Student Responses on First Day Survey in Games & Gambling

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I've been teaching in front of a college classroom every semester since I graduated from my undergrad institution back in 2005.  In that time, I believe I've given a first day survey every semester (except maybe my first).  The classes that I've taught have changed over the years (as has the institutions where I teach) - and the survey has changed as well, but the goal of the survey remains the same.  I want to get to know my students as people AND I want to know what they know (and what they think they know) coming into the course.

I asked the students a variety of questions on the survey - but I've only highlighted the "interesting" questions.

Why did you sign up for this course?

  • Looked like a fun and informative course to fill a distribution requirement  (9 people)
  • Heard it was a fun class (1 person)
  • Love games (1 person)
  • For distribution (without any mention of fun/interesting)  (3 people)
  • Variety in math classes (3 people)
Note:  The first question was a short answer so I categorized the answers as best I could.

If you had to, which ONE of the following games would you play (with the goal to make money at a casino):  

  • Craps:   1
  • Roulette:  3
  • Blackjack:  11
  • Slot Machines:  2
  • Keno: 0

The first question was designed to figure out my audience.  The second was designed to figure out what preconceived notions the students had in regards to gambling.  I also had a series of true/false and a few ranking questions on the survey (interesting to me but probably not great blogging fodder).

What information can I glean from the two selected questions?  Looking at question #1, it seems clear that the majority of the students signed up because the class sounded like a fun way to earn their mathematics distribution credit.  While some mathematicians may cringe at that idea, I think it's awesome.  It's not easy to have a non-majors mathematics class that the students are excited about before they even step foot in the classroom.

The second question was interesting to me because the majority of the class decided that Blackjack was the way to go if the goal was making money.  It's clear to me that movies like 21 (plus the glamorized depictions of casinos in movies like Ocean's 11 have an effect on people).  It was also interesting that no one chose Keno (a wise move by the way) despite the fact that Keno is also available at a lot of non-casino locations (including the Maryland state lottery).

I should mention (for those that are curious) that there isn't exactly a "correct" answer to the second question.  Keno is clearly wrong in terms of things like expected value - but if you only have $1 to bet, you have a slim chance at winning say $10,000 in Keno - unlike any other game in the list!  I didn't ask for any sort of written explanation from the students so I don't have any idea why each student chose the game they did.  The real value (for me) will be the follow-up survey at the end of the semester where I'll put the same question with a spot for a written explanation.  We'll see what they glean from the semester's worth of material!

Another Semester is About to Begin

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Another semester is about to begin, only this time my teaching load feels a lot lighter!  Once again, I'm teaching two sections of Calculus I (with labs) and a section of the course I developed last semester (Mathematics of Games and Gambling).  The Games and Gambling course went quite well last semester though I don't have the results of the anonymous survey that all our students take at the end of the semester.  I expect there will be a few complaints but for the most part I'm expecting good things.

So where does that leave me for Spring 2013*?
*It's weird writing 2013 isn't it?

Well, I have two big goals for the semester.
1.  In Games & Gambling:  Tailor the course to the individuals in the class.  In other words, don't fall into the trap of doing exactly what I did last semester simply because the lessons are complete.  Last semester I tried to hit the interests of the students, let's do it again.
2.  In Calculus I:  Come up with some way to make labs enjoyable learning experiences rather than current Mathematica syntax heavy monstrosities that they are now.  I did manage to rewrite one lab last semester and had fairly good results - so I know it's possible.

  What are your teaching goals for the upcoming semester?

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