Monday, May 7, 2012

Day 27: Of Weedeaters and High Heels


Seriously!  Seriously maintenance and grounds crew.  Perhaps we can look at the academic calendar before we send out our small army of lawn mowers and begin hacking and gauging at the native ground-level plant life on campus.

There I was, giving the most difficult test I give every year, the final exam for Introduction to Algorithms.  Let me give you a frame of reference here.  I warrant that Introduction to Algorithms is easily in the top five most difficult classes on campus.

What it's main competitor for the title, Organic Chemistry, has over Algorithms is mainly that a lot more people take Organic Chemistry and therefore, a lot more people complain about it, loudly.  Additionally, Organic Chemistry and other such courses have an experimental laboratory component that gets a lot of press.  I know a lot of people fail those sorts of natural science classes; and in many ways its unfortunate that students that take Algorithms don't tend to take those courses as well.  So, we don't have anyone who can argue from experience which class is hardest. 

I will say this, up until this semester, I've taught the class (let's see... quick calculation) maybe eight(?) times over five years with class sizes between 5 and 15 and no one had ever made an A in the course (I expect several people to make an A this semester, and I am most pleased with how hard those individuals have worked).  The fail/drop rate for this class MUST be approaching fifty percent over that same time.  I'm not happy, about that track record, necessarily, but I'm very proud of the standard of academic rigor that the class has set and maintains.

So, the final exam in that class (this semester) was worth 35% of the grade.  Imagine a room of stressed students, working into their second hour of the two and a half hour test, with their grade in the class and future in the major hanging in the balance; hair is tousled, faces are strained in concentration, no one is making a peep; and then descend upon us the hideous sounds of a weed-eater wielding assailant.  He's right outside the window working his way back and forth, back and forth, back and forth and he WILL NOT go away.

Now, I swear that my exams are interrupted far more often than you would expect from random chance by people with an immediate need to make grass shorter and to do it in the loudest way possible.  I get aggravated every time it happens.  But for pete's sake, this isn't a random happen-stance, this has been scheduled for months, this is exam week!  People are probably taking and hopefully studying for, you guessed it, EXAMS.  These things are kind of important!

I tried to give the hapless assailant this morning a chance to be quick about his work.  No such luck.  After about ten minutes I walked outside and yelled, as to be heard, "HAY HAY HAY!" and gave the universal cut it out sign.  When he looked up he gave me a look like a deer in headlights.  I had to wait for him to take out his earplugs (EARPLUGS people, IT's EXAM WEEK!).

"Is there somewhere else you can go to cut grass for about thirty minutes.  I'm giving an exam in that class right there!" and I pointed at the window over his shoulder.   "Sure", he said.

When I got back inside, one of the students said, "He's got to go change his pants now."  Perhaps I was not as successful at covering my annoyance as I'd hoped.  Oh well.

The remainder of the exam was finished in relative peace, with only the sound of distant grass cutting penetrating the walls.               


Before the exam this morning, I made a curious observation concerning the choice of clothing being worn to exams on the first day of exam week.  There seem to be two schools of thought, especially amongst the female students.  I haven't noticed the same trend amongst the male students, but I only saw MY male students this morning, and the geeks taking Algorithms are not representative of the common population.

Nevertheless, amongst the female students, one school of thought seems to be to dress down.  Students who belong to this group are wearing flip-flops, sweat pants and t-shirts and commonly have their hair in a ponytail, or otherwise flying freely.  The other group, is the polar opposite instinct.  Four inch heels or expensive and trendy cowgirl boots, skirts or dresses, a nice blouse, and hair styled to a degree that indicates the morning hours were spent with one's nose in the mirror rather than in a book. 

Note that the distinction is so sharp that I casually noticed it.  If it weren't such a sharp distinction, with seemingly no middle ground, I wouldn't have noticed at all. 

I wonder if there's a correlation between these two schools of thought and the success rate on the final.  I have no way of knowing, but it's just a curious observation, as I said. 

1 comment:

  1. I always came to finals casual. AND I ALWAYS ROCKED THEIR FACES OFF!