Thursday, May 22, 2008

Snark in the Classroom

I've been meaning to post this, which really belongs in some sort of "learning curves" category since it reminded me at the time of the sorts of student nonsense Becky Hirta deals with during the Calculus Circus. I'm teaching a bit of the physics circus this summer (a gen-ed class), so I have a much wider mix of students than when the place is full of future engineers and scientists.

We have all had to deal with cell phones going off or bored students texting quietly in the back row or listening on their Borg(tm) earpiece. (I'll put my worst case at the bottom.) This one amused the heck out of me, and the class.

We are not talking about the most committed student. The guy has missed about 1/3 of the classes, including the first exam. About half of the rest of the time he sits with his head down, texting. He is really quiet, so it doesn't bother me any if he wants to fail the class.

Anyway, this is very much a hands-on, demo-driven "circus" of a class. I make sure they actually see examples of the phenomena we are studying. In this case, it is sublimation, where a solid turns directly into a gas without going through the liquid state. The most familiar example is "dry ice" (solid CO2), but we have a sealed tube of Iodine. Pure iodine is a lustrous grey solid (it looks more like a semi-metal than a non-metal) with a hint of purple, but it sublimes to a beautiful (really beautiful) violet gas when heated. (It also stinks, hence the sealed tube.)

So I walk it around the class in the solid state to show everyone (guy never raises his head), then heat it, and walk it around again. (Head still down.) So when I get to him, I say something about this being something he should take a look at so he can text his friend about it, to more than a few chuckles in the classroom. I had to practically stick it under his nose to get him to look. Amazingly, he was actually interested in it for about 5 seconds.

Needless to say, he didn't do all that well on the latest test. Sadly, he did well enough that I suspect he could do a really good job if he actually wanted to be a college student.

The other story?

Some wannabe engineer is in the back row of a lecture hall, evidently listening to a buddy on his Borg(tm) Bluetooth earpiece. He laughs out loud, very loudly. Must have been a good joke. I throw him out. I had to tell him a few times that he had to leave for the rest of the day, so he could carry on his conversation without disturbing the class, but at least I didn't have to call the cops.

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