All posts by holtfrerich

Pro Grow

I attend AMATYC (American Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges) conferences very often. I have attended many events offered through our CTLE. I eat lunch most everyday with several of my math colleagues, and we share with each other different ways in which we are all trying to reach our students. One more recent thing I have done is sign up to teach MAT 240 Calc III for the first time ever. I have re-learned a lot and have learned a lot from Laura Watkins who has helped me through the first semester teach a new course. I have an even better understanding of the material in Calc I and II, which I have taught many times, than I had before and a renewed view of what are the most important parts the students need from these two pre-requisite courses.


Being Successful

I believe that I have had many successful events happen in my life both with students and with fellow colleagues. I don’t believe that success is a “rocket science” idea. That is, it isn’t hard to be successful. If your mindset is one of service and unselfishness, then success will come naturally. When you put others first and you approach each day looking for opportunities to assist others you are bound to have successful stories occur. My advice to anyone is, to focus on doing your best at all times whether the job is one you like or dislike, and what will happen then is that you will be an encouragement to others and will make other peoples lives better in the process. Look for the enjoyment that exists in each moment and be content in your situation doing all you can to make your little piece of the world a better place and thus at the end of life you will look back and be happy with how it has all unfolded!


Making A Difference

I believe that I make a difference for my students by giving 100% when I’m at work. My door is always open, when I’m in my office. Anytime I’m engaged with a student or students I don’t leave them until they are satisfied and ready to go onto “their” next task. I structure my courses and have policies in place that help encourage “right” behavior. Like my policy for final exams. I teach math which continually builds on its self. Thus it is important to know if students have learned all that you have covered over the course of the semester. Therefore, I tell my students, at the end of the semester, that if they can score a grade or more higher on their final exam than they are currently making in the course, then I’ll assign them the next higher grade. Example, if someone is making a C in the class and gets a B or A on the final I assign them a grade of B. This has caused the class averages on my finals to raise 10 percentage points on average. It also seems fair to me. If someone can demonstrate that they have managed to put it all together by the end of the semester better than they had at each point along the way they deserve to have their grade reflect their ending level of knowledge. Another policies is, dropping their worst test score if they miss two or fewer classes during the semester. Thus encouraging attendance. I guess the bottom line for me that I think makes all the difference for my students, is that I put them first on my priority list when it comes to my job.


Reflection Based On “Simply The Best”

  • Week 6 (Mar. 9-13): Read the post. Louise asks some really great reflective questions: “Who or what drives you to be the best version of you? Would you be willing to name names?” “Who or what fires your passion for your field of interest and reminds you of your role at GCC?” It’s time to reflect. It’s the last one. Week 6.

Well, this Write 6×6 has pushed me out of my comfort zone. I’m a math/science guy and this writing thing is not my first, second or third choice of fun things to do with my time. That said, it hasn’t been as bad as I had envisioned it. We need to do Solve It 6×6 next :-)

In response to Alisa Cooper’s challenge based on Louise So’s post “Simply The Best”, I write the following.

There are many people I respect that work here at GCC. I think that the key attribute that gains my respect and admiration is honest caring actions. Someone who genuinely cares about others and doing the best job that they can, where they give without thinking about the cost, always catches my attention. The list of names is to long to write. I’ve never been one who was good at answering the question “What’s your favorite _______?”. I have a lot of favorites. Trying to pick my top whatever people to salute would just be impossible. I hope that everyone I really respect knows it. Maybe that would be a good thing to do after this, write to affirm everyone that I think is doing a great job. Boy, what I’m I saying. That would be a whole lot of writing again :-(

The question “What drives you to be the best version of you?”, has but one answer for me though, God. Ecclesiastes 12:13b states: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man”. This, along with Ecclesiastes 5:18 “eat, drink, and enjoy yourself in all of your labor in which you toil under the sun during the few years of your life which God has given you.”, express my view of life. My take on this is, work hard, do your best, find enjoyment in all that comes your way, and do it all for God. I hope that if anyone sees me not living by the following two commands, Matthew 22:37-39 “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”, will point it out to me. Because this is what motivates me to be the best that I can be.


To Change or not to Change? That is the Question.

The topic this week is change. For me just having to write something regularly is a change. Give me a math problem and my eyes light up and I get excited. Ask me to write and it is like when I go to Joann Fabrics with my wife. I get drowsy and lose energy immediately upon entering the story. I think people have these two reactions when the discussion turns to change. They are either excited about the prospect of changing something (fixing it) or dread it, thinking here we go making my life more difficult again. It seems that sometimes change is pursued because someone is trying to justify the necessity for their job position. But, at other times, change is sought in order to fix something that isn’t working as well as it should. Of course change also occurs when leadership changes. In many areas there are several processes that can get the job done well, it is just a matter of choice.

What I think is important, is to remain objective. Listen to each new proposed change and analysis the merits of the change. Can it improve what is done? Will things be more efficient? Will it make work more difficult? Does it involve more paperwork and is it important enough to warrant that? Will it add or subtract from the budget? Is it proposed because someone had too much time on their hands? To be honest to you, the reader, I hate the term disruptive innovation. It sounds like a term made up by a “glass half empty” kind of person. We should use the term Constructive Innovation! Sure you are destructing something that exists when you change, but let’s be more positive and talk about how it is going to make life better. If it won’t make processes better we shouldn’t be changing.

Bottom line, don’t let people change stuff just for change sake. Analysis the proposed change, decide its merits and then get behind it or challenge it and use facts to support your position.


A Life Changing Event

When I was a student at MCC I worked in the tutoring center helping students with Math, Chemistry and German. I remember assisting several students but one in particular changed my life.

I was a Chemistry major at the time. All through high school I helped many of my friends with their homework and that is why I chose to work in the tutoring center when I got to college. I have always liked helping people. One morning while I was walking across the mall area at MCC on my way to class a female student, that I had been assisting regularly in the tutoring center helping her with math, screamed out my name and came running across the green grass at me. The mall of course was full of students changing classes. She came up to me and jumped in my arms. I was taken completely off guard. I had been helping her with math that she had a lot of struggles with. There was no relationship between us besides tutor to tutee. After she strangled me she said “I got an A on my math test! I got an A on my math test! I got an AAAAA!!!” I had never seen anyone so happy about a grade before in my life. That experience felt really great and I decided after that day that I would become a math teacher. As they say, the rest is history. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life and I have a student to thank!


Still Looking for the Easy Button

I continue to look for ways to improve my instructional delivery of material to my students. One of the best places I have found for doing that, is to visit the lunch room. Not only do I enjoy eating, but talking with my fellow instructors helps me to bounce idea off of them and to gain ideas from them. Many times someone, or myself, will bring up a topic and talk about how the students really struggle to get such and such. Often someone else will chime in with, I’ve tried this or that and found that the students understood it a bit better with that approach. Also, in the Math department we have had different instructors, in our mid-semester meetings, share ways that they have approached teaching certain topics in their classes. I have been fortunate to have been a member of a large department so that there have been many different folks in the lunch room from which to learn and gain ideas. There is a lot of good local talent here at GCC, use it. It has worked for me.

P.S. Maybe someday I’ll get it perfect. It could happen.


The Horse to Water Story

I have been teaching math for 28 years. Even as I have recently been asked to perform the duties of a Dean I still have taught a math class in the Fall semesters. I have seen many successful and, unfortunately, unsuccessful student stores. I have seen my teaching techniques evolve over the years from my attendance in many teaching conferences and workshops. I’m confident that I’m better at my profession than I once was. But, you knew the “but” was coming didn’t you :-) , as you look at success rates of students over the many decades the change is not earth shattering. I believe it is because of the old quote  “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”. I always preach to my students throughout the class that I know they all can succeed in this class if they put the proper time into it. I remember one particular student. She was your normal, fresh out of high school, student. She came to class most everyday but didn’t speak up much unless called upon. Her test scores were not very good through the first half of the class. One day when I was passing back one of the tests she asked me about what she could do to improve her grade. My first thought was, where were you the past 7 weeks when I’ve talked a lot about good practices. But, I simply asked her “Tell me what you have been doing with this class?” She told me, it wasn’t much as I suspected, thus I said “I think that if you would go to The Math Solution when possible to do your homework where you can get instant assistance, and come to my office for answers to your questions when needed, and not be afraid to ask about items you are uncertain about in class, and spend at least 1 hour each day doing your math homework, you will see a definite improvement in your grade. The next test was 72% and so I wrote a nice note on the top of it encouraging her. The next was even better, so as I was passing back the test I said “You are doing very well keep it up.” She smiled and said “You were right, I just needed to put in the time necessary to do well. I wish I had listened to you from the beginning of class.” I smiled back and said “Better late than never.” She was able to raise her grade up to a B by the end of the semester. It is a joy, as a teacher, to have those moments where you get to see a student’s light bulb come on! Just like with people who are struggling with addiction though, unless a person makes the choice to do right, all the leading in the world isn’t going to make a difference. I do everything within my power to create fertile soil in the classroom but unless a student applies him/her self, knowledge just isn’t going to grow.

I have been fortunate to have had many good student stories. I hope your life has been filled with them too!


Frequent Assessment

This post is about how changing from chapter tests (one test roughly every 3 weeks) to weekly quizzes dramatically changed the success rates of my students.

I used college algebra students as my guinea pigs. When I looked at my students from fall 96 through fall 98, I saw that they had a 50% chance of passing, 10% chance of a D or F and a 40% chance of withdrawing. Not being happy with these statistics I began a conversation with my wife who taught 2nd grade. She said “Test them more!” So, being a good husband, I complied. Starting in Fall 99 through Fall 2004 I gathered data on how my college algebra students did when I switched from 6 chapter tests and a final to, 13 weekly quizzes a midterm and a final. The results were that now 78% were passing, 7% were receiving a D or F and 15% were withdrawing. Also, I gave the same final that I gave from Fall 96-98 and the scores on my comprehensive final were the same, at around 73% average.

Therefore, I encourage all of you who teach to consider more frequent assessment. There is also a byproduct that I hadn’t anticipated besides the better success rate. That was, that I found that grading smaller tests once a week was not as daunting as looking at a pill of large tests every 3rd week. Grading isn’t as disliked by me as it once was.

Give this a try and as the ad said many many years ago “Mikey Likes It!”