Sunday, September 19, 2010

Preparing for class

There is a nice question/poll today from Unbalanced Reaction concerning prep time for class. I'm in the 1 to 15 minute category, but that is for classes that I have taught (many times) before and represents an average that often includes zero if "prep" means actually writing out detailed notes for what will happen in class.

And that isn't because I use my old notes in class, even though I have them with me.

I sensed this incipient digression as I wrote my comment at UR's place, so I will digress here instead. Most of my prep time is spent on the broad outline of what I will do, what might be considered a lesson plan if actually contained any detail beyond Problem x or Example of topic y.

Prep is usually more about clearing my mind to see if there is something new I should try. Lately that means what I write below, but also an approach that puts EVERY key formula for a new subject up on the screen, rather than having them show up here and there as we deal with new parts of a single topic. Then I only use those few things in everything else I do.

I used to have problems worked out so I could "work" them without having to pause to do calculations, but I have decided that is a bad model for the students even if I pause to use an air calculator before writing the answer down. It turns out that, despite being a digital non-native (wrote my first computer program my senior year in HS and didn't own a calculator until I started grad school), I am a lot faster than most of them are at slamming the keys.

So I might project a problem, either prepared or out of the book, but then all of it gets done for real in class. I've observed people who have the answers on plastic or ppt, and the kids (who I am also observing) just don't get the details. Sometimes they can't see the details, other times they just follow the terse bits on a ppt printout outline -- but never put together a coherent solution. Of course, some don't ever take good notes or recognize my board work as how I actually do the problem myself, but that is a different problem that requires constant teaching effort.

The only time I make sure I have the worked version handy is when I put up a problem for them to do. Then I want to be able to flash memorize the key results so I can provide right/wrong advice as I move around the room.

The important thing is that I have fixed in my head the need to be very procedural in everything I do in class. I don't need notes for that. In fact, my notes are not as good as what I put on the board.


GMP said...

The first time I teach a class I actually prepare detailed notes that are distribuited to students: so they take much more time than it they were just for me, as I try to make them comprehensive and coherent and with all the needed details. I distribute them at the beginning of the semester for courses I have taught before, and they are somewhere in the 150-page count. They are handwritten, and the students invariably tell me they love them. I include way more details than I would in PPT (I don't like PPT for much the same reasons you mentioned) and students still take notes in class, as I derive everything on the board. Occasionally a student will say they prefer PPT's, but overall my evaluations are high and the students seems happy.

Doctor Pion said...

I suspect that is something I should think about for the students who say I should write a book with my points of emphasis.

If they saw my current notes, they probably wouldn't believe the difference between them and what I actually do in class.

I saw what you describe done in a grad class -- and those students didn't take notes. However, that might have been a bad example since many of them were experimentalists in what was basically a theory course. They saved the notes for when they needed to write their dissertation. ;-)

The real key for students at the grad level (maybe at any level) is to rewrite your OWN notes.