Last week was spring break, and like many professors around the world, I didn’t get enough grading done. But when we came back this week, I was able to reconnect with the Math, Art, and Design class that the students took over. I had good intentions after that class of emailing the students and letting them know how much I appreciated the class. I never did that, so in our first class back from break, I felt I really had to address what had happened. I started with, “Wow, that last class was rough,” and I went on to tell them most of what I had written about in the blog post. I was happy that several of the students wanted to talk about what had happened, and many of them also wanted to reassure me about the class. I said a bit about power in the classroom, and that I have a real belief in the importance of giving them power, but that I found that in practice that can be really challenging. I also fessed up to the fact that I had been trying to shove a lot of content under the rug. So we started over, and I gave them what I think was a good, visual introduction to complex numbers and operations with complex numbers. The nice thing was that they all seemed to “get it.”
In contrast, my second Math, Art, and Design class is still a huge challenge for me. I did a better job of having them work this week. I find that I have to be very explicit with this class. If I say, “Do these calculations,” most of them are stuck until I start to lead them through, asking focused, direct questions at each step (e.g. “Do you know what this question means?” or “Can you point to that on the graph?”). The trouble is that if I try to do that with the whole class, I generally can only get one or two of them engaged. So I have to do this explicit drawing out with each student. Luckily there are only eight students. Today for part of the time I was having them use computer programs, and I have to be clear about the directions there. “Use one of these two tools which you will find on the schedule and assignments page on the course website” usually leaves them still sitting there until I say, “Right now I want you to go to the course website. Then click on _____ and scroll down to ____. From there, click on the link under #2 or #3.”
I still feel so lost with this class, that I don’t even know why they get so frozen and nonresponsive. If I had to guess, which at this point is my only option, I’d say that there is no trust in the class. I haven’t actually put any kind of real changes into the classroom because I’m a big chicken and I don’t feel safe in the classroom. I have been avoiding having them give feedback for weeks, but I really need to connect with them next week. I have connected with a few of them, but on the whole the class still feels like a really really awkward blind date.