Over two weeks have passed since my last post so I thought I’d take the time to talk about my adventures during that lapse.
For the second and third weeks of August this year I took a position as an instructor for USF’s Foreword program. The basic idea of the program is this; a select group of incoming freshmen, many of them first generation college students, attend the school for two weeks prior to their first semester. They sign up for some courses that will give them a taste of what the coming years of school will be like. They work in groups and are encouraged to create lasting friendships and make solid connections with their peers. My job was to give them some prep for various math classes.
The experience of working with these young adults for two weeks was one of the most amazing things I’ve set out to do. Having taught math classes for the last year, the feeling wasn’t very different, but the class sizes were. One class had 10 students, the other 12; I haven’t taught this number of people at the same time before and wasn’t sure what to expect.
What I found was that I am much more comfortable in front of a room of people than I ever could have imagined. One of the biggest struggles I have with my small classes when I normally teach is to keep my students engaged in a conversation about mathematics. I find that the more a student just sits and listens, the less they actually learn. I know this first hand as I had a tendency to avoid asking any questions when I was in class. With more students, I could pose questions to them and guide them to their answers. In this respect, I set up an idea for them and helped them develop it on their own with less input from me. This of course doesn’t mean I did less work, but it does mean that I tried to be more creative with the way I explained concepts. I wanted to make sure they understood why the formulas worked in a way that when I asked the same question in the next class they could deduce what the solution was without needing older notes. This style of learning will hopefully benefit them if they take math courses at USF.
But my participation didn’t end at just teaching. While working at USF I had the unique opportunity to live in the dorms, something I’ve never done. Granted, my exposure to the dorms was quite a bit more sheltered from the students, but I gained an interesting insight into the lifestyle. First, my dorm was at the end of the hallway on a nearly empty floor. When I moved in there was only one other person living there, and I rarely saw him. Toward the end more students were moving in, but again, I rarely saw anyone on my floor. Second, I had no roommate. This is less obscure than the first part because sometimes people do end up alone in their dorm rooms. Nonetheless, I had no real prior knowledge of what it would be like having communal bathrooms and no kitchen. On the matter of food I did pretty well, buying food to keep in my small fridge and filling it with items that could be eaten cold (I had no microwave). And as for the bathrooms, I found that waking up early and going to sleep late at night would alleviate any awkwardness that can come from the shared bathroom. Overall I had a very pleasant stay in the dorms.