Saturday, September 22, 2012

Taking Notes

One thing I have noticed during the last week is the difficulty students have taking notes.  Don’t get me wrong, the students are taking notes.  They have two notebooks for my class: one in which they keep all of the work they do at home while working through the exercises on the worksheets, and one in which they place a “clean” set of notes after the daily discussions.  It is in the clean set of notes that I have noticed the difficulties.

You see, in a “normal” math class, the lectures provide information not so much about the skills the students need, but rather examples of specific types of exercises the students will be expected to do on the homework and on the tests.  In fact, a few years ago I took the time to type my lecture notes, complete with examples, and have given them to the students in the past as a means of making sure the notes they had were, for lack of better terms, “complete”.  This kind on note-taking leads to and perpetuates the lie we have told the students (or at least led the students to accept): they are supposed to memorize a specific algorithm for each particular type of exercise.  Because they have been trained to take notes in this way in math class for years now, the students are having a difficult time transitioning to taking notes on the skills they will need to master, the definitions they will need to understand, and the relationships they will need to see.  And in this, they are having difficulty taking the skills learned on one worksheet and using them on the subsequent worksheets.  They are looking for similar problems of the same type rather than exercises that require the same skills.  The frustration with this has begun to set in, and several students are now asking that I give them notes rather than having them rely on one another to discern the important information they are to glean from the daily discussions. 

Of course, the notes I would be giving them are not the notes they actually want.  Any notes I would give them at this point would focus on the skills, definitions, and relationships, whereas they are requesting notes that cover specific examples for them to memorize.  Since part of the point is that there is more than one way to arrive at an answer (not just “my way”), since the focus is supposed to be on understanding the content and applying it in a variety of situations and not on memorizing an algorithm for each “type” of problem, and since they are supposed to be relying more on one another and less on me, I have no intention of giving them notes.

That being said, the students are supposed to “use their resources”, such as the internet, their textbook, etc., and as such I have placed my typed notes online for them to use.  No, the notes do not contain examples and algorithms for the exercises on the worksheets, but they do contain examples of the skills and explanations of the definitions.  The relationships, however, remain theirs to discover.

Finally, as a follow-up, the permission slips are in and the taping will begin this week.  Hopefully I will have something to upload next weekend.

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