Teaching has been ambling along. I have had classes and topics which I really liked and which went very well and classes and topics about which I was unexcited and so were the students and went horribly. I did have a sort of mini breakthrough today when I realized two things. First, I probably have adhered too rigidly to my proposed schedule and not allowed myself time in class to develop some ideas. Second, I have given lectures without fully considering what it was that I wanted students to know or be able to do with an idea, and thus not building in time to work with that idea.
In the first case, I am particularly thinking about the idea of equilibrium, which I wish I had spent ten minutes or so introducing much earlier in the semester. This would have allowed me to refer back to this extraordinarily important and useful concept in later topics. In the second case, I am thinking of my brief talk on acid-base chemistry, where I lectured as to the nature of acids and bases, but the students did no calculations in class. I gave them a homework question that asked them to do a ‘titration’ and it seemed like a lot of them could do it, although come to think of it, many showed no work and probably just copied answers from the back. I am thinking about how acid-base chemistry was taught at Virginia, where far too much time is spent on it. The students learn it differently and in a more rational context than what I taught. Probably I should go over this with my own students.
Meanwhile, in baseball, Dayton Moore received an extension from the Royals. I was sitting in a bar in Bellevue when I saw the ticker message at the bottom of a college football game. I guess it’s comforting to know that one can be fantastically incompetent at one’s job and still be highly employable if one has certain knowledge.
Too bad I still have to teach lab this afternoon. It should be laid back, as the students are building models and drawing structures and looking at molecules in Spartan and drawing more structures. I don’t see a doughnut in my immediate future though, as I have been pigging out on these little brownie bites I mistakenly bought in the idea that I would feed them to my students when we celebrated Mole Day. I’m reminded of a Mike Scioscia quote on how he dealt with the stress of the Angels being awful this year, “I eat.” And me too, I guess.
Made it to fall break. The last two days of class were a struggle, even for my second section. We talked about electron configurations and why they are important and about periodic trends. I attempted to use chromium as my example for electron configuration of a transition metal, which was maybe not the best idea because chromium is unique in its configuration. So on Friday, I attempted to put it in its context by doing V and Mn as well. I think the students need to practice this a lot on Thursday. We’re taking a quiz on Friday!
Although, come to think of it, I am wondering if it would be better to hold off the quiz until the following Monday. I feel a twinge of guilt for not announcing the quiz in class (I forgot). It might actually just be better to go more slowly and practice more problems. The students took their second exam on Tuesday and I handed it back on Friday. I wanted to get that out of the way before fall break, so that by the time the students return it’ll be old news. I did meet with five students on Friday, which was refreshing.
Baseball is annoying. The St. Louis Cardinals are going to the World Series. One of the Red Sox and Tigers are going to the World Series. I guess I’ll pull for the Cardinals either way, but oh god, the Red Sox in the World Series would be so annoying.
One of them is that due to the time difference, I can’t be there often to witness the Orioles just Oriole all over themselves. Last night they played an 18 inning game and lost. They had been reduced to pitching Bud Norris, so that outcome was not all that unexpected. I can’t say I was impressed when the Orioles traded for Bud Norris and I haven’t been impressed with Bud Norris’s pitching for the Orioles since that happened. I suppose I should acknowledge that had the Orioles not acquired Bud Norris some other dicey pitcher would have been throwing last night and the outcome would have likely been the same.
Another major benefit to being on the West Coast is that now, if I wished, I actually could watch the Orioles Oriole all over themselves through the power of MLB.tv. Much as I loved living in Virginia, I could never really watch the team as I didn’t have TV and couldn’t afford to go out all the time to watch games. And up until this summer or so, this didn’t trouble me much at all. I felt like I could still be a fan, and a good one, through the Internet. Ahh, but I’d like to write about baseball and find I have nothing to say. I have nothing to pick apart because I didn’t watch the game. I only followed on Gameday and read someone else’s summary.
It occurred to me last night that this shouldn’t trouble me so far as writing goes. A lot of fans are in my position, and since no one reads this anyway, what’s the harm in writing about baseball from the perspective of a fan who doesn’t watch the games?
I overall still feel better about my second section. I reach them better. I am worried that I missed my chance to develop rapport with them. I guess we just go through the semester as is?
A couple different students have said they feel like what we are doing in class is review (and for them, it is). It occurred to me as I was walking home today, well yeah, I guess if you’ve had AP Chemistry in high school, this is pretty much a review. Maybe we’ll hit topics they didn’t cover in high school, but probably most of what they do will be review. Looking back, I wish I had been more vigilant about pushing the upper level class to my students. I can think of at least a couple who would be much more engaged in a more challenging class. It makes me feel kinda lame that my class is kinda lame, but then I think of my students who are taking their first chemistry course ever.
Anyway, they took a quiz this week. Overall, it went fine. They have an exam on Tuesday. We’ll see how it goes.
I’ve made so many observations and had so many insights into teaching that it seems as if it will be impossible for me to catalog them in an orderly fashion. I am writing this at not quite 5:30 in the morning, after having gotten up to pee and found that I could not fall asleep again. I think in part I was thinking too much about my mole lecture from Tuesday. As with everything I’ve done, the lecture went better in my second class than my first. In my first, I’m sure there were students for whom the class was impossibly slow and dull, and others for whom it made no sense. I didn’t do a good job explaining it, and as I lay in bed it occurred to me that simply redoing the exact lesson isn’t a good strategy either, necessarily. I just had to look up whether I should write lay or lied.
I think what I am going to do is ask the students to tell me what they know about the mole, and go from there. The main point I want to emphasize is that the mole can be used to convert amounts of different substances. Then we’ll do an example.
Today I am collecting what I fear turned out to be a nightmare of an assignment. I felt the instructions were clear when I wrote it, but so many students have said they don’t know what they were supposed to do that I have to wonder: is it me or the students? Looking back on all the guidance I gave to individual students, I am wondering if they (and I) wouldn’t have been better served by me asking them first, what do you think the question is asking? Given how many students haven’t contacted me, most students must have found an interpretation on their own. Or they have no clue what to do and are not sufficiently intrinsically motivated to ask. Because I’m a bad teacher, I guess.
Surprisingly, I don’t feel badly when I exit the classroom. Definitely, after my first class I can pick out stumbling blocks that both I and the students had. But I don’t feel as if they can’t be addressed. One observation I’ve had is that my first section has a broader range of student ages and experience levels than my second. I find it easier to work with my second section.
By which I mean that I taught two sections of the same course. I think it went well, overall. I went ahead and told the students that I was new, which was followed by zero riots or rebellions or snickering. Then I went through my syllabus more quickly than I had realized I would. Then I went ahead and asked them about the scientific method. I feel like my second section had nicer (by which I mean more smiling) kids, but my first was more engaged. I guess it’s not fair or useful to read too much into it. Then I had them begin to work on the homework assignment, which was just as well because I think the students were unclear about what I wanted.
I’m interested to see how next class will go. While I think the material (Rutherford’s atomic model, etc) is interesting and I want the students to appreciate the historical basis of what we do, I can’t imagine it being other than a dry lecture. But one thing I did learn today is that I need to build in extra examples and practice problems for the students. That way I’ll be able to fill time more smoothly.