Thursday, April 15, 2010

Not (As) Boring Anymore

One of the advantages of teaching a course with only four students is that I have only 4 sets of papers to grade with each assignment.

But what helps, above and beyond the lower numbers, is that the types of assignments I'm giving this year (since I'm teaching a different course entirely) allow for more open-ended topics. Within a certain framework, the students can choose to write about pretty much whatever interests them. And it's always fascinating to see what they come up with.

Over the last few weeks they've been working on short research papers (they are limited in how much research they can do, both by time and lack of access to a good traditional library; I'm working with them to assess the reliability of various online sources). Here are the topics:

1- The benefits of running for exercise, and the best ways for new runners to take up the sport without injuring themselves or losing motivation.

2- The central arguments for and against stem-cell research.

3- The central arguments for and against the legality of abortion.

4- The history of cryptography (secret codes).

The papers about running and cryptography were especially interesting to me since I knew almost nothing about these topics before.

Today, the students must let me know the topics for their next papers, which will be "argument" papers (they have to take a position and support it). What I've gotten so far:

1- Satirical paper (a la "A Modest Proposal") arguing that the Hammurabi Code is a good thing.

2- Position paper on whether the TRY program (the program these kids are on) should continue having "creative tfilot" rather than traditional prayer services.

When kids are allowed to come up with their own ideas, they think of topics far more interesting than anything I would have given them. I also love the variety.

This is so much better than reading 17 papers on the same topic.

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