Monday, March 29, 2010

Kitchen Haiku

Beautiful Kitchen
I had you spotlessly clean
Then my kids came home

Friday, March 26, 2010

College Cinquain

A place to learn
Things mom never told you
Unlimited education
Starts here

In Late Fall

last of foliage
midst tiny bullets of snow
clings to moonlit trees

College Life Haiku

beer, sex, weed, parties
college life philosophy
oh yeah, and classes

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Letter to my Department Chair and the Dean of Student Affairs

Over the past couple of weeks a few things have occurred in the education/teaching segment of my life.  Each one left me with my thoughts churning.  However, when I tried to sit down and express it in such a way that it could be condensed into effective written communication, I was at a loss for words. (I know, hard to believe about me.) 

One of the changes this term is the "conditional acceptance" classes at one of the colleges where I teach.  I am currently teaching two of those classes.  These classes are part of a number of changes that have been going on there over the past couple of years.  These classes are a result of the fact that the college now administers the Wonderlic Test to all incoming students.

 If a student scores 19 or below, they must take "conditional acceptance" classes, which, of course, they must pay for.  A student must get a C or better in these classes or they will not be accepted to the college.

Since the students in these classes typically do not have a history of academic success, we keep a close eye on their progress in the opening weeks.

 If there is any indication of lack of progress, we immediately alert the Academic Assistance Center and work with the Center and the student in order to get the student the help they need in order to be successful in these classes

That said, I have decided to post the letter that I wrote today to my Department Chair and the Dean of Student Affairs.  The following is some insight into my recent weeks in the education arena.  (I did not include the pictures in my email.  I just enjoyed inserting them in my blog)

Dear __________,

I have several students in the M/W class that are causing me concern as far as their academic success goes. I wanted to bring this to your attention at this point since a couple of terms ago there had been some question as to why my students were getting good grades on homework and poor grades on tests. So here goes...

In the past, as you know since the department grading system was set for us, I factored homework grades into the final grade. It was an opportunity for students to receive some points for the time and effort they put into homework. However, as we all know, when doing homework, students can beg, borrow, steal, cheat, have a fancy calculator do it for them (if they know how to program it), have an online program do it for them (there are plenty of them out there), or whatever other means they deem necessary in order to get a good grade on homework.

 Therefore it is very possible, and in some cases quite likely, to get very good grades on homework and have no clue whatsoever what you are doing. Therefore a more accurate litmus test was the in-class tests themselves. On these, the students who chose to not do their own homework or got "help" with it ended up with very poor grades.

Now fast forward to this term...

As you know from the syllabus, homework does not actually factor into the grade (unless you want to give it a few points for the attendance/participation portion of the points). Because of this, and given the fact that these students are well into adulthood, I have left them to self-monitoring their homework. I have used a 1 question "pop quiz" or a few random homework problems to count as part of the participation points. However, they are on their own with the amount of homework they actually do. I suspect some students are doing none of it.

Additionally, there are several students in the class who have informed me a number of times that they "don't need this class", they "already know how to do all the work", etc. They don't pay a bit of attention to the instructions and methods that are being taught for how to do the math and they ignore the notes I put on the overhead. I know this because in the past couple of weeks I have given 1 "pop quiz" and checked 2 assignments. Even when the answers are correct, the method of approach is completely wrong. Therefore, as the math continues to get harder, the student will be totally unprepared.

(Please trust me on this. I have been tutoring/teaching math for 25 years - literally everything from Counting to Calculus, 4 year olds to 70 year olds.)

Since I understand the gravity of the situation, and what it means if a student does not pass this class, I am bringing it to your attention now. I am not sure that some of the students in that M/W class will be able to pass. If they do manage to squeak out a C, I can assure you that they will in no way be prepared to flourish in another, more difficult math class if they are required to take one.

All of my teaching is done with the idea of preparing students for math beyond the extremely elementary level at which the first couple of weeks of the term starts. I know my subject and I handle it well. I know what is coming and what it takes to be prepared. My goal for every student is that they have methods and conceptual understanding that will allow them to succeed as the level of difficulty increases. If a student refuses to trust my teaching at an elementary level, there is no possible way that they can be prepared as the assignments become more difficult Even in this class, I doubt they will be able to do the math required by the end of the term.

Besides the immaturity of having a student say "my other math teachers never taught it that way", or "I've never seen it done that way before", or "well I think that the way I do it works ok", there is the problem that they don't understand that it is precisely that attitude which landed them in a developmental level math class.

 Whatever previous teachers did or did not do or teach I obviously can not say. But this much I know; if the student had grasped the material to the level that they are trying to convince me of, I would be teaching a College Calculus class right now and not addition and subtraction of fractions!

Please do not misunderstand that last comment either. I love to teach at any level. And frankly, I find lower levels of mathematics much more practical, since it is what 95% of the population uses most of the time, and therefore it is enjoyable to teach - seeing that I tend to lean toward practicality by nature. However, I do also understand that there is math beyond where these students are right now. And if they are ever to be truly prepared, they must conceptually learn the material. There is no other choice. Therefore it is the way I teach. I teach with both present and future success in mind.

All of that said, I would like some input from you as to how I should proceed from here. These students are going to fall behind in the coming weeks as the pace and difficulty level increases. Some of them are already behind, although they don't realize or believe it yet. Furthermore, they will not be able to learn if they are convinced that they "already know all this stuff" and "the way they've always done it works fine". In order for them to be successful, they are first going to have to accept the fact that they don't know everything. After that they are going to have to accept the fact that long term success in mathematics requires you to be willing to wire your brain for conceptual understanding, NOT quick tricks.

Please understand that I am a teacher. It is where my heart is. And to me that means that I give my students the conceptual understanding that they need to succeed now and in any future math endeavor.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Math, Marriage, Music...

and other musings

What exactly is a "better half"? 

As with most things, this blog has been churning around in my head for a while.  But it really started taking shape a couple of weeks ago on Valentine's Day.  I was poking around on twitter profiles, as I sometimes do, just to see what people were saying, and I found a comment on someone's page that referred to their girlfriend as their
"better half".  I'm familiar with the phrase "my other half" or "my better half".  In my younger day it was a phrase reserved for describing marriage relationships.

   But I've noticed, as of late, that it has made its way into any kind of relationship where there is some sort of understanding between two people - even though there may be no intention whatsoever of the relationship ever becoming permanent.  Oh, and I've also noticed that when I hear it I can safely bet that it means "we are sleeping together".

Well... sleeping together you may be.  And when it comes to having sexual intercourse, I guess that does involve two people participating in one event simultaneously.  So perhaps you are drawing some sort of idea of "two halves make a whole" from that.

 Or maybe you just simply use the expression to refer to your current boyfriend/girlfriend.  Perhaps you are referring to the fact that the two of you are currently in one relationship together, and therefore you think that each of you makes up a half.  I don't know.  But either way, I do have an opinion.  If that's all it is to you, then your understanding of relationship mathematics is quite limited.

At any rate, this reference to a "better half" set me to thinking.  "My other half" or "my better half" is not an expression I use when referring to my husband.  I don't think that I intentionally avoid it.  I just don't use it.  And when I thought about that, I began to wonder how I would describe my relationship.

Wow... That's an incredible question...  What came to my mind was not words.  When thinking about that question, the answer seemed to transcend words.  My mind began to generate images, but not ones that I could describe.
  Also in my mind's ear it was like I was listening to music, but I could not describe the sound.
 In the core of my being I had feelings that I'm sure I could never explain.  And yet words are how we humans communicate for the most part.  So how to explain?

I wondered...  If I had to explain it using math, would I use "halves"?  No.  It doesn't do justice to the relationship. I am a whole.  And yet I am not the same whole that I was 15 years ago - or even 15 days ago.  The relationship is always changing me.  I am a whole, my husband is a whole.  At the same time the marriage is a whole.  But it's so much more.  It's many pieces contributing to one whole.  Would a mosaic better describe it?  I don't know. 
 And it is always getting deeper, deeper, larger, larger... But it remains one whole.  The mystical and spiritual beauty of it is that neither of us exists outside of the whole of marriage.  And yet, at the same time we are each a separately functioning whole.  How do you describe it?  You can't.

Perhaps dimensions would serve us better?  We each brought a dimension into the relationship. 

 The marriage added another dimension.  We each were separate lines.  But is that fair to say?  I don't think that we were only one dimensional before the relationship.  Because separately we each had all that we needed to have in order to be all that we needed to be until the point when we joined in the relationship. Then we joined.  Were we two lines that each brought a dimension and then marriage gave us the third?

No, that doesn't quite do it either.

Let's try music...  Was I only notes on a page before I met my husband?
  Was he the voice that gave sound to the notes?

  No... It's more than that.  Let me try again... Were we both notes on the page and marriage is the instrument that gave us sound?   Or perhaps we were like separate keys on a piano that have the potential to harmonize beautifully together but only a skilled pianist can bring out the fullest sound.  Is marriage that pianist?  Was I a melody that was recognizable before but now, under the skilled fingers of marriage, I have become part of beautiful harmony?  And if so, then who is marriage?...

 And it breaks down again... Because my husband and I are the marriage.  So how is it that we can be the marriage and yet at the same time need the marriage to bring out all that is there?  I don't know.  Words fail me.

We are separate and yet we are one... We are a part and yet we are a whole...  We are intertwined so that one can not be defined without the other, and yet you who are looking on see us separately.  My soul, the core of my being, is so tightly interwoven with my husband that I can not so much as take a breath without it affecting him and vice-versa.

 And yet we don't share a soul.  We are separate.  We think differently.  We reason differently.  We act and react differently.  We rejoice differently and we grieve differently.  We are each responsible for our own choices.   And yet every step that each of us takes, every choice that each of us makes, the other one of us feels and is affected by its consequences.

I am not a half.  A half implies that it can be broken from the whole.  I can't be broken from the whole.  If death were to separate us, I would not revert back to the person I was before the marriage.  The tapestry of my soul has the fabric of my husband woven right into it.  It is not possible to remove him from the tapestry of my soul.  Death can only do so much, but it lacks the power to destroy the tapestry.

Sometimes other tragedies happen in life.  Sometimes, sadly, relationships end in divorce.  But divorce can only do so much.  It does not have the power to revert you back to the person you were before the relationship.

And yet, that person that I was before I joined the relationship is alive and well.  But at the same time she is gone.  How to explain it?  I don't know.  The person I was on the day my husband met me has, over the past 15 years, become a richer, fuller person.  But at the same time my very soul has been altered by marriage so that I am no longer the person I used to be.  How can this be?  I have contributed to this marriage.  But have I contributed to these changes in myself?  I do not know.

I don't think I did this topic justice at all...  My mind is still bursting with images and sounds.  My soul is feeling what words have no power to express. 

But this much I know... I am not a half.