First Day Plan: Calculus I

Friday, August 24, 2012

I hope to document some of my classes throughout the upcoming semester on the blog.  I figure it might be a good way to spark some dialogue with other readers on ideas and (especially) improvements.  It will also serve as a nice diary of sorts for myself when it comes time to assess what did and did not work.

For today's post, I present my plans for Day 1 of my Calculus I course.  In the past (I've taught Calculus I for three or four years now), I jumped right into the first lecture on limits after spending about 10 minutes going over the highlights of the syllabus (and explaining our course management software - Moodle).  After the introductory lesson I limits, I usually handed the students a PreCalculus (and algebra) review worksheet.   Here's one page of my review worksheet...

As you can see, the worksheet isn't trivial for the students - but it's terribly boring.  Even worse, there are three more pages of similar work, including a page of graphing.  I have found that my students need the review (hence the worksheet) but based on many of the edu-bloggers posts that I've read over the summer, I decided to try something different this year.

This time around, I have different ideas (most of which I've stolen from a variety of great bloggers).  I plan to greet my students as they arrive in the door with a PowerPoint displaying the course name (and my name).  That way, in case a poor freshman wanders into the wrong classroom he or she will (hopefully) figure it out right away and leave before they get too embarrassed by the gaffe.  As the students file in and admire my beautiful slide (just kidding), I will hand them a survey called "Who Am I?"  I stole the idea (even the name) from Dan over at dy/dan.

This will give the "early birds" something to do and I hope it will also set the tone that my class isn't going to be a "typical" math class (whatever typical means...mostly bad things I'm afraid).  After I introduce myself, we are going to split up and jump right into an ice breaker activity (cup stacking, also stolen from dy/dan).

At this point, I should be able to say that I've spoken to every student in the class and hopefully interacted (either formally with math questions or informally based on something I saw on their Who Am I? page).  Following the cup stacking activity (which I'm estimating about 10 minutes - I have a PowerPoint presentation that will serve as a prompt for each question).  The students will first guess how many cups are necessary by themselves and then answer all remaining questions as a group (including comparing each of the guesses).  I just went through my school's Writing Across the Curriculum training so the idea of writing responses to questions is fresh in my mind!

At this point, there should be about 30 minutes remaining (give or take a few) in a 65 minute class.  With most of the remaining time, I'm going to do a variation of a drawing activity (that I also saw on a blog but I don't remember where - probably dy/dan since that's where everything else came from but I can't be sure).  Basically, the idea is to have one student in each group act as the "eyes" and a second to act as the "hands".  The eyes are looking at a picture on the PowerPoint slide while the hands have their back to the screen.  The eyes have to describe what they see and the hands have to listen to the description and make the best drawing they can.  

My pictures begin with a happy face (very simple) and then progress through an increasingly challenging series of graphs (linear all the way to horrible discontinuous graphs).  In fact, one of the graphs was pulled directly from my Day 3 lesson (foreshadowing - ooooh!).  The final drawing should be a riot - after a bunch of mathematical functions, the final drawing is of a train (and fairly detailed at that).  It should be fun!

Finally, in the last couple of remaining minutes in the class, my students will be given their assignment - essentially a longer survey (with a little bit of mathematical review thrown in).  

I've scanned the final page of the survey, mostly because it's the one original bit (the beginning questions in the survey are inspired by a post on Long tails of \int e^r est) of my day one lesson.

As I write out my lesson (something I rarely do besides the PowerPoint), I think I've got a day that should be more interesting than the usual "syllabus day" for day one.  In fact, you might have noticed that I didn't mention going over the syllabus at all - I actually have three slides dedicated to it (one on my contact information and office hours, one on the grading scheme since that's all students care about anyway, and the final on the Moodle course page password).  The syllabus is wedged in between the two main activities - and will be handed out while students are reorganizing themselves.  

I have no idea if the new plan will make the class any better at algebra and/or PreCalculus as compared to previous semesters where the main assignment was the lengthy worksheet, but if I had to guess I'd say the students won't be any worse on average.  I know for a fact that the day will be more fun - I hate syllabus days as much as anyone, and the students seem to hate it if I jump right into a lecture on day 1.  Hopefully they will be too busy having a good time to realize that they are learning (or at least reviewing) mathematical concepts. 

"Did you just describe that graph with the word multiplicity?  What does that mean again?"

At least, that's what I hope to hear on Monday.  We shall see.


Carlos Salgado said...

Let me tell you that this is one original way to kick off your course. Very interactive and will definitely grasp the attention of your students.

FanOfReds said...

Thanks! I've found valuable resources all over the internet (especially blogs) so I am hoping that my thoughts will maybe inspire others. I'll have to try to remember to take notes so that I can write a follow-up post next week.

Sue VanHattum said...

Keep us informed about how it goes.

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