Wednesday, May 7, 2008

So, really, where do I begin?

I am trying to get myself psyched up to take my final tomorrow, but I am at a point, now, where there is just so much to take into consideration–so much information to review–that I don’t really know where to begin. This happens to me sometimes when I’m cleaning my apartment. I get so overwhelmed by the task that I just can’t seem to get started. Does this ever happen to you?
I know that I am supposed to break everything into small chunks, and then tackle one chunk at a time, but even that can get difficult when you realize that for the chunks to be really, truly manageable, there needs to be about two hundred of them.

I am trying very hard to view obstacles as opportunities to learn and/or grow, so I’ve been thinking of what I can learn/how I can grow from this. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
  1. Weekly quizzes are awesome because they allow you to break the material into manageable chunks for the students. This makes it easier for students to study because it’s easier to study a small chunk of the material each week than it is to study a huge chunk of the material for a test twice a semester.
  2. Weekly quizzes also provide (nearly) immediate feedback and allow students to self-evaluate. “How well did I do on this quiz? What study habits do I need to change?”
  3. Frequent, regular tests are important, too, because they provide a reason to re-review the material that was studied when preparing for the quizzes. Students–yes, even undergrad and grad students!–never seem to really believe that there will be a final, even when it’s in the syllabus. They rely on rote memorization and then “dump” the information after submitting their quizzes.
  4. Having only one exam–a final!–is a bad idea. It’s an even worse idea to refrain from mentioning the final until the very last class day. Doing this forces students to cram for the exam, encouraging rote memorization, and rote memorization is not learning.
  5. It is a better idea to separate assignments so that students have something due every day rather than having two things due every other day. (The only exception is portfolios. I think portfolios are a great idea for older, more mature students). Requiring an assignment every single day ensures that students are spending a certain amount of time out of class every day on the subject. (This isn’t as helpful in a college setting or in high schools who follow alternating block schedules because students are still able to procrastinate.)
I cannot wait until this final is over–not just because I need a break (I do!), but also because it means I will be one step closer to the summer classes I’ll be taking, and I am super excited about my summer classes (even though I’m a little anxious/scared/apprehensive of plane geometry) because I can’t wait to get back into education classes.

I really like math; it appeals to my analytic mind and keeps my brain from rusting, but it can be pretty easy to get bogged down in the math courses and lose sight of the goal of my education: complete preparation for teaching. When I’m taking education classes, even when I’m stressing over lesson plans or presentations or saying something dumb in front of “my peers” (who all seem to have been in 400 education classes that I’ve never even heard of), I get excited because these classes (and the instructors who teach them) are helping me make obvious progress towards my goals. It helps, too, that every education instructor I’ve had has taken a genuine interest in my life and the lives of my classmates, encouraging us to draw on our own experiences when deciding how to approach teaching.

I think that is biggest thing that draws me to teaching (other than, you know, shaping young minds). I love that one hundred different people could approach teaching in one hundred different ways, and every single one of them can be successful, every one can reach students, touch lives. That’s pretty amazing.