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Ineffective teaching

  1. Nov 20, 2009 #1
    It has been a curious turn of fate and circumstance since I last posted here--instead of a mostly wannabe teacher/voluntary tutor here at PF, I became a paid, this-is-my-job kind of teacher. I took Obama seriously, and whether too seriously, time will tell, and ended up at a cc teaching science. I've been at this a few months, gradually developing my own curriculum and materials.

    Today I graded papers. A take home exam which was part of the final. I'm ready to hari-kari. Or at the very least find a more fitting profession. But I can't imagine my experience is that unique. Doubtless I have skills in need of honing, but the results were so disparate from the other exams: usu 1/2 T/F or Multiple choice and 1/2 problems, I was losing my mind. I feel like a complete and abject failure. One student of 25 scored a near perfect exam, the remainder were closer to 35-60 percent. Can i have failed this badly?

    I should add the students are mostly non-traditional with a range from GED to some college/even degrees and demos are all over the map. It's a private school and an accelerated program which reduces time of study from 4 years to 22 months. Basically an operation that means well, recognizes that a lot of the material for a BS in nursing or respiratory therapy is a waste of time and focuses on clinical skills, but wishes to make a lot of money.

    I'm just despondent and need ideas. I don't want to graduate a bunch of idiots, but what is up with science and math. I have college grads in my class who can't do 3/4=x/16.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 20, 2009 #2

    Evo

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    HOLY CRAP!!! I was thinking about you the other day. Welcome back!!
     
  4. Nov 20, 2009 #3
    I hope it wasn't in connection with the Ft Hood massacre. Instead some really fantastic dream where i managed to compute pi in my head to to a couple hundred digits, or perhaps you decided those of us anthropogenic warming types are correct. Either B.C or none of the above suits me.
     
  5. Nov 20, 2009 #4

    Pengwuino

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    Did you really expect to do a great job right out the door? Give it time :)

    Plus some students really don't care about leraning and thus, are... well... dumb.
     
  6. Nov 20, 2009 #5
    This is a big issue. An old member here and I were once chatting and she told me about going to South Africa (I think it was) to teach. She had been incredibly disappointed to find that the majority of the students just weren't interested in learning.

    So certainly you should look over your tests and even ask your students and other teachers what they think about the tests (an outside opinion is always good). But don't beat yourself up too badly. Many of the kids that go to college do so because they are expected to and not so much because they are intent on getting an education.
     
  7. Nov 20, 2009 #6

    Pengwuino

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    Here's a kicker, put questions on tests that are actually identical to homework problems or in class example and watch how test scores don't budge. It's as if people do their homework and just hope to god that they can find an equation with all the variables they have and just turn in whatever the result is.
     
  8. Nov 20, 2009 #7

    Moonbear

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    Ah, nursing students. I can sympathize. If their curriculum is anything like it is here, the problem is they really aren't strong students coming in, and then get SLAMMED with clinical courses while still trying to get a grasp on the basic sciences. At least here they are planning to change the curriculum entirely, because it is really clear that the students aren't ready for clinical courses until they've had their basic sciences completed. My students are just burning out...and no, math is NOT their strength by a long shot. Fortunately, I don't have to teach anything that requires math. But, they freak out when they need to pass a test mid-semester that requires some really basic algebra skills to calculate things like what volume injection to give if a drug is X concentration and Y dosage needs to be administered.

    But, yes, making their courses clinically relevant does help maintain their interest much more. I also emphasize a lot of teamwork, which is a skill they will need, and then can give them harder problems to solve in teams than they can do individually. They don't even realize that they are answering questions I give to med students on their exams when I give in-class team assignments (I think I'll let them in on that secret on the last day of class to boost their egos just before I hand out the teaching evaluations :biggrin:), because they can figure them out just fine when they really put their collective minds to it. But, then they screw up the simplest questions on exams.

    I will do everything I can to help them learn better, but I will not lower my standards. I DON'T WANT a nurse who doesn't know the humerus from a femur or can't correctly calculate what volume of injection to give! :eek: I tell them this bluntly, because they wouldn't want a nurse treating them who doesn't know that stuff either.

    What types of topics are you teaching that they aren't grasping? Maybe I can offer some suggestions appropriate for that group of students. Welcome to the challenging world of teaching!
     
  9. Nov 20, 2009 #8

    Ivan Seeking

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    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 22, 2009
  10. Nov 20, 2009 #9

    CRGreathouse

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    I second this. Nursing students need to see the applications!
     
  11. Nov 20, 2009 #10
    Funny thing is, that actually works (for intro physics at my university at least). Note to instructors: don't set exam questions that can be solved this way, especially if the formulas are on the provided formula sheet.
     
  12. Nov 20, 2009 #11

    Pengwuino

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    I had a quiz a few weeks ago where I had a question where you could just blindly multiply every number given and you would get the answer. Of course, about 50% of my students got it wrong... I suppose in some way that's a good sign if I see it as 50% of them NOT just trying to multiply every number they're given together.
     
  13. Nov 21, 2009 #12

    Moonbear

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    That is a sign of a bad question if the ones who are thinking and trying are doing worse than the ones who are blindly guessing.
     
  14. Nov 21, 2009 #13
    In one final exam we had a question where almost everyone got 1000 times the value we were expecting. So, I wrote on my exam that it is wrong for unknown reasons so I am dividing it by 1000 to make it looks like more acceptable. I spent like half an hour on that question trying to find where I made the mistake :rofl:
     
  15. Nov 21, 2009 #14

    Hurkyl

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    I've heard a professor tell stories about doing that. I think he even told them he was doing it. He even had a student complain that he put a question on the test that they never learned about in class.
     
  16. Nov 21, 2009 #15

    Vanadium 50

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    I once had an extra credit question - "Which of the following four questions was used as an in-class example?"
     
  17. Nov 21, 2009 #16

    Pengwuino

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    Well it's for our first semester intro to physics for non-engineers/physicists so a lot of answers do end up coming down to practically multiplying every number given together with a 1/2 thrown about here or there and maybe something squared. The amazing thing was on that question... what people kept answering, I have no idea how they could have even come up with that answer. Every piece of informaiton was a multiple of 5 or 10 or 2 or something and one of my wrong answers was 2.3 and like half the class answered it. At that point i was almost at a loss for what to do.
     
  18. Nov 21, 2009 #17

    Moonbear

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    That means they were completely guessing. If I see one specific question on an exam with a distribution of answers that looks like random guessing, or a high percentage are picking one specific wrong answer, I go back and look at the wording of the question to make sure there wasn't an unintentional ambiguity (it happens...you have something in mind when you write the question, but don't think about some other way the question can be read) and then check that it was actually covered in the lectures (sometimes exam questions are written ahead of time or pulled from a bank of questions, and that particular year, a topic got rushed). If I can't find any problem with it and am sure it was covered, then I'll leave it in, but will make a point to go over that question when the exams are returned. At that point, the best you can hope is that they might learn from their mistakes when they get the exam back.
     
  19. Nov 21, 2009 #18

    Andy Resnick

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    I just got back from an AAPT conference for new faculty, and here's what I learned:

    1) the 'traditional' method of teaching physics where the students sit passively and listen does not increase student comprehension.

    2) If the students are invested in their own education, the students have increased comprehension.

    Neither of these points are radically new; in fact my old department made the change to (2) many years ago for our grad students, and the medical school followed suit a couple of years ago.

    There's lots of people with their own ideas of how to implement (2), and they are convinced that their own method is the correct one. Some of the many methods out there: peer instruction, concept-rich questions, just in time teaching, real-time labs, clickers, flashcard voting, studio classrooms, etc etc. The bottom line is that you need to find ways to get your students to *want to teach themselves the material*.

    What I do, mostly because it does not require any materials, is to ask open-ended questions and make the students talk. I also like to use examples taken "from real life". For example, "airplanes are pressurized to 8000 feet altitude. What is the bigger change, going from ground level to a pressurized aircraft, or sitting in the plane and experiencing an explosive decompression"? Note that the question is deliberately vague.

    One thing to remember, if you want to try different teaching methods, is the critical importance of *assessment*. It doesn't matter what you assess with (although again, every professional author has their favorite tool- force concept inventory is a popular one), but it does matter that you have a quantitative measure of student performance, in order to compare one class with another. That is the only way to develop an effective teaching style.

    In terms of student immaturity/unsophistication/ill-preparedness, guess what- everyone complains about it, and has been complaining about it for decades. And I mean *everyone*- elite private schools, state universities, small liberal arts colleges, community colleges. My conclusion is that complaining about the students is an attempt to 'blame the victim', and you would do well to move beyond it.
     
  20. Nov 21, 2009 #19

    Borek

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    Going that far to find out something that obvious is a waste of time and kerosene.
     
  21. Nov 21, 2009 #20
    Clarify this please, do you mean that it is worthless?
     
  22. Nov 21, 2009 #21
    I appreciate the input, but plead innocent on the charge--the easy thing to do would be exactly that and not even post. Even those who seem to be putting zero effort into the course were probably overly encouraged, if not outright hoodwinked into enrolling in a program that they may have neither the aptitude or interest to succeed.

    But, and here it may be a fx of New Mexico school system--is the huge disparity between tests which measure some kind of actual incorporation of the material and being able to regurgitate it, vs simple recognition of words/concepts that appeared in the same context.

    I might even post part of the test here to see what you all think.

    I thought that we had covered most of the material in class, and anything else could be investigated on the internet. I am beginning to think that the enemy of education is any test that can be graded by machine.
     
  23. Nov 21, 2009 #22
    Moonbear, that is pretty much what I do--and even grade the papers the same class--one of the few advantages of having students for 4 hr a day--thinking that the immediate feedback is helpful. What is amazing is that I can give the same question on the next test and many who missed it the first time,, miss it again. This is what I a mean by hair-pulling exasperation.
     
  24. Nov 21, 2009 #23

    Pengwuino

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    I take exception to this, many students ARE ill-prepared and immature about it. Hell even some grad students I know are like "I'm too lazy to do this problem, why can't the computer do it". Undergrads have this problem of not wanting to use the book and their lecture notes. The tutors I know say students come in without their book and expect to do their problems apparently the top of their head or something when apparently they need tutoring. OBJECTION :)
     
  25. Nov 21, 2009 #24
    Since when can a HS grad (GED or otherwise) not know how to perform long division, or convert a fraction to a decimal. Personally, the British system makes more sense than a HS diploma/equivlent,
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 22, 2009
  26. Nov 21, 2009 #25

    Moonbear

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    I understand completely. But, you have a 4 hour class?! YIKES! No wonder they are spacing out on you!

    I've had the same thing happen, and I think I've even posted about it here. There was one point I really thought was important for the students to understand to really get the basic concept that a bunch of other things they were learning built on. So, I gave it to them in a homework question, I covered it in depth in class, I ASKED them to answer questions about it in every one of 5 lectures I gave leading up to an exam, I pretty much told them it would be on the exam during the review session, I put it on the exam, they still got it wrong. Well, next set of lectures, I kept asking about it again, reminding them that this particular topic was going to show up again on the second exam, because it was related to that material too, I put it on a pop quiz (they still didn't get it right), I went over the pop quiz answers in class, and when it showed up on the second exam, they STILL missed it. So, yeah, at that point, there is really nothing left to do for them.

    I have spent enormous amounts of time trying to build study skills in my class. But, that's only half the problem, the other half is they attend lecture, but their brains are someplace else. Though, I even record all of the lectures and post them online so they can review the parts they missed on their own time. They carry around iPhones with my lecture slides on them.

    Are they immature? Well, sure. We all were at that age...some more than others. But that shouldn't be a factor in whether or not they can learn the material.

    With my own students, the problem is that they coasted through Freshman year. They developed bad study habits (or just continued them) and are only just now starting to figure out that waiting until the week of the exam to start studying is too late. But, they've landed themselves into such a downward spiral because of it that recovery of their grades now is really difficult.

    A lot of the faculty in my department won't even teach the undergrads, because they are difficult to teach. The med students are easy to teach, by comparison, even though the level of material taught is so much harder. That's because they already know how to learn, and we just need to focus them on which things they need to look at in detail and which to know more generally so they can filter the important stuff. A lot of them could be handed a textbook and a recorded lecture and be fine. Undergrads are still developing those skills and need a lot more patience and assistance...and time!
     
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