Possible Assignment: Freshman Comp

Preparation for school: Go read Bright Mystery and explain to me how these five points would translate to Freshman English. (See update.)

I only received four papers, though three other students said they did it and just didn’t know they were supposed to turn it in. I explained that Bright Mystery is a math teacher at a college. I still got a “this blog was not what I was expecting.” I don’t know what he was expecting, so I can’t enlighten you.

Grammar: Go read this list of native mangling of English and tell me what is wrong with one in each topic.

Note: Bright Mystery is disappearing. Here is the post:

Five things for Calculus students, revisited

A while back I asked everyone to give a list of five things that they would like incoming calculus students to know — stuff they know now that they wished they’d known then. Lots of good responses. I have boiled them all down into the following list, which I’m going to give to my calculus classes tomorrow. The text in bold will go on an overhead; all the other stuff will be verbal embellishments.

1.Consistent, daily preparation is essential. In 10 years of teaching college calculus at liberal arts colleges, top-tier research universities, and in private tutoring, one thing has emerged that is common to my experience: The single biggest factor in whether a student gets something out of a college-level calculus class is how consistent they are in studying and practicing from day to day. Their prior experience with math makes no real difference. How well they study the night before the test makes no difference. Whether they have a tutor makes no difference. Even the level of raw mathematical skill doesn’t make much of a difference. It really is just a matter of working with this stuff every day, for an hour or two or more if you need it. You’re not guaranteed an “A” or “B” in the course if you study consistently — it takes performance to do that — but you are guaranteed NOT to get those grades if you DON’T. [Note for math teachers reading this: How well students remember their prior math classes and how fluent they are with the prerequisite material comes in a close second.]

2.You are responsible for your own learning. The biggest difference between college and high school — both in classes and elsewhere — is that you are now placed in a position of responsibility. You will need to rely on personal discipline where before you had people forcing you to do things. This is a major change and a lot of students end up flunking out of school because they never really try to adapt to it. Here, it will mean that you’ll need to find your own times to work on the class, deny yourself certain “fun” things like TV and video games if you need to work, and so on. The best thing you can do for yourself is to set the tone NOW on the first day of your college career that you will be a disciplined, productive student — just as much as you are a disciplined, productive football player or employee or what have you.

3. College classes are not spectator sports. Being responsible for your own learning means that you can’t expect to gain a full understanding of the material just by attending class. You have to get your hands dirty; form study groups to get your hands even dirtier; keep working at a problem when it becomes difficult; try things out even when they don’t work; do things that aren’t graded; and take initiative to talk to the professor about difficulties. This is why we say you really need two hours outside of class for every hour inside.

4.College expectations are different from many high schools’ expectations. Your education is no longer all about passing a test. You’ve done that. Now we’re going to focus your education on learning how to think, how to reason, how not to get fooled by a faulty argument, how to see the structure and beauty in the created world, and producing quality work that you can be proud of and which will prepare you to live the rest of your life. Which also is not about passing a test. So from here on out, put aside all notions about needing to score high on tests and score lots of points. You need to make good grades but not at the expense of the big picture of “higher” education.

5.Enjoy the ride – learning is fun. Avoiding learning is not fun. If you throw yourself into the learning process and abandon yourself to curiosity and interest in new things, you’ll have a lot more fun in college than if you view your classes as hurdles or burdens. College becomes a miserable experience when you start to take your primary focus off of what you are learning and fragmenting it among everything else. Take a lesson from my 20-month old daughter, who takes absolute pleasure in learning anything. We were all in that place once — let’s all go back there.

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