I try not to ask, “Are there any questions?” in my classes. First, I know my students have questions. Second, that is pretty open-ended and I often get questions that are unrelated to the matter at hand (continue reading for an example). I instead try to say, “What questions do you have about this example/problem/idea?”.
I’ve written before a bit about how I incorporate writing in my freshman math classes and Dan Greene has written about his Numeracy students writing reflective journals. As my seniors haven’t been asking any questions in class, I gave them a quick writing assignment. Now that I’ve had time to read the responses, I wish I had done it sooner.
They responded to the following while I checked homework:
Explain the different ways you can solve a quadratic equation and the relationship between these different ways.
List any questions you still have. Be specific.
Their answers to the first part were interesting and provided insight into their thinking. Most students listed multiple methods to solve a quadratic. However, very few made any connections between the different methods. In fact, some said there was no relationship between any of these. Most disturbing was the number who wrote that finding the zeros allowed them to write the equation in vertex form.
Their questions in the second part let me know what is still troubling for them. Most indicated they still didn’t understand how to complete the square. Many asked how they were supposed to know which method to use. Some indicated they are still confused by imaginary numbers*. Quite a few indicated that they want more practice (that one surprised me). One student wanted to know where babies come from (my fault though, I didn’t write “…questions you have about quadratics.”).
This ten minute activity has given me a better idea as to what I need to plan for next week. I’m definitely going to give writing prompts more often.
I do wish though, that they felt comfortable enough to ask these questions in class. I need to figure out what I’m doing that isn’t making them feel safe enough to do so.
* Why, oh why, do we have to call them that? Saying they are complex numbers doesn’t help to inspire confidence either.