Saturday, February 27, 2010

Texas Southmost Math Challenge

Texas Southmost Math Challenge

The Department of Mathematics at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, will be offering weekly sessions for high school students interested in participating in local, state, national or international mathematics competitions or mathematical olympiads.

The first meeting will be on Tuesday, March 2, from 4:30pm to 6:00pm in Tandy 113. Click here to access the flyer for the event along with sample problems.

The math department would like you to share this with your students, friends and family. Please join us as we embark in this new adventure.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Study on People's Perception of College

A new survey has been published about people's perception of college. There are lots of interesting tidbits on here but one caught my eye - class size. As colleges investigate how they balance budgets class size keeps looming up.

Higher Ed Morning published these statistics

* 60% believe colleges could “take a lot more students” without sacrificing quality or increasing costs.

There were lots of interesting statistics but this one stood out. So, if colleges take more students, class sizes will have to grow. The argument has been that class size negatively affects learning so why would the people surveyed say it does not?

Years ago, working on my masters, lots of researchers, including me, looked at large college classes. The results were all over the board. Seems that class size is just one small variable for student learning. It can or cannot be good and it depends on many factors.

Dan Barrick has an interesting take on it in his article for Inside Higher Education, Does Class Size Matter He doesn't have the answer, but he has some interesting thoughts. If we continue to grow colleges and class size, we need to do research on how we can effectively teach large classes without killing the professors and losing the students.

Large class sizes are not going to go away. So, we need to begin investigating what it takes to produce an effective large class, identifying those factors and putting them in our formula for success.

There is one interesting analogy he gave about building autos to illustrate how mass production methods have been laboriously scrutinized and studied by industry. The result has been that many mass produced cars are related more reliable and better built than smaller almost-by-hand manufacturers. We should put the same amount of research in how to effectively teach large classes.

There was a tad bit of a flaw in his example. His analogy was how Toyota has been rated better than Ferrari. Guess that means as we learn how to effectively teach large classes, we should never think we are done.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ken Bain's Visit to Brownsville

Ken Bain, author of What the Best College Teachers Do, use to live in the Lower Rio Grande Valley 25 years ago when he taught at UTPA. So, his trip to spend a day with us at UTB was a very special one for him. He recognized little because when he left UTB/TSC had not been partnered yet and Brownsville was a small, quiet town.

Ok, maybe the image on the left doesn't quite fit the time period, but think about it; 25 years is a long time, especially for a school and town that has grown so big and so fast.

We'll be writing more about the ideas Ken brought up and the reflections and motivation his words inspired, but first we are going to brag a bit here. Ken loved us. Why? Well we did things a bit differently. Rather than large discussions, we had a small, general discussion in the morning for individual faculty. It was a general talk about what makes a great teacher and how he or she promotes deep learning in students.

Over the lunch period, we invited the book club to just sit around, eat, and talk with Ken. Others sneaked in....and I know who they are! The informal discussions were lively, even at the tables where Ken was not.

In the afternoon we had groups from around campus come in and talk to Ken about special projects for some sage advice and consulting. More discussion will come from that.

Ken came back on Saturday and visited with our ARCC program in astrophysics where our undergraduate students are searching for new pulsars. This research contributes to the international effort of scientists attempting to identify what gravity is. (For me the question would be, can we get it to reverse itself when we turn 45? Nip Tuck) This is just one of our students in research programs in the College of Science, Mathematics, and Technology.

Why was Ken impressed with us? Because of the innovative projects we are doing in how we educate and motivate students that have the will but not the preparation and our plans to do more.

After talking with faculty, Ken is going to come back. So all of you that missed him, get ready to sign up! (And, give yourself a pat on the back.)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Social Networking and Student Acheivement

The talk in the faculty lounge, beyond the local gossip, is bemoaning the amount of time students spend on social networking.

"People that spend time on Facebook need to get a life. Don't they have anything to do?" was a comment from a colleague.

I looked up from commenting on my grand daughter's first A in chemistry, my excited niece's announcement of her and her husband's fourth pregnancy (she hasn't figured out yet what causes this), my 82 year old mom's hammering out "I''m k..ok and wennt to chruch today" on her Wall, and my sister-in-law's ranting about her latest, and, thank heavens, successful but eventful operation.

Guess I don't.

We have all heard that "students today...." In the late 18000's and early 1900's the dredge of the education world was the dime novels, (the following is cut and pasted from Wipipedia which they in turn had cut and pasted from another source): In the modern age, "dime novel" has become a term to describe any quickly written, lurid potboiler and as such is generally used as a pejorative to describe a sensationalized yet superficial piece of written work.

Educators then were bemoaning that kids were wasting their time non-stop reading these sensational books, rather than reading the classics like Shakespeare (OMG).

Studies are starting to show some interesting results. One of which that just came out that the amount of time a student spends on Facebook doesn't predict anything about their academic behavior.

So, are we just bemoaning the latest type of (in our eyes) time waster and not realizing that students have other things in their lives outside of school? And, maybe for every generation they have amusements they have all identified that keeps them reading and writing.