each day to do 12 or 15 homework problems on the computer, you will be 50% of the way to getting an A!  IT'S ALMOST LIKE FREE POINTS!!!  I GIVE AWAY HALF THE GRADE PRACTICALLY FOR FREE!!  So what do you think?  Would you like to take a College Algebra class with me?

Oh, but wait.  There's more!  I do examples in class from the homework problems.  Additionally, because I use Classroom Presenter when I'm teaching, I save my notes from each class and I put them out on my web site.  You can download them any time you want.  You can use them while doing homework.  You can use them while taking a test.  If you want to print out your finished homework and bring it into a test with you and use it for notes, you can do that also.  So what do you think?  Would you like to be in one of my classes?

So now for the rest of the story...  THE STUDENTS ARE COMPLAINING ABOUT THIS ARRANGEMENT.  Yes, you did hear me correctly.  They are complaining that they don't like MathZone, it's too hard to use, they can't figure it out...  They are protesting that they "should not be required to do anything online for a class that is not online".  Yes, yes, you are hearing me correctly.  Supposedly this is a pretty frequent complaint.  Apparently even our online students don't like MathZone.

Now I will say that MathZone is a little clunky.  It takes a little getting used to.  It's annoying when you have to enter exponents.  It can be a little fussy about the way you enter an answer.  From my end, I think it's harder to work with than MyMathLab, which is the computer math homework program I use for my Intro to Algebra classes.  But even still....  HELLO!!!!  We are talking about a generation of people that were born with a computer chip implanted in their brain!!!

My students have absolutely NO problem figuring out how to play WoW, customize an avatar, maneuver their way around Second Life, update Facebook from their cell phones, have their Facebook updates sent to their cell phones...  They know how to use every single app out there.  They can figure out all the features on their $400 cell phones.  They know how to skype to one another across town or across the world.  They can figure out how to download music and videos to their iPod during math class....  Ok, you get the point.  And meanwhile, I'm still figuring out which button on my remote control is for the volume on my TV.

Am I the ONLY person seeing something wrong with this picture?????

I'm supposed to be the one resistant to technology, remember?  I'm the "old" and "out of touch" generation.  What is going on here????

I briefly expressed my disappointment to my department chair, but said little else.  Reason being that at 42 years old, I am by far (and I mean BY FAR) the youngest faculty member in sight.  I'm sure that my department chair not only has absolutely no idea of what kind of computer tech and gadgets are out there, but she also would have absolutely no idea comprehending what the students are able to do with it all (sometimes during math class).

So all of this was a great, great disappointment to me.  Now as I mentioned earlier, who knows what the truth really is?  I'm sure there is more that I'm not hearing or that I'm not privy to.  However, for the moment I have to go with the reason that I was given since it is all I have.

Since this past summer I have been trying very hard to familiarize myself with a lot of "Web 2.0" things that are out there and broaden my understanding of "21st Century Skills".  Educators that I follow on Twitter have been invaluable!!  I have been introduced to many things that I never knew existed.  I have learned so, so much from them and from the information that they have linked me to.  They have gotten me excited about looking into different things and trying to learn different things.  I have a long, long way to go, but I was so willing to learn.  There were ideas that I had that I wanted to try to incorporate into my math classes.  And I was depending on my "21st Century" students to go on this journey with me.  I figured they would be very ready to explore and jump into these things.  I thought maybe we could try them out together.  I was looking forward to some feedback from the current generation.

Yesterday all the wind went right out of my sails.

Thoughts, ideas, comments?  They are always welcome.

(Note:  Apparently, as of yet, no one is complaining about using MyMathLab which is the program that I use for my Intro to Algebra classes.  So next semester, I'll still be teaching those classes.)