First, thanks folks.
I want to summarize what I got out of the discussion of my first article seeking a good synonym for prerequisite when advising students placing into pre-college "prep" classes in math or english. (There was also a backstory about the issues encountered in college-level classes, particularly with mathematics in my physics class.)
I found the suggestions quite interesting, although most concerned getting the idea across when teaching a college-level course in english or math or physics rather than motivating kids placing into "prep" classes, either in new student orientation itself or advising students going through orientation. I will summarize these two topics separately.
Teaching college-level courses
Here I think the term BASIC is perfect. It helps get across the idea that the bar has been raised in college. The freshman or sophomore class they are is is just a foundation for what is expected in the next LEVEL class. What might look advanced right now, especially when entering freshman comp or freshman algebra or pre-calc, will be the minimum expected in the future. It might even work in a "prep" class, but it sends a more powerful signal when you talk about the derivative in calculus being a "basic" skill!
While re-reading the previous discussion, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to analyze the word PREREQUISITE in conjunction with the syllabus on the first day of any class, but particularly a comp class. Might even make a good subject for a one paragraph essay the first day. Take it apart into PRE, before, and REQUISITE, required, but then ask what "required before" really means for the classes that have comp I as a pre-req. Is it "mandatory" in the sense that pass-and-forget will still result in a degree, like in high school, or is it a set of MINIMUM SKILLS that must be learned if you are to have any chance of not failing the next class? Could even create an assignment where you ask them to find someone in that next class and ask them if they (fill in the blank with skill, such as writing a big research paper or a lab report, that you already know has to be done in that class).
I already make it a habit to do what Dr. Crazy described, but hearing it from her and k8 reminded me of just how important it is to give students this information on a regular basis. That means it can't be just me and you. It needs to be everyone who teaches my future students algebra or trig (or english composition). And that only works if we give them a list of things that will be used again, and where, so they are all on the same page.
Now I'll tell you why I brought this up. Our math faculty have been working at reforming some of the classes that lead up to calculus. (I think they are finally figuring out that some of the problems seen in calculus or physics are our own creation.) They have gone so far as to start to talk to those of us who teach physics, that is, to the people who have their classes as a prerequisite. With an opportunity like this showing up, I want to make the most of it.
So the follow-up question to anyone who teaches physics or engineering is: What single mistake from algebra or trig most revolts you when you see it made? What should be punished unmercifully in a pre-calculus class?
Motivating under-prepared students
This is a bigger challenge, because the term has to survive on its own the first time a student hears it, without the kind of elaboration or repetition that is possible in a classroom.
OK, maybe it can be explained further during advising, but I am hoping to find a term that reframes the concept away from "required" or "mandatory" (which these kids have learned means nothing, because most classes pick up about halfway through the previous one) and towards "essential minimum knowledge". Our humanities classes don't teach you how to write a research paper, they expect you to Just Do It. Ditto for algebra and trig in our calculus and physics classes.
Maybe referring to those "prep" classes as presenting COLLEGE-LEVEL BASICS, the minimum skills needed to survive in a college english or math class, is the way to go. What do you think? Would that make it easier to explain to a kid that their placement scores are a result of being taught HS-level basics, the minimum needed to pass the HS exit exam, rather than what is needed in college? Might be worth a try.
Any suggestions about how to do a better job of getting this across to the recent grads who place into pre-college math and english classes? I don't mention returning students because it just does not seem to be a problem for them. They know they don't remember anything from high school, or know they weren't taught it. [True story: A student who had graduated high school circa the 1970s had not taken any math beyond 9th grade. She was told it was better if she took chorus, since girls didn't need to know math. She had plenty of motivation when she came back to school to get a business degree a quarter century later, and she succeeded.]
Friday, June 20, 2008
First, thanks folks.