Thursday, May 29, 2008

Note Taking

My precalculus students have recently taken a test on sequences, series, & the binomial theorem. The students run the gamut from they-could-teach-themselves-out-of-a-book to please-take-my-hand-and-do-the-problems-with/for-me-over-and-over-again. It dawned on me while I was helping this latter type of student to study that she had no concept of what might have been some good things to study and review before taking the test: formulas for explicit terms, partial sums, pascal's triangle ...

I thought over the notes they took, and I'm wondering if it ALL was so foreign and important sounding to her that she saw it as:

sdlkfoe sdoowieur sdeoe 5 = sdlfoein sdifuoeen
oeiwonewio sdf e3dof soieen sdeid nli lskejoi i9 dflk

so maybe she couldn't parse through it all and figure out what was important to know. I know when I was presenting the stuff, I had them do examples, and I had them write down the formulas and I discussed why they work and how to think about them .... but apparently, for some students, I have to stress what's important before, during, and after. And then maybe I should make them get out their red pens and BOX all the key things.

But this doesn't sit well with me. It seems that I'm doing the thinking for the students that way, and they'll never learn to sit back and reflect on what may be important to know without someone spelling it out for them all the time.


  1. Next year we're offering "honors" precalculus, and I'm going to be teaching the two "regular" precalculus classes. In my "mixed" classes that I teach this year I feel the same way you do. Next year, however, I'm hoping that I can do some get-out-your-red-pen-this-is-important teaching to help those that need it. Because the student who need that kind of help be more the norm once the honors kids have been sorted out, it seems appropriate.

    However, the sorting itself makes me wonder why so many are even taking precalculus when they'll never go on to take calculus or use math in their careers. I know I can find the beauty in it, but they struggle to get on board with me. This is what I spend my free blocks thinking about instead of grading.

  2. Anonymous8:52 PM

    I too often have that thought of precalculus and calculus students who are in class and (in my mind) not doing too much, or not seeming to "get it". ... Then when they ask me to sign their yearbooks (and I have them sign mine - a composition pad that I keep from year to year) and then I go read their comments, they sign, "I've learned SO much." So either they're being really nice, or they're deluded, or they really are getting something out of it and improving from their place in the spectrum instead of my idea of "improvement".

    Ms. Cookie

  3. This is just one of the challenges of teaching classes with more than just a couple of students. Things like this make me consider home schooling my own children. We (I teach high school science to 9th and 10th graders of all levels) are always struggling to get to everyones needs at the same time. I know that some would - and do - find it a waste of time to do the "red pen underline thing" because they got it the first time we went through it in class. And I know that you're talking about upper level math classes in which students should have some study skills, but if I don't spend quality time talking about study habits and strategies, I'd have many more failing students. It is such a balance.

  4. Anonymous4:26 PM

    Becky, I know what you mean. I guess I should just tack on "studying skills" to the other skills I'm teaching. Maybe one way is to force myself to stop every-so-often or at the end of class and ask them to reflect on what they thought was important to know. THEN we'll go back over the notes and "red pen" it and they can see if they're right and maybe build up that skill.

    Ms. Cookie

  5. I used to have a sign on my wall that said, "Math is Not a Spectator Sport". A student needs to have their mind engaged in learning math in general.

    And note taking is not for everyone. Some students do much better when the left hemisphere of the brain is not occupied by taking notes.

    A better strategy, might be to listen carefully, jot down a few highlights, then read the text and take down very careful notes at one's own pace.

    The problem: High school students are often over-scheduled and don't have the time to sit down and concentrate like that, or if they have the time, they just aren't that motivated.

  6. Anonymous5:45 PM

    an ineresting topic.
    i never was much of a note-taker myself
    & expect it does a *lot* of people
    more harm than good.

    of course there's no doubt in my mind
    that *some* people really *do*
    focus better on lectures (or whatever)
    when scribbling in their little pads.

    the weird thing is that students
    who'll readily *admit* that they
    don't have the faintest idea
    what i'm talking about will,
    nevertheless, *insist* that they know
    the best way to go about *learning* it.

    i've learned to lecture in what i hope
    is a very note-taking-friendly way:
    since a goodly number of students
    believe that they're supposed to
    copy down whatever i scribble
    up on the board, i try to make sure
    that it'll be easy to follow
    if they ever look it over again later.

    & sure, this includes stressing
    the big points with big eyecatching
    boxes and whatnot. but, doggone it,
    when i make a mistake--if you even
    *think* i've made a mistake--
    for heck sake, tell me now
    instead of copying it down in the
    very-likely-vain hope of understanding
    it later on. thank you and good day.


  7. Anonymous8:56 PM

    I have all of my lecture notes available for the students on Moodle. They can print out the notes the night before, review them, and append them during class.