Monday, September 7, 2009


Ah, that was a nice vacation, getting recharged for the fall while limiting myself to commentary on other blogs. Now it is time to post this, my 400th article, before getting back to some old and new topics.

What I thought I should do is post links to some "feature" articles from the past that I think are fairly timeless in their relevance to the business and pleasure of teaching science (in my case physics) at the college level. Although I might be at a mere CC, the calculus-based physics class I teach to future engineering majors -- with a few physics majors and others wandering in at times -- is the same as it is anywhere except for some elite programs. (I use the level of the class at the top-quartile R1 where I grew up as my reference point, and that seems more than enough for the kids that transfer to Wannabe Flagship.) So here goes ...

  • Freshman Orientation where I argue for telling new college students some of the huge differences between high school and college. Some of these include the fact that teachers had to pass you in high school, so you were never taught at "your level". Teaching was directed at the bottom 20% that the principal insisted pass the class and the NCLB exit exam.

I didn't mention telling them that they had been lied to when they were told that they were graduating with a high school knowledge of math, a detail touched on in an article about math remediation, but I should have. I actually jumped for joy when Arne Duncan said this weekend (midway down page 6 of the pdf transcript from Sunday, Sept. 6) that "In too many places I think, Bob, we are, honestly, we're lying to children. ... If a child hears they're quote-unquote 'meeting the state standard', that child, that parent, the logical assumption is, they're going to be on track to be successful. But in way too many places around the country ... they are totally inadequately prepared to be successful in higher education. That has to change. We have to stop lying to children." Too bad that did not make the talking-points sound-bite list for newspaper headlines. It got swamped by "The Hinny" (H1N1) and people who don't want other folk's children to be told to study hard, or don't want their own kids to see that the President is Black.

  • Replace "prerequisite" with "basic", arguing for using a term that freshmen might understand. This followed a nice discussion of some alternatives. I've been trying this, here and there, and I like the results so far. I think it helps to tell a kid that trig is a "basic skill". Now I am waiting for an answer to the question about what basic math errors should be punished unmercifully in pre-calc.

  • Critical Reading That article is actually toward the end of my comments, but it links back to earlier ones. I continue to experiment with this skill and ways of teaching it (borrowed from the way Dr. Crazy does it in an English literature class) in conjunction with solving physics problems. Reading and readable textbooks were at the top of the list of some comments about college readiness from the viewpoint of someone teaching physics to future engineers.

  • Jobs, starting from a supply and demand history for physics, this series ends up looking at what it takes to get and keep an academic job. That link is to the lead article in an irregular series that all end up filed under the jobs label. That lead article and the graph is due for an update with more recent data about PhD production, as are some of the others. (The AIP updates its information on this subject annually.) I want to emphasize, for those who read this far, that the advice in Part 5 applies to any job search at a community college. The differences between subject areas is minor compared to research job hunts.

I'll also link to this article (because it points to a nice series by Unbalanced Reaction about taking a Visiting position) and this one (because it points to a great blog by Dr. Crazy about teaching intensive jobs from the 4-year regional university viewpoint).

  • Retention of learning and of students is probably a focus for the coming year or two. Outcomes assessment is clearly going to be more important in the near future, so we should think hard about what measures our actual goal. Is it the passing rate this year or the passing rate in the next class?

There is probably more I should mention, but that will do for post number 400. OK, maybe I should stick this here at the end:
  • Community! is starting in less that two weeks. Okay, that is not exactly a rocket science article, and blogging about it probably guarantees that it will turn out to be stereotypical junk, but that "start your life over" bit at the end gives it promise. At minimum, we can use it to laugh at ourselves and how others view us and our students as the week winds down with another episode of "30 Rock".

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