Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It's Not the Heat, It's the Stupidity

(Guest post by Bill Gasarch. Companion post at his blog.)

***SORELLE*** taught undergraduate algorithms in summer of 2009. I proofread her midterm, proofread her final (resulting in one question being taken off and replaced), and sat in on it (at her request) so I could see what's up. This is as good an excuse as any to talk about summer courses, and to have us guest post on each others blogs.

Is taking classes over the summer a good idea? Jamming 15 weeks into 7 weeks might make the class go fast, though if its the only class you are taking and you care about the material, this can work. If you failed it in the regular term and need to catch up and will really put the work in then that can work also.

(Personal note: I took four summer courses as an ugrad: Summer after freshman year I took multivariate calculus and Prob, Summer after Sophomore year I took Physics II and Basic Anthropology. It worked for me, but note that I cared about these subjects.)

Is teaching a class over the summer a good idea? I'll defer to ***SORELLE'S*** post for that one.

  1. Summer courses tend to have an inverted bell curve. There are some very good students who want to get ahead. There are some very bad students who need to catch up. There are less in between.
  2. ***SORELLE*** was doing a review for the midterm. This was challenge since some of the students didn't know basic induction. So she had to walk it back to material in courses that were two courses ago! Should she have ignored those students and concentrate on the good ones? The ones that don't need review? How about the middle? I'll let her answer those thoughts.


Anonymous said...

If they still haven't learned induction (taught two classes ago, used a great deal in the class after that) and are still taking a senior-level algorithms class, I say let them fail and move on. Focus on the students who should actually be taking the course and don't waste time on students who are too dumb to realize that they should not be taking an advanced course in an area where they have apparently scraped by the previous courses unless they take the time to come in during office hours to try to learn. Don't fall into the "all students left behind" mentality that we see so much of in lower-level courses (for example).

sorelle said...

If it had been only one student, I wouldn't have taken the time in the review to go over it. But it was far more than just one student who didn't understand induction... I'd guess closer to 50% of them. In that case, I could say as much as I wanted that they should already know it, but they didn't, and it's important that they do, so worth taking the time.

Anonymous said...

If half of the class comes in unprepared, why not force them to either spend time outside of the classroom picking it up or letting them fail. These students sound like they were foolish for signing up for the class. If I take Piano 01 and can barely pass the class, and then I take Piano 02 why should those who did well in Piano 01 suffer because I was silly enough to take Piano 02? In the summer you have students who are taking whatever they can try to in order to try to snake through the program, hoping that the bell curve will save them. Why try to learn or do your best if all you need to do is outperform 15% of the rest of the group, no matter how poorly they are doing?

Did you cover less material because of the time that you spend on remedial material? If so, the good students suffered a loss.

sorelle said...

I've never taught the class during the regular semester, so I can't say that I covered everything I would have covered, but I did cover everything I wanted to cover, and I think the list of topics was good and broad enough.

The few minutes (probably about 20) I spent reviewing induction were part of a review day. Review days, in my mind, are meant to review what the class before me doesn't understand, not what my idealized version of the class wouldn't understand. I see nothing wrong with taking the review day to actually review these things. Review days are meant primarily for the weaker students after all.

As for the bell curve argument - this is precisely why I refuse to grade on a curve, and didn't for this class. My students got the grades they earned, no more, no less.

Anonymous said...

Half the class got to the review day without being able to do induction? Did the 20 minutes end up helping them at that point? Probably no harm in spending the time on it since it was little time and was a review day, but did you find it odd that they got so far without coming to office hours to ask you about it?

Anonymous said...

"Should she have ignored those students and concentrate on the good ones? The ones that don't need review?"

Are these the same thing? Were there higher level concepts which were the focus of the course actually being taught that could have been covered during the review instead? Good students and middle students might have "needed" to review other topics to better understand them.

sorelle said...

They did in fact find me during office hours as well...

And I agree, I see no problem with doing review for the good students too - everyone can use a reminder of what's been done in a class.