Monthly Archives: June 2012

My First Commencement

This May I attended my first ever commencement as a faculty member.  I really didn’t know what to expect.  People I know who teach at other colleges told me to expect two things – that it would be a very enjoyable experience to see so many students walk across the stage and that it would be very hot sitting on stage.  Both of those expectations definitely held true.  Five of my former students walked across the stage and I clapped and cheered for all five of them.  And it was very hot sitting on the stage.  The room that we were in was the only room in the entire building that was not climate controlled.  The rest of the building had air conditioning, just not the room that we sat in for a dreadful 105 minutes in hot caps and gowns.

But there is a point to this story.  As a part-time instructor, I always wanted to attend commencement to cheer on my students.  However, there were multiple reasons why I didn’t.  One of the reasons was that I was always teaching at another college when commencement was going on.  The other reason was that I felt a little awkward going to cheer on students as they graduate from college with the hopes that the degree they just earned would help them get a new job, when I actually didn’t believe it was true.  I had been applying for full-time jobs for at least six years with no avail.  How could I encourage students that it would be OK and that they would be able to find a job after graduation, when I couldn’t even find a job myself?

Of course, I have known many part-time instructors over the years who work full-time somewhere else, so they never had this issue.  But for someone who worked part-time as a sole means of a making a living, I felt like I would have been a different class than everyone else at the commencement.  Even after attending my first commencement, I still don’t know if this would have been true or not.  I felt strange simply being the only math instructor sitting on the stage.  I felt strange sitting on stage surrounded by other faculty members who are PhD graduates, when I am so close to getting my PhD, but just haven’t cared to finish yet.  I felt strange sitting on stage with my cap put on backward because I put it back on incorrectly after taking it off during the Pledge of Allegiance.  I felt strange sitting right behind the President of the College and knowing that my face was probably on camera on the big screens during the entire ceremony.  I felt strange having people cheer and clap for me, when I thought it was supposed to be a day for the students, not for the faculty.  I felt strange finding out after the whole thing that the cap and gown I was wearing was rented, which means I have no clue how many other people have sat on a stage and sweated in it just like I have.

And yet, despite everything that was strange in my mind about this night, I have to say that I would definitely do it again.  It was worth it to be able to tell my five students that walked across the stage that night that I was there to support them.  It was worth it to have my students tell me that it was great to have been remembered as a student in my class.  It was worth it to see the excitement and happiness on everyone’s face that night.  I came out of this night learning something myself – that commencement isn’t a night to feel strange at all.  It is a night to celebrate.  It’s a night to celebrate the students and all that they have done to get where they are today.  It’s a night to show support for the importance of education.  It’s a night to let loose and forget about the past and look forward to the future.  For the student, a future of being one more step closer to getting the job of their dreams.  And for the instructor, a future of being one more step closer to being able to make a positive impact on the life of another student. 

That’s what educators are supposed to do.  I think somewhere along the line I missed that point.  I missed the fact that above all, I needed to believe in the system.  I needed to believe that as an educator, one of my primary roles is to make a positive impact on the life of my students.  If I was able to do this as a part-time instructor, congratulations to me, because it is quite hard to do this as a part-time instructor


My Thoughts on Teaching Everyday Math

This semester I had the pleasure of teaching a fairly new course at my college called, “Everyday Math.”  The class consists of several major units:

  • Management Sciences (Graph Theory)
  • The Science of Data (Statistics and Probability)
  • Voting and Social Choice
  • Fairness and Game Theory
  • The Digital Revolution (Cryptography)
  • Your Money and Resources (Interest)

At the beginning of the semester I was complaining about this class because it seemed like there was a lot of material to cover in so little time.  By the end of the semester, I actually had an extra day to spare, but that was partially because I had planned for a snow day that we never had this year.  It was quite a warm winter (maybe the next time I teach this class I can add a section on weather analysis).

Overall, I have to say that I really enjoyed teaching this class.  It is the only class that I have ever had where there has been only 1 person drop the entire semester.  I also had 3 additional people stop coming that did not withdrawal from the course.  There could be plenty of reasons for this phenomenon, but my suspicion is that it is due to the fact that this class did not have a cumulative final exam.

What would I change about this class?   I think I would change many of the same things that my students would choose to change.  First, we need a change of textbook.  I like the flow of the class, but there were a few oddball things thrown in here and there that were given without justification since the textbook was trying to keep the actual mathematics to a minimum.  I understand that the intent of the book was to make the reading less intimidating for non-mathematics majors, but sometimes justification is still necessary.  The good news is that the book is being changed for the fall.

Second, I would like to see more time devoted to Fairness and Game Theory, or else have the unit eliminated altogether.  I thought it was a very interesting unit, but because we did not cover it for a substantial amount of time compared to the other units, the students were more confused than they probably should have been.

The comment that I heard most often from my students is that this really is not a class that involves mathematics that you will do every day.  I have to agree with this statement given that the majority of the material in the course I had to teach myself as the semester went along since I had never been taught the material myself when I was in school.  But what I can say is that this class gave me, as well as many of my students, a new perspective on mathematics.

Is there really a good name for this class?  Is there really a name that could encompass the essence of what this class is about?  I honestly think that “Perspectives of Everyday Math” might do the trick.  I think that the whole idea of this class was to get a different perspective and understanding of the mathematics that is used in our everyday lives.  I know that I have a different understanding of the world around me than I did just a few months ago.  For example, I now know that I can use mathematics to figure out a random person’s driver’s license number in fewer than two minutes.

Career Day at the Ballpark

On Thursday, May 17, I had the displeasure of being at Comerica Park for Career Day at the Ballpark.  I can honestly say that if I would have known it was Career Day (shame on me for not checking), I would have exchanged my ticket for another game.

When I got to the game, there were squatters sitting in my seats.  When I asked them to move, I could barely get to my seats because the kids had left half-eaten hot dogs and other half-chewed food items all over in front of the seats.  The parents told me it was okay to step on the stuff, but who really wants to get mustard all over the bottom of their shoes?

When I sat down, to the left of me was a guy who had no shame in spreading his legs apart, waving his arms in front of me, smelling like crap, and throwing food scraps at me.  And to the right of me was the mother of the child who had to be removed from my seats.  The mother was so large that her leg was half-way on top of my leg the entire game.  My comfort level during the game was very low.

In addition to all of this, the kids who were in my seats ended up moving to their seats, 1 row behind me and 4 seats to the left of me.  So, the mother was turned to the left for most of the game trying to talk to her kids that were behind me.  And the majority of the discussion was about how the kid gets motion sick on buses and so they weren’t sure if she should take the bus home from Career Day, or ride in the car.  This is definitely not a discussion that I wanted to have any part in and it’s definitely not a discussion that needed to be talked about for the majority of the game.

All the meanwhile, I have to think, what was the educational value of this trip to the ballpark?  When I was in school our career day was a few tables with brochures set-up at a table during lunch.  And if we wanted to investigate a career more in-depth, we signed up for a job shadowing opportunity.  I remember that I signed up to job shadow at a café and I ended up making pastries all day long.  I learned something about working in food service that day.  I have a feeling that the kids who attended career day at the ballpark learned little to nothing since they were probably more focused on the experience of being at the ballgame than on learning about careers.

Also, I am a little peeved that my tax dollars are going to fund trips to the ballpark like this.  In times when schools are struggling for money and students many times don’t even have textbooks – why is the money that they do have being spent on shipping their kids to the ballpark?  Even if the schools are charging their kids for the trips, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that the buses are having unnecessary miles put on them – extra wear and tear on school busses that many school districts are already claiming need to be replaced.

I am also peeved that the students are being excused from class on a school day for a trip like this.  If the trip were in the evening or on the weekend, would I be a little sympathetic to this?  Definitely.  But in a time when teachers are complaining that they don’t have enough time to teach all the material that is on the upcoming standardized test that is always around the corner, do students really have time to be out of the classroom?  Definitely not.

Furthermore, I don’t think it is appropriate to go on a school sanctioned trip in which schoolchildren are exposed to an environment where people are drinking, using foul language, and are dressed provocatively.  I don’t mind when families go to the ballpark (actually I do because some people don’t know how to sit still themselves, let alone their kids), but at least when the parents are sitting with their children, they are not out at the ballpark being exposed to these things when they should be in school.

Thus, obviously, I am not a fan of Career Day at the Ballpark.  Please remind me not to forget to check what day it is next year.

Summer Plans 2012

So, this is my annual post where I organize my thoughts on what I need to get done before the end of this summer.  If I recall, last summer my plans fell into 5 categories.  I will try to sort my thoughts for this summer in a similar manner.

1.   Conferences:  This summer the conferences I am attending fall into multiple categories:  the ones that I was supposed to present at, the ones that I am presenting at, and the ones that I am not presenting at.

  • eCOTS (Electronic Conference on Teaching Statistics) – I was supposed to record a presentation for this on-line conference, but the conference organizers did not return my e-mails reminding them that they had not yet set-up a time to record.  Oh well.  Here you can a version of what I was going to record.
  • MIJEC (Michigan Joint Education Conference), June 18, Ypsilanti, MI.  The title of my presentation is “Using Games and Activities to Engage and Connect Mathematics across the Curriculum.”
  • MICTM (Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics), August 1-2, Traverse City, MI.  The title of my presentation is “Teaching Important Concepts through the Use of Games in the Classroom.”
  •  Screencast Camp, August 3-5, Okemos, MI.  Yes, technically this is an ‘unconference,’ but I learned enough at Screencast Camp last year that I think it qualifies as a conference.  And here is my video overview of what I learned at last year’s camp.
  • MCC Math & Tech Workshop, August 6-10, Muskegon, MI.  Yes, technically this is a ‘workshop,’ and I am not even really attending it.  I just have plans to hang out with the people for the week and volunteer if I am needed.

If you did not notice, the last three bullet points put me on the road from August 1 through August 10.  This means that you should not try to contact me during that time as I will probably be unavailable.  But then again, that is not true at all since more than likely I will be more attached to my computer during that week or so than any other time during the summer.

2.  Teaching:  I am teaching a meager 3 courses as well some math workshops for my college’s Achieving the Dream Initiative this summer.  They are Mathematics for Education I, Intermediate Algebra, and Mathematics for Education II.

  • Mathematics for Education I – I just finished teaching this class in the Winter Semester that just ended.  I will be making three minor changes to this class:  I will not be using MyMathLab in the summer since I was unable to have the book request in on-time, I will give my class a course pack at the onset of the semester to limit the number of handouts I pass out throughout the semester, and I will be using Canvas as the LMS instead of using ANGEL.
  • Intermediate Algebra – I have not taught this class since last Fall Semester.  The only changes I plan to make are to give my class a course pack and to use Canvas as the LMS instead of using ANGEL.
  • Mathematics for Education II – I have not taught this class using this book yet (and the sad part is that it is the only time that I will be teaching this class using this book since we are changing the book).  I have a massive amount of prep to do for this class still and that will take up a good portion of my summer.
  • Achieving the Dream Workshops – This semester I signed up for a supplemental assignment at my college to develop a 2-day Math Workshop on Factoring Trinomials as part of my college’s Achieving the Dream Initiative.  The hardest part – developing the coursepack for the workshop – is already done.  The workshops will occur sometime in the middle of June.

3.  Events:  Over my first year as a full-time math instructor, I have finally picked up a hobby – watching Detroit Tigers baseball!  Having a hobby is something that I never had time for as a part-time instructor.  I would teach 7 days a week (on-line teaching never stops), and in my spare time I would grade papers or start getting ready for the next class.  Here is a short list of some of the things I plan to do this summer:

  • See Detroit Tigers games
  • See opera at the Detroit Opera House
  • Attend a Mosaic Youth Theatre musical
  • Attend a play at Meadowbrook Theatre
  •  Volunteer at Rochester Heritage Days
  • Attend a play by Stagecrafters in Royal Oak
  • Go on walking tours with Preservation Detroit
  • Attend a concert somewhere in West Michigan
  •  Attend the Michigan Green Living Festival

And this is all of the stuff that I am planning to do before my extended trip to Traverse City, Lansing, and Muskegon, from August 1 – 10.  Most of the events are in Detroit.  Maybe that is a hint to me that I should move closer to Detroit?

4.  Big Projects:  Everyone always has some “big projects” that they want to get done during the summer.  These are the ones that top my list, at least the ones that I can actually tell you about.

  • Finalize the results on the supplemental instruction program that I piloted with the statistics classes at my college this semester.  Preliminarily, it appears that there was a significant increase in the final exam scores over the previous semester; however, there was not a significant change in the final grade in the class.
  • Work on creating some new math games for the presentations I am giving later this summer and for a presentation I am developing with a colleague at my collage who works in the ESL department.  Yes, I know, it is about time that I add some new games to my website,
  •  Work on adding some material to the Intermediate Algebra website that I am creating for my second-year probationary project at my college.  My first year ended this last week, so I have until around the beginning of next May to have this website fully functional and completed.
  • Work on creating additional screencasts to add to the ones that I have already created to help students review for the departmental final exams at my college.
  • Work on a course pack for the calculus class that I am teaching in the fall.  I really want to create this particular course using bottom-up design, something I have always wanted to do, but have never really had the time to focus on.  Since I am starting now, I hope that I will be able to have everything the way I want it by the time the Fall Semester rolls around.
  • The textbooks are changing for my Math for Education and Everyday Math classes in the fall, and I will need to give myself appropriate time to read through those books as well.  Specifically, the Everyday Math class is using two paperback, novel-type books.  I have not taught from books like this since I taught Middle School English classes.

 Yes, these are the major projects I have on my plate.  So, I guess it will be a pretty busy summer for me, whether I want it to be a busy summer or not.