The first week of class is critical for a course like this. Many students may be skeptical about ever enjoying a mathematics course. For some their attitude toward mathematics may be deeply negative. Some may not be willing to apply themselves beyond the level needed to get a passing grade; some may be apprehensive about the course content or the writing requirement.
For the best outcome, our expectations and attitudes toward the course need to be reset during the first week. By creating a classroom community,
where learning is shared and students are accountable to one another, we believe that the instructor can help craft a course which is more enjoyable for everyone. This is the work of the first week.
Some goals that we have set ourselves for the first week include:
- Students have established a meaningful personal connection with a topic related to the course.
- Students have made connections with other students in the course and are comfortable working in small groups with other students.
- Students have been gently introduced to ideas and topics that we will cover in the course.
- Students have developed some questions related to their personal interests.
- Students understand the expectations of the course and have been invited to commit to doing the work required to succeed in the course.
To help achieve these goals we use an exercise during the first class that allows students an opportunity to get to know other students in the class. Students pair up and introduce themselves to each other. As part of this introduction they share a topic, issue, or idea that they care about or feel strongly committed to. It should be something that can be connected to sustainability is some way. If applicable, students may want to share how they feel about taking a required math course.
After 2 minutes, they change up and meet another student. We do this through four rounds (about 10 minutes), so each student meets four others in the classroom. If there are an odd number of students the instructor should pair up with one student during each round. Usually students will want to introduce themselves only to their immediate neighbors. After the second round, we require students to get up and move around.
At the conclusion of this exercise, we typically call on a few students and ask them to relate a topic shared by another student.
The goal of this exercise is for students to vocalize to others in the course something they care about. We want students to begin to imagine that tools we develop in the course can be connected to things they already care about. We also want students to feel that through their participation the experiences and viewpoints they bring to class are a part of the course itself.
We follow this with small group discussion during the first class about sustainability and the themes of the course. This experience is then reinforced by the initial writing assignment, in which students express in written form some of the ideas and experiences they have already shared with others.
By the end of the second week of class, students are required to belong to a formal group of 4-5 peers. Later in the course they will be periodically by required to work together on in-class group quizzes reviewing material. They can also work together as a group on other in-class activities.