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A typical student in my Calculus 1 class desires to be an engineer and needs to complete three or four more math classes. Therefore one primary goal I have is to provide students with a memorable experience to help students retain their knowledge for semesters to come. It certainly helps that I view myself as an entertainer. Math has a tendency of being intimidating to many students so by injecting some humor and fun into class it can make the concepts feel more achievable. One concrete thing I have done to pursue this is creating “Harry Potter and the Study of Calculus”. Students are split into the houses of Hogwartz and can earn “house points” by participating in class. In addition, some examples are Harry Potter themed. Through surveying, I’ve found that roughly 91% of students enjoy the Harry Potter theme and so it has continued for several semesters now. Furthermore, I intentionally come at least ten minutes early to every class and tell stories about my personal life. My goal is to connect with my students and continuously demonstrate that they can approach me with any problem or concern.

My perfect teaching situation is a well developed flipped classroom like I run in my calculus classes. A colleague of mine once told me “Students don’t go to English class and read Shakespeare. They read Shakespeare at home and come to class to discuss Shakespeare”. This phrase has always stuck with me and It seems from my experience that many STEM courses are behind in this regard. A flipped classroom allows my students to watch videos and work on some problems prior to class. Since the videos introduce the topics/definitions/etc. this has allowed me to get more out of our class meetings. During class, we spend time discussing, going into more detail, and engaging in more active learning opportunities. Students are rewarded with credit for watching the videos and submitting a few problems at the beginning of class; again making memorable experiences. Because of these efforts both compliance and attendance are regularly above 80% in my class, quite good for a large lecture with over 200 students. Moreover, my videos are publically available so students can come back the next day, the next week, or even the next semester and get a refresher on any of the topics.

Another key goal I have is to help my students grow as independent learners. With roughly 68% of my calculus students being freshman they typically need help adjusting to college expectations. Through regular homework and weekly quizzes, I push students to stay accountable for their learning. I encourage students to ask and answer each other’s questions via our online forums. Additionally, I routinely share data with my students to motivate them. For instance here is some data about a recent exam:

  • Students who completed 0-49.9% on their homework averaged 50.6% on the exam
  • Students who completed 50-69.9% on their homework averaged 69.9% on the exam
  • Students who completed 70-89.9% on their homework averaged 84.6% on the exam
  • Students who completed 90-100% on their homework averaged 91.8% on the exam

I have found that by sharing data like this homework completion has gone up significantly in my sections. While this is a good start I find that I need to constantly remind them that homework completion is only the first step. We all need to strive for comprehension.

Another key decision behind my choice for a flipped classroom is because it gives greater opportunities to disadvantaged students. Students can re-watch the videos as many times as they want to really clarify and drive home the concepts.  Videos can be sped up or slowed down to help accommodate all levels of student knowledge. Additionally, I ensure all of my videos are accurately captioned. This not only serves disabled students but also provides additional learning opportunities to visual learners and students for whom English is not their first language. 

Although I have a well-developed style of class I love learning about new techniques and engaging classroom activities. I regularly attend educational workshops/seminars/conferences to hear about what other instructors are doing in their classes. Currently, I am interested in trying Inquiry-Based Learning and Standards-Based Grading but have not found a smooth way to integrate them into my (large) courses.