Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to do a better job of helping my students see the “big picture” view of what they’re learning. It’s easy to get bogged down with particular equations or specific problem types. I want my students to know what they’re study, and why, at all times.
One way of meeting this goal is to send out a weekly email update. In addition to assigning homework, delineating support and extension readings, and restating the major ideas and themes, I try to give a picture of how this topic fits into the larger panorama of science, math, or human knowledge.
The advantage of doing this via email, as opposed to posting it on the class website, is that students are already comfortable with the email reading apparatus. They’ve also incorporated it into their lives. I want my students to reflect on the value of set theory at precisely the time when they’re relaxing after dinner, or riding the bus home from school — not while they’re elbow-deep in homework.
Further, by putting the homework assignment into email (as opposed to posting it online), it is accessible in a familiar way. I don’t need to worry about students having difficulty accessing it, not looking at it until the last minute, or conveniently forgetting they have to do it. Simply by typing my words into a different box, I’ve moved the out-of-class portion of my class from a passive to an active form of communication.
The students have responded to it, too. During class today, approximately half of the students had read and thought about a syllogism I’d written at the bottom of the email update I’d sent the previous evening (formal logic starts next week).