U-CLaSS: Learning Math – What Works and What Doesn’t Work

On Thursday, November 10, 2022, folks from the UW-Madison Teaching Academy met with a group of students in the Chadbourne Residential Hall to talk about learning math. Here’s a summary of what the students said:

Things we would like you to be aware of:

  • Learning math in college is different than learning high school math. The pace of lecture in college is much faster than high school. Sometimes it seems like the content is being taught completely differently than we saw in high school.
  • We like active learning, but it can be difficult if the techniques are different than we have learned previously. It would be useful if instructors could provide advice that might help us adjust to the faster pace, and if instructors could point out similarities and differences between techniques learned in high school versus college level math.
  • We like having lots of opportunities to practice and provide ways for us to confirm our understanding (in class, in discussion section, on homework, etc.) It is nice to allow for different ways to show understanding since high stakes tests are stressful.
  • We like working on problems in small groups with our peers, but it’s also nice to have the TA/instructor walk us through a solution once or twice per discussion section so we know our formatting and notation are correct. Practice problems during lecture would help all of us, teacher and student alike, to make sure we’re understanding the material being presented.
  • We’re not used to needing to ask for help, but we know that individualized attention helps when we’re stuck. Sometimes we need to be invited to ask questions, especially during lecture. Tell us where to get individualized help (office hours, math learning center, piazza, etc.) and remind us often about these resources.

Things we find very helpful:

  1. Clearly communicate what is expected of us, such as what and how much detail needs to be shown on exams.
  2. Give timely feedback.
  3. Give formative feedback, specifically low stakes chances to practice.
  4. Show complete examples.
  5. Talk about where students make mistakes.
  6. Provide advice on how to make the most of discussion sections.

Question we’d like you to answer:

  • Why can’t we use calculators on exams?

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