Monday, April 30, 2007

Study Days

We're in that short pause between the end of classes and the beginning of finals. One of the grad students thinks that we should have none of this; he believes classes should end on a Friday, and then exams should start on Monday. Local merchants would disagree, as the study days bring swifter sales of alcohol than any other time of the year -- even more than Big Games.

The faculty who gather at lunch time have stopped daring each other to call HR to find out what we'd need to do to get suspended with pay. The new plan has something to do with wishing that we were no longer a dry campus and opening a pub (a nice one, with a patio) outside the math building as a venture to make up part of our department's budget shortfall.

Since student don't have classes (and since they, apparently, aren't studying), this also brings them to my office. While I don't have any finals this week, I will probably be in the office every day.

My independent study student stopped by. I'm finally getting into the rhythm of this slightly chaotic program of study that we've set up for this semester, and I can now manufacture an activity without much planning. He loves math -- he just doesn't know very much of it. Today I asked him to create a number system using the symbols 0, A, B, C, D and to explain how to express numbers in his system and how addition and multiplication worked. He invented a variant of binary but without any sense of place value and without a decent way to express numbers larger than 16. Afterwards I taught him base 5 and explained how bases work.

A junior who has failed calculus three times came into my office to ask for permission to take it again. Once you fail a math class three times, you can't just sign up for it. I learned that he has no problems passing his OTHER classes, just calculus. (There's the basic dichotomy that I need to sort out in these cases: bad at school? or just bad at math?) Not only has he failed it three times, but he has failed it three times while taking it from some of our best instructors. I told him that I'd let him sign up for it again over the summer but if he thinks that he's going to pass this class while working full time that he's probably wrong. I told him that he should get a used algebra book and spend some time reviewing before the summer term starts. I also told him that since he already owns the calculus textbook (and since we cover the same material in every section, every term) that he needs to start NOW on doing every single odd problem in the book, checking the answers in the back, and trying them again until he gets them right.

I only put in a half day in the office. Finally got around to getting my toenails done so that I need no longer be embarrassed by wearing open toe shoes on these nice summery days. Wore my new brown shirt-dress from Target, and since it was really warm out, I went with sandals instead of brown stripey socks and my brown Converse sneakers.

Tomorrow's schedule involves (in addition to a haircut) meeting with at least one of my students as well as taking advantage of the non-having of classes to get some time in the big lecture hall to play with some of my technology toys. I need to optimize the combination of showing (computer) slides, annotating of slides with the stylus (SMART Sympodium), and asking questions with the Clicker software. Unfortunately, carrying this out may require the use of PowerPoint (I prefer Keynote). Fortunately, the university's new MacBook was sent home with the MS Office install disc; as both MBs are black, I mistakenly installed Office on mine before I realized what I was doing. Oops. My explorations will be incomplete, as my gyroscopic mouse just shipped today and won't be arriving until later this week. I'm also thinking of buying a frickin' laser beam in green.