Teaching as a Grad Student: Logic mid-Semester

Posted on March 13, 2017 by

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This is the third installment of our occasional series: Teaching as a Grad Student. In the first installment, I discussed preparing to teach for the first time, as well as my first couple of weeks teaching logic. In the second installment, Alison discussed her experiences teaching philosophy of science.

We’re just past the half-way point of our winter semester here in Calgary, and we’re about to start looking at the semantics of first-order logic (FOL, i.e. quantified predicate logic with identity).

I’m still having a bit of trouble with time management, but I now have a pretty good idea of how long each of my tasks is going to take. I’ve also gotten better at estimating how much material I can cover in 50 minutes, though there’s always going to be some variation. In a similar vein, I had mentioned that I thought that the way the course is structured would be good for the students, but time-consuming for me. I was right. I have been spending a lot of time putting together and marking assignments. Overall there will be 7 group assignments (marked by my TA), and 6 homework assignments (marked by me). The thought is that this will allow the students to get lots of practice without putting to much weight on any one thing.

One thing I might do differently next time is to adjust the timing of the homework assignments so that I can guarantee that the students get back any work that covers material that will be on an upcoming test.

My biggest worry pedagogically has been trying to work out how difficult the students find the material. The material in this sort of logic course generally gets more difficult as we go because it’s cumulative. Any material that isn’t absorbed properly in one class makes the next class material that much more difficult to absorb. Natural deduction for truth-functional (propositional, sentential) logic and the introduction of the identity predicate to FOL are where I’ve had the most difficult estimating the difficulty of the material thus far.

Neither of those topics are particularly intuitive to a lot of people. I, on the other hand, took my first logic class about a decade ago, and as we take every opportunity to tell logic students that the best way to learn the material is lots of practice, it stands to reason that I can’t always tell what’s difficult. For a concrete example (from just this past week) seeing that (the symbolization of) “there’s something, and there’s something else, and for anything else you might talk about it’s either the first thing or the second, which are non-identical” means “there are exactly two things” is somewhat unnatural.

As for more procedural things, to start it’s worth remembering and preparing for the fact that, when you have 100 students, there is very likely going to be at least one student who is sick or otherwise unable to attend a test or quiz on any given day. Perhaps this should be obvious, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

As I touched on in my previous post, I am implementing a partially flipped approach in this course. Most weeks, usually on Fridays, I post a screencast I’ve prepared, covering new material. The screencasts are about 5min long, and cover (very) roughly a half a class period worth of material. I then remind the class of that material quite quickly at the beginning of Monday’s class, before the students start that week’s group work assignments.  The group-work then covers material from the screencast, but also material from the previous week’s lectures.

From what I overhear, as well as from the questions I’m asked while the students are doing their group assignments (in class), my hope that they would talk through the material together and teach each other seems to be panning out. This is anecdotal, and thin at that, but promising nonetheless.

I will write another post for this series at the end of the semester. In the mean time, if there is anything you, our readers, want me to discuss, or discuss in more detail, let me know in the comments.