Thursday, December 20, 2018

My Unforgettable Mechanics Class: Fall 2018

I have just finished grading their final exams, and I am stunned.  I am overjoyed.  Let me tell you the story of an educational experience that 41 students and this teacher shared and will never forget.

I want to first describe the students making up this 2018 Honours Science Cohort at Vanier College as individuals.  They are polite, respectful, and sincere.  Some are loud, like very loud.  Only a few of them were 'good at Mechanics' when I met them, but nearly all of them would climb Mount Everest if they would be granted Mastery of the subject upon arrival (or a grade that is sufficient for admission to Medical School... Or whatever their motivation is - I really cannot tell anymore).

More importantly, let me describe them as a group.  They are louder.  They are crazy.  They are a mob.  They breathe so much energy into a room that the walls begin to oscillate.

My view from the front of the classroom is as follows: Take 41 eighteen-year-olds, and ask them to eat nothing but chocolate covered espresso beans for an entire day, and avoid sleep for an entire week.  They were a combination of awake and asleep, standing while falling... They were completely insane and, at times, brought me to the cusp of my own sanity.

Instead of going entirely nuts myself, I managed to be an adult, and to just be inspired by them.  More than anything, the fact that the median grade on their first college physics exam was 82% (15% higher than many groups taking the same exam) gives me hope that smart kids who try hard will find their footing in life.  There were lessons along the way, though.  Lots of them.

Lesson (1): Sleep.  Each night, 6 hours is a minimum amount to function for any reasonable amount of days.  This would have helped the small subset of students who actually forgot to answer some questions on the final exam (this happened way more often with this group than normal... I attribute this to a lack of sleep).  I know that they did not run out of time, because some of them had time to talk to themselves during the exam, while another managed to compose a poem about the semester.

Lesson (2): Study effectively.  Not hours of random internet videos... Review notes, quizzes, labs.  Think about the course material, and ask questions in class or visit the teacher's office whenever it might be useful.

Lesson (3): Making mistakes can be a part of learning.  The reason these students achieved something unprecedented in my nearly one decade of teaching fundamental physics (no class of mine had ever reached a median of 76% before on a first college final exam, and this class blew past that record) is because they asked a lot of questions, performed somewhat poorly on some quizzes, and eventually, righted their own ship.

The most critical lesson is one they will hopefully learn soon: they need not make one thousand mistakes in terms of study habits and time management to achieve these remarkable results again.  They just need to apply themselves, and act with the confidence that they have earned the right to possess.  A less frenetic semester can still be successful, and can leave time for non-academic activities, which is actually very important.

This is a story of a bunch of crazy science students who took ownership of their education both as individuals, and as a collective.  I hope their parents read this, because I do not shower people with compliments when they are not merited.

I will not say I was asleep when I met this group of students just 17 weeks ago, but I was not the same person.  They have had a hand in changing me - hopefully for the better.  I just need to sleep for about a week, then I'll be good.  I will be ready to face them again in January - turns out I will have the opportunity be their teacher again (teaching the same cohort of students a second course will be a first for me).

When I meet this group again in 2019, I will try to employ some of the lessons that I learned while watching them have the most important, and most exhausting semester of their lives.


Rebecca Khammar said...

Sir I can't tell you how much we appreciate you, you not only got us through our first semester as a teacher but you cared for us as your own. I am so grateful that we get to have you again next semester even though I dreamt about torque problems before your exam. You will always be our Master Coco even after CEGEP. ❤️

nivs bala said...

Master Coco, we are grateful to have had such an amazing person like you to guide us through this semester. We are extremely excited for next semester as well!
Just a little side note... we weren't just students..we are all like family! :)

Quassandra Dolny said...

Sir, even if it was a very.... different if I may say experience I will always remember our semester 1 mechanics classes. And I think I speak for all of us when I say that we are overjoyed that you will be our waves teacher in 2019. You helped us in ways you probably don’t know. When I was down because of my marks, or some other reason, I always had a smile on my face knowing I had mechanics with master Coco and the 40 other students I can now call family. Even if we know what cegep holds, will won’t stop being loud and some what crazy, it is mater Coco’s class after all:)!!!

The Engineer said...

Not sure what to say. Thank you.

The semester left a permanent mark on us all. All we can do from here is try to get better. My hope is that we can still look forward to class, learn the material well, but have an easier time of it. Learning is never easy, but it does not need to be all that difficult either.