Remember when I was worried about that one student that has a reputation for being disruptive and hostile? I had a conversation with a couple of the professors who've had him in class, and they both said that his deal is that if he is not convinced of the practical value of the subject matter, he gets angry about spending all this money on useless stuff. Etc.
Philosphical differences aside, I can in good conscious play along with this to some degree, because I believe in clueing the students in to why we're learning this subject matter. I started this thing in a class I was teaching 5 weeks of last semester, an 8 AM numerical methods type of class. It's really easy to lose contact with the students with that material at that hour. So I decided I'd begin every class with the same two questions: 1. WHO CARES? and 2. How do we do it? By the end of the second week, I was amused that when I start off saying, "Whenever we hit new material, we must ask ourselves two questions. The first is . . . " I'd get a whole chorus back of "WHO CARES?". But, more valuably, I'd ask the class to do a couple minutes of brainstorming trying to think up who does care, and why. And then we'd move on to question 2 and discuss all the relevant nuts and bolts.
I liked so much the vibe that generated right at the beginning that I decided to continue the practice in my current class. I think the students are more willing to get their minds into the material if they're sold at the beginning on the idea that it's useful or valuable in some way. It also seems to have, for the time being, placated the squeaky student, because I have had zero problems with him so far. In fact, he contributes to the discussions, and jokes around with me during labs, and has so far not scared me much. So yay for that.
3 hours ago