Tuesday, April 30, 2013

MyMathLab - Search/Email By Criteria

My friend Donna Densmore posted a good article on Instuctor Exchange on one of my favorite MyMathLab features – the “Search/Email by Criteria” option that is built into the MyMathLab Gradebook. Basically, the feature allows you to select users based on their performance and send them an email message. This beats the old system where we had to select students one at a time in the email window, cross-referencing our gradebook to select the correct students.

In the MyMathLab Gradebook, the feature is located under the “More Gradebook Tools” menu.
  • Once you select it, you have the option of choosing students based on: Overall score, Category averages, Assignment Performance, Work Activity, or Name.
  • Once you settle on an option, you set the parameters for which students will be selected – overall score > 90, no score on quiz 4.2, 100% on HW 7, etc.
  • You will get a preview of which students will be notified. You can unselect any student you wish.
  • On the last screen you are able to type an email message that the students will see.
  • The actual email does not list the students in the To: field, so student information is not shared with others. You will receive a copy of the email, and your copy will contain a list of the students that the email was sent to.
Progress Reports
I use the overall score to mail out progress reports, as well as end-of-semester grades. I start by selecting all students whose overall score is above 90%. I add an email message letting them know that their current grade is an A. I then repeat for students whose grade is above 80%, deleting the students that were above 90%, and let them know they have a B. (Unfortunately you can not use a compound inequality such as 80 < score < 90 at this point.) I repeat for C’s, D’s, & F’s.

Final Grades
I use a similar approach for sending out final grades at the end of the semester. This allows me to avoid using the Course Compass Gradebook to post final grades. I’m much happier with my students using only one Gradebook.

On the day that a homework assignment or quiz is due on MyMathLab, I will go through and send an email to any student whose score is below 70% on that assignment, including those who have not started yet. (There is an option for also selecting students who have no score.) In the email I remind them that the deadline is that night in case they have forgotten. It also gives me a chance to remind my students that they should continue to work on their homework until it is perfect, and that they can continue to retake the quizzes.

Pat on the Back
Early in the semester I will seek out those students who earn 100% on a homework assignment, an A on a quiz, or a passing score on an in-class exam. I use the Search/Email function to congratulate the student on their performance and encourage them to keep working hard. Students, especially developmental math students, need all of the encouragement we can offer.

In Conclusion
I think that you’ll find the Search/Email function to be quite helpful. If you have any questions on the function, or any comments in general, either leave a comment on this blog or send me an email through the contact page on my web site – georgewoodbury.com .

I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there are topics you’d like me to address in future MyMathLab articles, send in your requests through the contact page on my web site. – George

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Practice Quiz Activity - Math Study Skills

Here's another blog from my old site that I have reworked - Enjoy!

As we all learned in grad school, being able to anticipate what you’ll be asked is half the battle to be successful on an exam. Helping your students to learn how to create their own practice quizzes will help them learn how to take control of their own education.


  • Assign your students to create a practice quiz for the first section in a chapter.
  • Give them an idea about the types of problems, as well as how many, to include. For the first time I suggest somewhere between 5 and 8 questions, depending on the course and topic. I also tell my students to have a nice variety of problems – some on the easier side, and some that are more challenging. They should be representative of the section, and the goal is to create a practice quiz that prepares a student to take a real quiz on the section.
This can be an in-class activity if you have a spare 10-15 minutes the first time you try it with your students. It can also be a homework assignment.

Where Do You Find Problems To Include?
I suggest starting with odd problems in the textbook. The reason for this is that there are answers in the back that can be used to check your work. Other options are selecting problems from the chapter review or the chapter test in the textbook. If your textbook contains “Quick Check” exercises (exercises that directly follow the examples in the textbook), your students could choose some problems from these.
To determine which problems to include, take a look at the section objectives and include 1 or 2 problems for each objective. Another approach is to look at the homework exercises and select a couple of problems from each problem grouping.

What Do You Do Once The Students Are Done Creating Their Practice Quizzes?
You can:
  • Collect the quizzes and give your feedback.
    This gives you a chance to point out omissions of important types, as well as whether the level of difficulty is appropriate.
  • Have students swap quizzes and analyze the other student’s test. (Too hard, too easy, missing this type of problem, …)
    Same idea as the above option, but this gives students the chance to analyze a practice quiz for length and content. This should help them in the future to write better practice quizzes. I like it because it gives students to also reflect on what they included on their practice quiz - and reflection leads to true learning.

    This could also lead to a THINK-PAIR-SHARE opportunity: have the students merge their two quizzes into one quiz.
  • Have students swap quizzes and take each other’s practice quiz, Ask the student who wrote the practice quiz to grade it.
    This gives the students a chance to take the practice quiz, which is the ultimate goal. A benefit of this approach is it forces students to evaluate each other’s work and explain how to do the problems correctly if there were errors. This can only increase the understanding of both students.
  • Assemble one practice quiz from all of the students and distribute it to the class.
    You could print it out and hand it out in class, but there are other ways. You could post it through a Facebook group, send the questions out through Twitter, … The opportunities are endless.
Building From There
Repeat the process for each section in the chapter. At the midway point, explain to your students that all of their quizzes can be combined into a cumulative practice quiz. The same can be done at the end of the chapter. I do recommend creating a new practice test at the end of the chapter. Students can compare their practice test to the Chapter Test in the textbook to determine if it’s thorough enough.

You can help your students to become more responsible for their own learning by teaching them how to develop their own practice quizzes. This is a skill that will serve them well in your class, and any other class that they take in the future regardless of the discipline. It doesn’t take much class time to get them started, and the benefits are clearly worth it.

I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA, and incorportation of Math Study Skills into our classes is a professional passion of mine. If there’s a particular study skill you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Test Taking Advice for Students

I will be bringing over some blog posts from my old blog to the new site, and adding updates to them. Here is an old blog on preparing for exams.

This week I have a new article coming out on The Instructor Exchange (instructorexchange.com) on preparing for a cumulative exam, so I thought I'd share some ideas for students who are preparing for an exam.

Test Taking Advice for Students

In the words of the great John Wooden, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” One of the keys to doing well on tests is to prepare fully. Start your preparation well in advance of the test, do not wait until the night before to cram. You should know the format of the exam, the topics that will be covered, and approximately how many questions to expect. Try making a list of problems or objectives that you anticipate seeing on the test.

What to Review

Review your old homework assignments, notes, and note cards. Spend more time on problems you struggled with in the past.
Work through the chapter test and the chapter review in the textbook. I recommend working the chapter test first – it will let you know which problem types will require further study. You can find several problems of that type in the chapter review.
In other words, try all the problems on your textbook's chapter test, then only focus on problems in the chapter review that are similar to the problems you struggled with. If you still have problems after that, go to the appropriate section in the textbook for more problems and explanations. Also consider your other resources like your instructor, the tutorial center, your classmates/study group, Internet tutorial videos, ...

Practice Test

Make a practice test for yourself. Take it under test conditions – do not use your notes or textbook, and time yourself. Allow yourself the same amount of time that you will be allowed for the actual test. This will really help you determine which problems you have under control and which problems require further study. Also, you will know whether you are working fast enough to complete the exam.
Many students do not realize they are not fully prepared until they sit down to take the actual test. You must see how you are performing without your resources in order to determine whether you are actually prepared or not.

Final Preparation

Get a good night’s sleep on the night before the exam. If you are tired you cannot think as clearly. Also, be sure to eat properly before your test. It is easy for hungry students to become distracted during a test.

If you have any questions about preparing for a test, or if you have any strategies as an instructor that you would like to share, I’d like to encourage you to share by leaving a comment, or reaching me through the contact page at my web site – georgewoodbury.com.

I am a math instructor at College of Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there’s a particular study skill you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Getting Ready for a Cumulative Math Exam

A question I often ask my students as a cumulative midterm or final exam approaches is "How will you prepare?" Many students tell me that they plan to rework all of their old quizzes, tests, and homework problems. Although I admire their willingness to take on such a Herculean task, I encourage them to use their time wisely.

It does not make sense to spend a lot of time going over problems that you know how to do. Instead you should be focusing on problems that have given you a hard time. The trick is to be able to quickly diagnose your issues, and then find problems to work on that will help you master those topics.

One place to start is with a practice exam from your instructor. If your instructor does not provide a practice test, or you want to start your preparation sooner, try beginning with the chapter tests in your textbook. These problems typically have all of the answers in the back of the book so you will know which ones you have correct. (By the way, avoid looking to the answers until you have solved all of the problems. It is the only way to truly figure out whether you understand the material or not.)

For problems that are incorrect, or problems you don't feel completely confident with, back up a step and look to the chapter reviews in your textbook. Here you will typically find 3-4 problems for each problem that was on the chapter test. Again, the answers to the review problems are typically in the back of the book so you can check your answers. If you need help with any of these problems, make the best use of your resources - classmates, instructor, textbook, tutorial center, online videos, ...

If, after the review, you are still struggling with certain types of problems, it is time to go back to the section of the textbook containing those problems. Look over the worked out examples in the section, as well as the examples in your notes. Then you will find more problems to try in the exercise section. Now you should probably restrict yourself to odd numbered exercises so you can check your answers.

Hopefully, at this point you should be well prepared for your exam.

If you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you. You can either use the comments section on this blog, or you can reach me through the contact page on my website - georgewoodbury.com .

- George

I am a math instructor at College of Sequoias in Visalia, CA and an author of a series of developmental math textbooks. If you have any ideas for future articles, would like to join a blogging group, or contribute a guest blog, drop me a line.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

StatCrunch - Graphic Representation of Data

In my intro stats class, I spent the last two days covering graphic displays for qualitative data (bar graphs, pie charts) and quantitative data (stem & leaf, histograms). Because I am fortunate enough to teach this class in a computer lab, I devoted today's class to a StatCrunch activity day.

To start off, my students joined a StatCrunch group so that I could share the data set with them. I had a data set consisting of 61 individuals and 13 variables (some qualitative, some quantitative). Once they all had the data, I showed them how to create a bar graph for qualitative data for the class that the individuals were taking (8am or 11am). The students then had to create a bar graph for the birth month of these 61 individuals, and answer a couple of questions that called on them to interpret the graph they created.

We followed the same approach (I show one, they do another and use their graph to answer questions) for relative frequency bar graphs, pie charts, stem and leaf displays, histograms, relative frequency histograms, and creating a frequency distribution from a histogram.

I was really happy with the way it went, and we were able to finish well before the 50-minute class ended. My students learned that working with StatCrunch was really easy, and that StatCrunch was quite powerful. (Wait until they see how truly powerful it is!) I also thought it was a great way to review the different types of graphs, know when they are useful, and how to interpret them.

I'd recommend having the directions typed out (so students have a written record of these procedures). I'd also recommend creating your own data set, so you can not only show students how to download data into StatCrunch, but also making sure the data is relevant to your students. I created mine by posting a StatCrunch survey that my classes filled out. Finally, you should have a set of questions that calls on your students to interpret their graphs.

I have posted both the directions and follow up assignment in a Live Binders binder called Stat Files. If you'd like to join my StatCrunch group so you can access the data, be my guest. All I ask is that you drop me an email through the contact page on my website (georgewoodbury.com) so I can keep visitors and students straight.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Day One in a Math Class

Here's a blog from my old Wordpress site, where I share my day one philosophy and strategies. Hope you enjoy!

On the first day of class, especially in a developmental math class, our students are full of fear and anxiety. They feel that math is their worst subject and it’s beyond their reach. They know few, if any, of their classmates. This is not the time to start lecturing. This is the time to start building a community of learners!

I do not lecture on the first day of class. (As a rule, I teach classes that meet 4 times a week for 50 minutes at a time.) I start in a pretty traditional way – I take roll, read through the syllabus, and make sure that everyone understands how the class will go. Then I give my students a survey that allows me to collect information about them. Most of the questions are designed to help the students understand their strengths and weaknesses, and alert them to future potential problems such as working full-time while taking 18 units and taking care of 3 children. (If you would like a copy of my survey, just let me know.) I also ask my students to tell me something that is special or unique about them – it’s a great way to show your students that you are truly interested in them (and their success).
Once the surveys are complete I form groups of 4, giving each group a folder. I ask each group to share their stories with each other, including their response to the special/unique prompt. I then ask them to put their names on the front of the folder and to come up with a group name. It may sound a little juvenile, but it really encourages students to talk to each other. Some groups will sit there and stare at each other, but when I let them know that I will name their group and that they will most definitely not like the name I choose they start talking.

I use these folders to take roll during the semester, and find that it really helps me to learn my students’ names quickly. I also refer to their surveys as I take roll, so I get to know them.
The goal here is to get students to be comfortable with at least 3 other students in the class. As I figure it, connection to classmates leads to connection with the class as a whole, which hopefully leads to a connection with me and the material.

What is your Day 1 like? Do you have something unique that you would like to share? I encourage you to leave a comment on this blog, or reach me through the contact page at my web site – georgewoodbury.com.
I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. Each Wednesday I post an article related to teaching math on my blog. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Good Math Teacher is Like a Good Jockey

There are so many metaphors for teachers, and the latest rage is comparing teachers to coaches. I like a slightly different spin on this - math teacher as a jockey. In a horse race, the jockey's job is to put the horse in a position where the horse can win if the horse is talented enough and has the desire. I feel that as a teacher I perform similar tasks. I explain topics, try to help provide understanding, and give inspiration and motivation. If the student works hard and gives full effort, then the student should pass the course and master the material.

The jockey metaphor extends to the beginning of the course. A jockey will tell you that a race is rarely won at the starting gate, but is often lost there. It is important to get your students off to a good start. You want to establish a positive classroom atmosphere, filling your students with the belief that they can do this. In addition, you want to get your students started on the right path of hard work and full effort.

In my next blog, I will go over my strategy for a successful first day of class.