I've printed up my class lists. (40 students in each of my two sections of Beginning Algebra, plus 10 on each waiting list. When I taught in Michigan, our cap was 30. If California weren't in a financial crisis, I'd want smaller classes to be my union's highest priority.) I've reworked my syllabus, and thought long and hard about how to grade in a way that works well for the students' learning. For the first week, I've sought out activities for reviewing pre-algebra concepts (fractions integers, distributing, order of operations), always thinking about how to turn their notions of math around.
I'm planning to teach without reference to the required textbook, and I wanted the students to know that before the term started, so they could choose to buy a different textbook. The required text costs well over $100, and used copies will go fast, probably for over $70. They can buy older editions for under $10 online. My students are struggling financially, and knowing this ahead of time will be a blessing for them.
So I got my classlist, pulled all the emails together, put them in the bcc field (so students email addresses wouldn't be seen by other students without their consent), and sent an email welcoming them to my class, giving them the textbook scoop, and telling them about my philosophy of teaching and learning math.
I've already gotten back about 5 emails from students, thanking me, and saying things like this:
I want to say that I like ur approach toward math and it makes me feel better about taking this class. I've always struggled with it therefore it was the class I didn't look forward to, but I am looking forward to changing that perspective so thankyu.
That email I sent last week might make a huge difference in the attitude people bring to class, which might make my life a lot easier.
There was a bit of tech-trouble. I wrote the letter a few weeks ago, with lots of links to online resources, and blog posts of mine. When I sent it to my own college account, I saw that the links looked terrible. (They had changed from the usual underline form to showing the whole url.)
I thought I could solve that by sending from gmail. I didn't want to send from my mathanthologyeditor address, so I created a new gmail account using my name. Sending a message from a new account to 40 addresses, all in the bcc field, alerted gmail's spam prevention system. It didn't go to any of the addresses, and I got 40 separate messages from gmail support, explaining why. I wrote to support, but they never wrote back. I ended up sending a short message from my college account, and putting the longer letter on a wiki I'd made for the class. Here's what I wrote them.
Now I'm trying to come up with a list of reminders for me while I'm up front. Over the past twenty years, I've gotten real good at colorful, concise min-lectures on the topics they struggle with. Now I'm trying to get away from giving them answers - I want to create a 'community of disciplined inquiry' (Schoenfeld) - and I know how hard it will be to change my ways. I don't have much so far, but I'll include it here. Can you all help me add to this list? I'll keep it on my desk while I'm teaching, to remind me of what I'm trying to do differently.
Reminders to Me
Wait time! (Mean < 1 second. Minstrell waited 9 seconds!)
Question to me? Redirect. “What do others think?” or (call on someone) “X, what do you think?”
Mistake? [Don't correct or explain what they've got wrong!] Ask what the implications are. (But ask this of ‘right answers’ too.)
“Thanks for contributing.”
"Ok, so... (repeat the idea)"
“Hmm, where should we go from here?”