Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Know Your Audience: A Success Story

I have become used to receiving less-than-well-thought-out messages from students. I routinely receive angry emails where the student insults me and my work and then demands that I grant a special dispensation or that I intervene in a delicate situation and advocate on the student's behalf.

In contrast to these experiences, it was truly delightful for me to grade one of the projects that I received in response to my open-ended assignment. My student wrote about math in popular music, identified several songs that used the language and imagery of mathematics, explained the mathematics to the extent that it related to our course, and made me a mix CD. While the paper did not show any flashes of mathematical brilliance, it was well-done and clearly showed effort and comprehension at or above that of most students in the class.

But what really stood out was the CD. The music of the early 1990s was strongly represented: Violent Femmes, the Schoolhouse Rock Rocks compilation, TMBG, The Breeders (including a song from Pod, which may very well be my favorite album of all time). Great stuff. Nostalgia for more interesting times in my life meeting up with a student taking a risk with a non-conventional response to the assignment: what's not to like? And now I have some more music to listen to in my car.