November 2009

After reading Bhuz a little today and coming back from the holiday, I realized that learning is learning and students are students, regardless of what they are studying.

Practice the big issue. We talk about it on Bhuz from time to time that the only way to really get better is to practice outside the class. One hour or even 1.5 hours of class per week is not enough to get it down. Same with school/physics. You can’t really expect to learn it, let alone be fairly competant, without practice. There are so many analoguous examples. No one learned to walk in 1.5 hours, and they were not good at it in that short of time.

Along the lines of practice, some students effect major achievement with minimal effort. That’s difficult to do. Most people have to do some work. I can’t judge how much work (as my boss puts it, “Study better not longer”), but some work is needed to achieve. Showing up to class simply isn’t enough to do well.

The final issue I find interesting is the entire of adjusting to the teacher’s style. Unless what s/he is doing is detrimental to your body (dance or anything athletic) or just plain wrong (incorrect math), students have to adjust to their teacher’s style. When I took lessons from Danielle, I used her posture, even though I fully intend to use Sonya’s posture when I dance. Why? Because she was my teacher at that time, and that was what she required. Sure, I struggled because the posture was different from what I normally do in dance or daily life, but at the end of the day, her posture didn’t harm my body.

Language and teaching style are a big issue for adjustment. If you start out with Teacher A, she may use different words than Teacher B to describe the same thing. As a student, you need to learn what she is talking about. In terms of teaching style, everyone has a different one based upon their experiences. I give problems to my students in class that are similar to the homework/examples we do, because it’s more active than taking notes. I can watch my dance teacher or physics professor demonstrate something new, but the chances of me nailing it after one or two viewings is slim to impossible. While you certainly should ask her about things, you shouldn’t assume that she’s wrong or that she should adjust to your style. The teacher has to teach 10-20some people; it would be impossible to adjust to everyone’s style and language. Most people aren’t trying to make your life miserable or humliate you; they really want to help.

Working both sides of things, I understand that being a student can be difficult. However, you have to be pro-active in your learning and approach the classroom, be it dance or academic with an open-mind and humbleness.

The break provided me with some much needed R&R. I was semi-productive (cleaned, worked on my thesis), but I mostly relaxed. With moving and working simultaneously, it was good for me to take a break. I have more energy now than I did before.

I can’t believe that the semester is over soon. Although there have definitely been moments or days where things couldn’t be done faster (dealing with plagiarism), the semester went by fast.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Here’s the highlights of what I’m thankful for from this past year:

  1. Friends who came through for me when my father died and in general when my life crashed down. Even the little gestures like a phone call or message from someone I hadn’t talked to in awhile meant so much.
  2. My job. Being unemployed is rotten for a myriad of reasons. Even if my job is challenging I am thankful that I have it.
  3. Old professors. I keep in touch with them, and they mean so much to me. Though they can’t always help, their support is truly astounding.
  4. My coworkers. My job is difficult but at least I have supportive coworkers who will at least commiserate with the challenges.

I guess what I’m most thankful for are the people I’ve had in my life this year who’ve helped make things easier on me.

I spent yesterday sick. Coincidentally, right as I began administering the exam for my students, my nose began dripping like crazy. I came home yesterday and slept like crazy. Dance class (I was going to try drop in ballet tonight) is not in my best interest right now.

However, I do plan on starting back with practice. I know how drill, even if my notes and DVDs are still in Chicago. I can with that and should I get exhausted, break. I do plan on looking at new DVDs. I don’t want to do a drill DVD necessarily; I think I’ve more or less have a good background on drilling practice from class or other DVDs. I’m looking more at technique right now. Something to sharpen mine and create new ideas for me when I start choreographing again. Any amazing DVDs people have come across, either in the past or very recently?

Part of what makes teaching, especially being new at it, is trying to figure out what makes the most sense to do. At this school, exams are heavily weighted (20% for 3 tests, 20% for a final), so it’s important that they do well. Everyone here has a system to help the students do better. One professor allows for infinite number of retakes. Another allows for students to make up their own problems and submit a correct solution.

Here are my strategies with the exam:

  • Give a practice exam in class. They receive a study guide about a week earlier to complete on their own; the study guide consists of problems that are more or less the same as the problems we do in class/homework. At that point, they may have seen those problems 3 times or more. The reason I give an in class practice exam is because most of my students don’t have great studying or test-taking skills. It forces them to look at what they don’t know; I’ve seen a few of them look at problems and think they understand what’s going on, because they have a solution right in front of them. The practice exam either builds up the confidence of those who have been working diligently or gives the student feedback immediately what they don’t know. In terms of test-taking, it is very different to take a test in a room with other people at an hour you’d rather be asleep than when you’re at home in conditions you set.
  • Exam corrections. I allow for exam corrections on the condition that they provide a good reason why they didn’t get the correct answer. Confusing numbers, adding incorrectly, calculator errors (we have a ton of those), etc. I think in the heat of the moment, they confuse weird little things. They cannot correct problems where they don’t show enough work or if they give a poor reason, like they didn’t study or they didn’t understand the problem. For the students who actually care, they can easily catch their mistakes. For those who do not, they don’t do much.

My system isn’t flawless. For some students, this class is very simple. For the rest, though, they struggle to get a passing grade on the exam even though the practice exam resembles the real exam. With exam corrections, I have to make tough judgments whether the student really understood the problem; I don’t want the exam corrections to turn into a system where the student blows off the exam and then receives full credit for essentially copying notes. A few of them struggle to understand why every problem is not eligible for corrections, but we’re working on that one.

I’m in the process of revamping my test taking policies for the students. I’ve decided that I’m not allowing them to redo most of the diagrams and debating about whether I should allow them to earn extra points for forgetting units. What is your take on what I should do?

My advisor decided I needed to update a graph that I made used Matlab. A small theoretical curve graph, nothing fancy or labor intensive. I thought that it would take 5 minutes to make the small changes. I was wrong, it turned out. Matlab became screwy after I upgraded to Snow Leopard (the latest Mac OS). It won’t let me save graphs and displays my y-axis label oddly. I had one of those midnight moments where I didn’t think it was possible to change it. I considered editing the graphic under Photoshop, since the changes were really cosmetic (a frame, a thicker line) but couldn’t figure out how to make a credible thicker graphed line.

Then walking for my coffee, I realized that all I graphed was an equation and I could redo it in Mathematica (which still functions). Solution worked. However, I learned a very important lesson: don’t upgrade until everything is done.

Everyone has their theories on dance training. Some dancers are adamant about keeping their dance “pure”, ie. not studying other forms of dance. Others relish in cross training. I’m in the latter category.

I love Middle Eastern dance, don’t get me wrong. However, I do get bored occasionally and like to check out what’s there. Although I love Odissi and Bharatanatyam, I think I want try a “Western” classical dance. A lot of dance friends have said ballet has improved their posture, arms, and carriage. It looks like something that could fun and ultimately improve my Middle Eastern dance. I have decent posture, arms, and carriage, but I could always improve.

Going to ballet will also help familiarize me with ballet terms. A lot of dance teachers use them, even those without much ballet training. Rather than have to guess at what second position is, I hopefully will be able to understand without much thought.

I’m not convinced ballet will be something I love, but I think it can indeed be useful and enjoyable.

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