Thursday, February 08, 2007

Weird, But I'll Take It

Gave the second exam today in calculus. As expected, there was a bit of a drop off from the first exam to the second, but not too much. Five Fs (in a class of 30). Two of them from students who got Fs on the first exam (calculus doesn't get easier), one from a student who showed up 30+ minutes late to the exam, and two from students who got a bit too over-confident after scoring well on the first exam.

Even so, the overall class mean is a B+ and the median is an A. There is one student with a 100% average.

Odd, odd, odd.

This is the fourth semester in a row that I've taught calculus, and this is the first time that the median has been appreciably above a D. Rarely do I have more than half of the students pass with a C or better.

My guess is that some quirk of the schedule means that students taking honors chemistry or honors physics or some other technical honors class can only fit calculus into their schedule at the exact time that I"m teaching it. Seems much more likely than the possibility that I've somehow become all of a sudden more skilled at teaching calculus.

One change that I have made, though, is that instead of assigning a mix of easy and hard homework problems (as suggested on our departmental syllabus), I have assigned all of the routine exercises from the calculational part of the book, telling the students that if they find the problems easy that they can just do the evens, and if they find them really easy then just do every other even. I used to feel bad about assigning too many routine problems because I hated having to do problems like that when I was a student. But then I remember that I'm probably smarter than some of them and that I probably went to a better high school than the ones that are smarter than me, so my students probably really do need to be told to do all these calculus problems. (If you are at least as smart as me and went to a high school at least as good as the one that I went to, you almost certainly would have taken BC Calculus and scored well on the AP exam -- meaning you wouldn't be in the class that I'm teaching now.) By giving them the option to halve or quarter the assignment, I don't feel too bad. My thought is that if the problems really are very easy for a student, then it isn't too much effort to evaluate a handful integrals. And if they aren't easy, then you need to do more problems until they become easy. And the students who just turn in a fraction of the assignment even though they clearly don't get it? I hassle them: "Looks like you need to practice more of these if you expect to know this for the next exam."

I'll report back in a few weeks. If my students understand the Taylor series, then I'll know that someone is playing some sort of weird joke on me and has hired a bunch of imposters to pretend to be freshmen in calculus.