Jessica: Initial Successes and Challenges

Jessica Williams is an Assistant Professor at Converse College.

The upcoming week will be the fourth of my semester. I am currently operating IBL style (but with a textbook) in my Real Analysis class, and I have Calculus III and Pre-Calculus doing much more activity-based work or presentation of problems at the board, though I am still lecturing.

So far… things are going pretty well! I am lucky to have only 11 students in Real Analysis and I know most of them from previous semesters, so that they trust me (sort of) and are comfortable talking to each other and me.

Successes:

1) In Real Analysis I am modifying Annalisa Crannell’s IBL worksheets for my own use. The worksheets are wonderful and follow the book Understanding Analysis by Stephen Abbott, which is what I learned out of as an undergraduate and what I had committed to using before ever attending the IBL workshop. The students seem to be really enjoying working together on them, and in the first couple of weeks I had no shortage of volunteers to go to the board to present. One student exclaimed on the very first day, “This class is going to be awesome, I’m so excited!”

2) I modified Dana Ernst’s Setting the Stage activity in different ways and used in all of my classes on the first day, and this was a total success. (Thanks, Dana!) My students were in groups, discussing, engaging, and sharing with the class right away because of this activity, and I think that has significantly improved my classroom environments. In addition to my math courses, I’m teaching a class called Student Success Seminar (which I jokingly call “Intro to College 101”). The Setting the Stage activity went so well in there that my teaching partner shared it with other colleagues, and I have received praise all around for how well I’m doing teaching this class for the first time.

Challenges:

1) Made a student cry on the very first day! I made the first week of Analysis a series of worksheets called “Proofs Bootcamp,” since some of the students have never had a proofs class before, whereas others have had many (this is ongoing challenge and common in my department since we offer upper level courses mostly on a two-year rotation). This was intended to help get everyone a little closer to being on the same playing field. A notoriously tender-hearted student who is enrolled in both Calculus III and Analysis with me burst into tears while working with her group on the proofs bootcamp packet. A week later she came to me and said she had started to really enjoy the class. In particular, she claimed to like getting to see other students’ solutions on the board because it helped her understand how to think through the problems. Win! However, we soon hopped back on the roller coaster, as she came to my office in tears again before class on Thursday. She felt she couldn’t understand most of the recently assigned problems and communicated the fear of “getting a bad grade.” I have tried to set up assessment in this course so that homework is very much an opportunity to try and fail without penalty, so I’m wondering how to better assuage the fear of the bad grade (at least until exam time).

2) I feel like I’m moving at an absolute snail’s pace in all three of my classes. I was warned about feeling this way by basically everyone, so I’m not stressing too hard about it.

3) I find myself still functioning as the “expert” in the room, so this week I’m going to make a real attempt to only let other students comment/correct for the majority of the class. In class this past Thursday there was a huge decrease in volunteers to present the problems they were supposed to have worked on since Tuesday. There seemed to be a general fog around the definitions, which prohibited them from even starting. I ended up at the board for several minutes to dissect the definitions of maximum, upper bound, and supremum. I hope to pass on such a task to the students next time. I’m thinking of handing each student in the room a colored marker and telling them I’m not going to allow myself to have one at all. Until Tuesday’s class, to help with their fear of starting on problems they have no idea how to solve and to convince them how important it is to really engage with the definitions first, I told them to read the Medium post Habits of Highly Mathematical People. This appeared on my Facebook feed recently, and I really enjoyed the read.

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