of student course evaluations:
I received the evaluations by e-mail today from Michael V., typed carefully
and with all identifying characteristics removed. Per our agreement, he
waited until after all the final grades had been submitted.
Many thanks to all of you for your candid and thoughtful comments. Most of
the comments were echoed by multiple students. However, I also received some “singleton”
comments (comments written by only one student) that are paraphrased below:
Positive singleton comments: Days
off, field trip to National Cryptologic Museum, non-mathematical aspects of
the course, oral exam in the piano practice room, “no calc” final exam, and presentation
of techniques of antidifferentiation (Chapter 9).
Negative singleton comments or
suggestions for improvement: One student said that except for the
Lagrange error bound, the difficulty of power series (Chapter 12) was
overstated. Another comment was ambiguous; the student said that the collaboration
“cheating” scandal was unfairly handled, but because of the way the comment
was worded, I could not tell whether the student felt that I was too harsh
(because all students have collaborated at some time or another) or too
lenient (because students are supposed to know that collaboration must avoid
The remaining comments, all of which involved two or more students, are
grouped below by subject area and summarized within each subject area.
AP preparation: 4 comments, 100%
Fun Friday: 3 comments, 100%
positive, although 2 of these 3 indicated that there should have been more playing
of the association game.
General assessment of course and Mr.
Hansen: 7 comments. Of these, 14% were positive, 29% were negative, and
the rest were mixed. The verbal comments were more informative than the raw
count, however. The 7 comments may be summarized and paraphrased as follows:
- A most edifying class, though not the most
- Entertaining, but somewhat confusing,
especially concerning the exam
- Entertaining, but too hard
- Glad to have taken the class, but it was too
- Great teacher, organized, well prepared, etc.
- Not very enjoyable and not sufficiently well
- Too teacher-centric; problems should be worked
primarily by students
Grading: 6 comments. Of these, 33% were positive, 50% were
negative, and the remaining one was mixed (a student who said that the system
was helpful overall but that positive points would be better than negative
points). One of the negative comments was that there were too many A+ grades.
The remaining 4 comments all dealt with bonus points: 2 thought the system
was good, and 2 were opposed to it, saying that it unfairly rewarded people
for nonacademic reasons.
Hardware: 3 comments, 67% negative.
One person stated that the bar code scanner (Necroman) and class randomizer
(Smokey) were worse than bad. One person stated that Smokey was a positive
and thought that Smokey was not utilized enough.
Helpfulness in class: 7 comments,
86% negative. Almost all of the students who mentioned this topic stated that
I need to provide more in-class worked examples and to provide more direct
instruction. One student stated that I would be more effective as a teacher if
I reached out more, using kindness as a way of closing what he called an
intimidation gap. Two students specifically referred to cases in which
examples that failed (as a result of numerical errors) wasted days of class
time. One student thanked me for my willingness to consider all questions but
stated that I sometimes needed to exercise determination to cut off questions
and move on.
Response: This is probably the
touchiest area and the area I most need to address for next year. I should
provide more worked examples, particularly examples that are similar to known
categories of AP problems. However, HappyCal cannot be (and probably should
not be) a class like some others you may have had, in which each topic is
introduced, explained for you, and put to rest with a series of cookbook-like
example problems and templates. Calculus AB is not like that, but AB probably
lends itself more to that model than BC does. One thing I certainly need to do
next year is to set expectations
properly, telling the BC students on the
first day that if they need a lot of worked examples to feel comfortable and
learn, they will probably be happier in the AB class.
Helpfulness outside of class: 1
comment, 100% positive.
Response: Since there were only 6
students who came to see me for help outside of class during the entire year,
I am not sure how to interpret this statistic. A positive spin would be that
nobody commented negatively on the help I provided outside of class. The
negative spin, of course, is that only 6 students sought help from me, and of
those, only one of them had anything positive to say about the experience. Next
year, I think I will require that every student visit me at least once to ask
a question outside of class. After all, there was no one who found all of the homework problems
Homework: 9 comments, 67%
negative. One student said that there should be more reading assignments,
including reading that went beyond the textbook. Four students said that
homework was not scanned frequently enough. Two said that it was scanned too
frequently. Of those who mentioned the volume of homework, one said that it
was too much and the other said that it was about right (60-90 minutes per
night). Hmmm. Perhaps that was meant sarcastically, since I certainly
consider 60-90 minutes per night to be excessive.
Response: It is not the case, as
one student apparently felt, that college-level calculus courses require
problems to be worked only on a weekly cycle. Although it might be more
comfortable to have problems due only once per week, the calculus is a cumulative
subject, and if you miss a day or two you can quickly get too far behind to participate
meaningfully in class. Unlike history, for example, in which you can almost
always participate if you at least know the most recent day’s assignment, the
calculus requires daily effort. Occasional exceptions can be tolerated (hence
my dropping of a few low HW scores each quarter), but they need to be kept to
Quizzes: 2 comments, 50% negative.
Strictness: 9 comments, 44%
negative, 33% mixed. There were 2 students who thought the strictness was
good, with one citing academic rigor and the other saying that he liked the
Response: For next year, I am
planning to change the point system so that each student can choose which
plan he wishes to be on. “Plan A” will be 10 bonus points at the beginning of
the semester but with the usual deductions for minor infractions: 1 point for
each minute of tardiness, 2 points for talking while another student has the
floor, 3 points for yawning or disrespect, etc. “Plan B” will involve no
point bonuses and no point deductions, but repeat offenders (after a few
warnings, that is) will get 7 o’clocks instead. Or, maybe I will just forget
the whole thing and make life easy on myself.
Tangents and digressions: 8
comments, 25% positive, 12.5% negative. The rest all said something to the
effect of enjoying the tangents but wanting them to be limited in scope,
especially on days near an upcoming test.
Tests: 9 comments, 55% negative.
Most people stated that the tests were too difficult. The Feb. 14 take-home
test was cited 3 times by its nickname, and 2 of those people felt that it
was a disaster. However, 2 people (including one who seemed to have a
positive impression of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre) recommended that it
become a rite of passage for future HappyCal classes. One person liked the
inclusion of essay questions on tests. One person had a mixed report on test
corrections, saying that they were worthwhile but created too much stress
when due the day following a test.