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Most professors at least try. My junior level math major is really struggling with her mathematical models class. She tells me she must be stupid. This kid has managed to get this far with a minimum of a 95 average in any class. She made a perfect score on her Calc 3 departmental test after her prof said I am running out of time, you have to teach yourself the remainder of the topics. 

But the prof in this class has absolutely terrible ratings. And he is using a book from 1995 with terrible ratings. When she went to him for help he said that he could not answer her question because it would be unfair to the rest of the class.

I don't know how to help her. I don't know what to tell her. I feel helpless. 

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A prof who tells a student he won't answer her questions because it's "unfair to the rest of the class" needs to be reported to their department chair.

Seriously. This warrants going to the next level up. We are required to have in our syllabi a chain of command so students know where to direct complaints that cannot be resolved with the instructor. She needs to complain. Chances are, if the dude is tenured, the chair already knows that his teaching sucks, but nonetheless the chair may be able to reprimand the faculty.

Practically? Get another textbook, connect with other students, self-teach.  See if there is a math help center.

I am sorry she has to deal with this. Not every professor is a gifted teacher, but refusing to answer student questions means he's either lazy or doesn't understand the material himself. none of which are acceptable.
 

Edited by regentrude
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Thank you for responding. I value your opinion, knowing your are a professor yourself. I will pass on your information/advice. She is such a hard worker. It is hard to hear the frustration and panic in her voice.

She doesn't connect with other students well. I will try to advise that again.

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8 hours ago, Linda in TX said:

Most professors at least try. My junior level math major is really struggling with her mathematical models class. She tells me she must be stupid. This kid has managed to get this far with a minimum of a 95 average in any class. She made a perfect score on her Calc 3 departmental test after her prof said I am running out of time, you have to teach yourself the remainder of the topics. 

But the prof in this class has absolutely terrible ratings. And he is using a book from 1995 with terrible ratings. When she went to him for help he said that he could not answer her question because it would be unfair to the rest of the class.

I don't know how to help her. I don't know what to tell her. I feel helpless. 

Was she going to help for help with a question about the course material from the reading or a lecture?  Or, was she seeking help for a graded homework or take-home exam?  I agree that it would help if she worked with other students and knew if those students were having the same struggles.   If so, maybe several of them could ask the question in class (thus taking away the excuse that it would be unfair for one student to hear the answer).  

Because this is a course in her major and she has been successful in her other courses, it might also help for her to reach out to one of her former professors and say that she is struggling with the manner in which the material is presented and the book, and ask if that professor has any recommendations for another book or source that she may turn to for a different perspective. 

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Ah, college in the 1990s!  I thought things had improved since then.  

Tell her to buy highly rated books or check them from the library.  Put her self-study skills to good use.  It's okay if she doesn't connect with other students; sometimes group learning, especially with the blind leading the blind, can be less efficient and it sounds like she'll need every minute she can spare.  Plus, it sounds like she's at the top of her class anyway, so unlikely anyone will add value beyond her own study skills.  

It'll be rough but she'll come out stronger for the experience.  

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oof. I empathize. My math-major daughter had similar struggles with a couple of her math classes. There was no tutoring available because there were so few math majors at this school and these were all upper-level math classes (so those students had already graduated!). My very, very bright daughter felt stupid and that feeling carried on for the next couple of semesters for her, unfortunately. In other classes (that were just as tough) with helpful professors, she learned and grew and flourished!

Unhelpful professors must have no idea of the power they wield. 😞 I know that helpless feeling and it stinks. She had no path but forward, so she slogged through!

FWIW, my daughter made it! A few grades were less than what she wanted, but she took a pass in those classes with relief and called it a day. She graduated and is now already back in school again working toward a specific certification before she hits graduate school!

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2 hours ago, daijobu said:

Ah, It's okay if she doesn't connect with other students; sometimes group learning, especially with the blind leading the blind, can be less efficient and it sounds like she'll need every minute she can spare.  Plus, it sounds like she's at the top of her class anyway, so unlikely anyone will add value beyond her own study skills. 

Wanted to comment on this, because in my experience this isn't true. Working with other, weaker, students can be highly beneficial! All teachers know that you only fully understood something when you have taught it to someone else 🙂 Explaining a concept to another student is the best way to learn, and extremely valuable to the student who is doing it. Even in the blind-leading-the-blind scenario, having to articulate what you do not understand often creates valuable insights. I can't tell you how often I had students have " never mind, I just figured it out " moments when they were forced to put their confusion into words.

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1 hour ago, regentrude said:

Wanted to comment on this, because in my experience this isn't true. Working with other, weaker, students can be highly beneficial! All teachers know that you only fully understood something when you have taught it to someone else 🙂 Explaining a concept to another student is the best way to learn, and extremely valuable to the student who is doing it. Even in the blind-leading-the-blind scenario, having to articulate what you do not understand often creates valuable insights. I can't tell you how often I had students have " never mind, I just figured it out " moments when they were forced to put their confusion into words.

I think programmers have been known to talk to a "rubber duck" on their desk this way if they get stuck. If my dd gets stuck on a math problem that is beyond me, I have her "rubber duck" it to me. Sometimes I can see someplace where she went wrong by having her explain it to me, but often it's just like regentrude says, she sees where she went wrong while explaining it. I could see how this might work in a study group.

I also agree with the previous advice to go up the chain and to also connect with another professor. If there is an "academic success" office on campus, see if they can facilitate a study group, especially if there is someone in the math department who can lend some guidance. Most schools have this focused on struggling/ first generation college students, but can make their services available to all students.

 

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1 hour ago, regentrude said:

Wanted to comment on this, because in my experience this isn't true. Working with other, weaker, students can be highly beneficial! All teachers know that you only fully understood something when you have taught it to someone else 🙂 Explaining a concept to another student is the best way to learn, and extremely valuable to the student who is doing it. Even in the blind-leading-the-blind scenario, having to articulate what you do not understand often creates valuable insights. I can't tell you how often I had students have " never mind, I just figured it out " moments when they were forced to put their confusion into words.

Yes, my daughter is helping others in her class and she sent me this about her experience:

It is actually very beneficial to find other people’s problems because sometimes they are things I hadn’t considered before. And then I actually have to explain the logic of fixing it which is also helpful.

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10 hours ago, Bootsie said:

Was she going to help for help with a question about the course material from the reading or a lecture?  Or, was she seeking help for a graded homework or take-home exam?  I agree that it would help if she worked with other students and knew if those students were having the same struggles.   I

She was just asking if her approach to a homework problem was correct. 

 

And as to meeting with others, because of covid this class is all online. I think she would do better if it was in class. She has a few study groups in some of her other classes, but no one seems to be talking in this class.

Edited by Linda in TX
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3 hours ago, Linda in TX said:

She was just asking if her approach to a homework problem was correct. 

 

And as to meeting with others, because of covid this class is all online. I think she would do better if it was in class. She has a few study groups in some of her other classes, but no one seems to be talking in this class.

Depending upon the pedagogical reason for the homework, I can see situations where a professor would choose not to answer questions for one student, especially in more problem-solving based class.  I have taught classes where the initial wrestling with the question is the most important part of the learning process; sometimes very good students, who in previous classes have focused on the right answer to a problem, are very uncomfortable with that type of pedagogy.   

I have also taught problem-based classes where "homework" was used as a primary means of evaluation and grading.  This has occurred in more problem-solving based classes where a complex, involved problem may not be completed easily in a standard class period examination time.  I am teaching a senior-level finance class this semester and am working on moving students from working textbook problems to get the  right answer to real world problem solving--going from a question, to raw data, to analyzing the data, to communicating the results.  I had a student email this past week about her homework and I would not provide a complete answer for her; I would answer general questions and clarify what the problem was about.  I could tell she needed to think through the problem more, and it was that thinking that was important--not a right answer.  

I would encourage her to reach out to some of the classmates, even though the class is online, to see if they are having similar struggles.  If it is a more problem solving class, the professor may be used to students forming study groups, working together, brainstorming, and expects the type of homework question that she came to him with to be a questions she is discussing with her peers.  The class is online, but is she on a campus where students can still meet in study groups?  

I am curious why she views a book from 1995 as a problem in a math class.  In some fields I could see this as problematic, but in other fields there are classic books that are better in a number of ways than newer textbooks.  I would use some older textbooks in some courses if I knew students could easily get their hands on them.   Even some of the cases used at Harvard Business School are now almost a century old.

 

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1 hour ago, Bootsie said:

Depending upon the pedagogical reason for the homework, I can see situations where a professor would choose not to answer questions for one student, especially in more problem-solving based class.  I have taught classes where the initial wrestling with the question is the most important part of the learning process; sometimes very good students, who in previous classes have focused on the right answer to a problem, are very uncomfortable with that type of pedagogy.   

I have also taught problem-based classes where "homework" was used as a primary means of evaluation and grading.  This has occurred in more problem-solving based classes where a complex, involved problem may not be completed easily in a standard class period examination time.  I am teaching a senior-level finance class this semester and am working on moving students from working textbook problems to get the  right answer to real world problem solving--going from a question, to raw data, to analyzing the data, to communicating the results.  I had a student email this past week about her homework and I would not provide a complete answer for her; I would answer general questions and clarify what the problem was about.  I could tell she needed to think through the problem more, and it was that thinking that was important--not a right answer.  

I would encourage her to reach out to some of the classmates, even though the class is online, to see if they are having similar struggles.  If it is a more problem solving class, the professor may be used to students forming study groups, working together, brainstorming, and expects the type of homework question that she came to him with to be a questions she is discussing with her peers.  The class is online, but is she on a campus where students can still meet in study groups?  

I am curious why she views a book from 1995 as a problem in a math class.  In some fields I could see this as problematic, but in other fields there are classic books that are better in a number of ways than newer textbooks.  I would use some older textbooks in some courses if I knew students could easily get their hands on them.   Even some of the cases used at Harvard Business School are now almost a century old.

 

Agreed on the pedagogical value of letting a student wrestle with a problem. I teach problem solving based classes, too. However, I would never respond to the student that I won't answer their question because it's unfair - while I am not giving away the solution, I can engage in Socratic dialog and give the student a hint which avenue to explore. The option of consulting the professor should be open to every student.

Agreed that a 1995 book can be perfectly fine. I would much prefer to teach physics from a 50 y/o book with actual text rather that these highly distracting modern textbooks which are overloaded with colorful boxes and unrelated images that cost ten times as much as the old one. Now, this said, just being old isn't a guarantee for being a good text either.

 

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It is not the fact that the book is from 1995. It is that it has terrible reviews.

And she works well with Socratic type questioning. That is how I taught her math. But no response is the frustrating part.

The study groups are happening through zoom.

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And the latest for this prof. The first exam is Monday. The last class before this exam was last night. In class the students are saying they do not understand the homework, would he please post solutions so they can see how to do the problems and how to study for the exam. This is for homework that has already been turn in. His answer is no. So they are never able to see correct solutions. 

She has actually made a 100 on every homework and is still uncertain of her approach for each new problem. This test has her extremely concerned. I can't imagine how the students without the 100 grades are feeling.

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I am sorry she is so frustrated with this course.  As a professor, there are many situations in which I do not post the solutions to problems, despite requests from students.  If the questions come from a text book, testbank, or other source, they may be copyright protected and the professor may not have the right to post the answers.  If the professor is teaching another section of the class that has not had everyone turn in  the homework yet, the professor may not want an answer key floating around.  There may be multiple ways of approaching a problem and my answer key has one correct way--but not the only correct way; posting an answer key can cause a great deal of confusion.  Sometimes different students have different numbers in their problems; posting an answer key becomes very difficult.  Sometimes, there is little pedagogical benefit from posting a key.  A student sees that for that problem 100 is plugged in here and 40 is plugged in there and multiplied, but they do not see why or the logic.  They can copy that answer but they can't work a new problem that isn't exactly the same.  Seeing the solution does not give students the skills to apply the logic to a new situation.  

But, in those situations I would encourage the students to talk to me and work through the problems to see where their misunderstanding was occurring or where their logic was off.  

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On 9/17/2020 at 6:32 PM, Linda in TX said:

Thank you for responding. I value your opinion, knowing your are a professor yourself. I will pass on your information/advice. She is such a hard worker. It is hard to hear the frustration and panic in her voice.

She doesn't connect with other students well. I will try to advise that again.

Yikes. What class is this? 

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58 minutes ago, Bootsie said:

I am sorry she is so frustrated with this course.  As a professor, there are many situations in which I do not post the solutions to problems, despite requests from students.  If the questions come from a text book, testbank, or other source, they may be copyright protected and the professor may not have the right to post the answers.  If the professor is teaching another section of the class that has not had everyone turn in  the homework yet, the professor may not want an answer key floating around.  There may be multiple ways of approaching a problem and my answer key has one correct way--but not the only correct way; posting an answer key can cause a great deal of confusion.  Sometimes different students have different numbers in their problems; posting an answer key becomes very difficult.  Sometimes, there is little pedagogical benefit from posting a key.  A student sees that for that problem 100 is plugged in here and 40 is plugged in there and multiplied, but they do not see why or the logic.  They can copy that answer but they can't work a new problem that isn't exactly the same.  Seeing the solution does not give students the skills to apply the logic to a new situation.  

But, in those situations I would encourage the students to talk to me and work through the problems to see where their misunderstanding was occurring or where their logic was off.  

I understand your answer. My husband is a professor and he is careful with who has his answers. She is getting the homework 100 percent correct but still does not feel she understands what she is doing. There is only one section of this class. He is just very vague in all his explanations and does not really answer questions.

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3 minutes ago, Linda in TX said:

I understand your answer. My husband is a professor and he is careful with who has his answers. She is getting the homework 100 percent correct but still does not feel she understands what she is doing. There is only one section of this class. He is just very vague in all his explanations and does not really answer questions.

I had classes in grad school that I felt like that the entire semester!  
I have a colleague who is known for asking questions he doesn't know the answer to--just to see how students approach thinking about the questions; they all think they are failing, but then he has one of the highest grade distributions of any of the faculty at the end of the semester because they get "A's" for trying to solve impossible problems.  

I know that since my own kids are in college, I can see some teaching strategies in an entirely new light.  DS had a professor name an assignment "Sept 29 assignment"--only to find when he went in on Sept 28 to complete the assignment that it was DUE at 1:00pm on Sept 28--who names an assignment with a data AFTER the assignment is due?????

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4 minutes ago, Not_a_number said:

Interesting. I'm not super familiar with what that would mean, since I did pure math and not applied. What are they learning about? 

I am not really certain. I know there is quite a bit of physics application and it uses diff eq somewhat. I did pure math in college also, but I graduated so long ago that I don't remember much past calculus., sigh.

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Her first exam was last night. 4 problems. Two of them included more advanced problems that he never covered in class. And she was talking to the other students before class. (On line class, but in person exams). They have no idea what they are doing. They have just been chegging the homework. So it seems that no one is really understanding.

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14 hours ago, LinRTX said:

Her first exam was last night. 4 problems. Two of them included more advanced problems that he never covered in class. And she was talking to the other students before class. (On line class, but in person exams). They have no idea what they are doing. They have just been chegging the homework. So it seems that no one is really understanding.

Oh, this sounds SO much like my dd's experience. I am so sorry. 😕

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So the professor went over the test. She understood everything he did and thinks she did it the same way, but is not certain she explained it the way he wants. That is the problem she has been having all along -- not certain exactly what he is looking for. 

But the most surprising thing is he will not post the grades. He wants them to email him about what they think they had problems with on the test so he can decide how much to curve. It looks like most the people did not do well on the test and he is surprised. And when she said if I email you will you let me know my current grade. The answer was no, because she should be able to determine it from his explanation.🤷‍♀️

 

Really? What should she think of this approach?

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My first thought before reading your most recent post above:

Has she looked online to see whether a solution manual is available for the textbook the class is using?

Are there more problems in the book that the professor is not assigning that she could do on her own?  If the problems are on the computer (MyLab Math or whatever), is there a physical textbook available that she could get?  This would give her more practice working the problems (which it sounds like she needs).  Also, it is not unheard of for professors to use the problems not assigned for homework on tests, and if she has done all of the problems, she will have encountered the test problems as well.  

My second thought is that the guy is nuts.

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6 minutes ago, EKS said:

 

My second thought is that the guy is nuts.

Well that is my first thought. There is no solution manual for this book, and no answers provided in the back. All the homework he assigns are from the book and are the easier problems. She has gotten 100 on all the assigned homework. She works other problems from the book that are similar to the ones assigned, but some of them are way harder.

She went over his notes several times before this test. On one of his worked examples, he stated that if you move the equilibrium from ... (I did not exactly understand what she said) you need to use much more advanced equations. He never explained more than that. Guess what was on the test.

She studies by working problems over and over and searching for more. There just isn't much guidance.

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21 hours ago, LinRTX said:

But the most surprising thing is he will not post the grades. He wants them to email him about what they think they had problems with on the test so he can decide how much to curve. It looks like most the people did not do well on the test and he is surprised. And when she said if I email you will you let me know my current grade. The answer was no, because she should be able to determine it from his explanation.🤷‍♀️

Really? What should she think of this approach?

The guy is nuts.

Even if he is going to curve at the end and the raw test score is not meaningful, he needs to tell the students how they did on the exam and not have them guess. That's just crazy.

Also, he should be able to discern from the students' answers on the exam what they had trouble with. 

The syllabus should state whom to contact in case of unresolved issue with the prof. It is time to let his department head know.

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3 hours ago, regentrude said:

The guy is nuts.

Even if he is going to curve at the end and the raw test score is not meaningful, he needs to tell the students how they did on the exam and not have them guess. That's just crazy.

Also, he should be able to discern from the students' answers on the exam what they had trouble with. 

The syllabus should state whom to contact in case of unresolved issue with the prof. It is time to let his department head know.

Once again, thank you for the reply. I emailed it to her and she said it made her feel better about things, like she is not the crazy unreasonable one.

 

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3 hours ago, LinRTX said:

Once again, thank you for the reply. I emailed it to her and she said it made her feel better about things, like she is not the crazy unreasonable one.

I am sorry she is second guessing her response.

Prompt feedback and fostering communication between faculty and student are two of the widely accepted principles of good practice in undergraduate education. As a student, she should rightly expect those.

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Thanks everyone for all the concern and interest with the topic. Dd finally got her results. He did curve and her grade came in above 100, at the top of the class. 

I think her problem is that he is so vague about what he wants in the solutions and how he wants the material presented, she is never certain she is answering his questions the way he wants. I think this is the class where he took took off full points for a problem because he wanted her to contact him about how to write it out. He fully intended to give her full credit, so she is always a little gun shy.

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