They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me

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The End of Grading Awards

The last big round of grading I have to do each semester is something that I do to myself. Otherwise I'd be able to join my colleagues and be done with grades last week rather than finishing up just before the final noon deadline on the Tuesdays after Finals Week.

This is all about a science literacy book report that I require in all my classes. It's a pet project of mine. I always warn the students that they should watch out whenever they run into a research/pet project of a professor in their classes -- and take the assignment really seriously. (grin)

Out of some 126 papers this semester, most are pretty good. And even good papers can have typos and wrong word forms -- it isn't automatically a sign of failure or stupidity. Those of us involved in the writing game at all know that proofreading is difficult. Spellcheckers, alas, cannot tell you that a perfectly spelt word happens to be the wrong one. And grammar checkers -- don't get me started on those! (double-grin)

However, as I'm grading and recording the grades on a worksheet, I find myself scribbling the real boners in the margins. Now that I've a blog, I can share these -- without attribution, of course. I'm not trying to belittle anyone, even with my snarky little comments. (triple-word-score-grin)

Oh sure, I can complain about punctuation (colons versus semi-colons, oh my!) or inability to follow my "simple" directions for the paper (illegal fonts!) (three pages of plot-plot-plot -- and no science literacy discussion!). Or my sneaky attempt at forcing some computer literacy (1" margins all around, when Word's defaults are 1.25" left/right) (the cover sheet cannot possible be page 1) on unsuspecting students.

But that's technical and no fun. So here, without further ado, are the things my students include in their papers:

The Top Five

"defiantly recommend" -- I require a conclusion and suggest that they state an opinion as to whether they would recommend their book for the purposes of promoting science literacy and to whom. Apparently they get vociferous in their praise.

"this novel" -- the only problem with referring to this book as "this novel" is that we're talking about a non-fiction book. The full booklist is a mix of novels, thrillers, SF, a couple of fantasies, some Harry Potter (read books 1-3 and discuss how magic is treated as a science at Hogwarts), biographies, popular science and a few which just don't classify easily. But books doesn't equal novels.

"there/their/they're" -- not only do many students get these words wrong, they fall into two categories -- the consistent and the inconsistent. I'm not sure which is worse...

"too/to/two" -- obviously one of these being a number makes it impossible to mistake it for... oops...

"would most defiantly recommend" -- this reminds me of a line in A Few Good Men about a lawyer raising an objection, getting overruled, and then "strenuously objecting."

And On To This Semester's New Hits

"'God made dirt, so dirt can't hurt'" -- this student was quoting something they'd always been told in their family. Sort of like the appellation that something being all-natural must be good, or better yet, that all-natural organic products are "chemical free." Mrs. Dr. Phil wondered about the children playing in the dirt at Love Canal.

"5that" -- ah that rotten QWERTY keyboard shows us up all the time. And many spellcheckers won't bite on this type of typo, because they treat it like an acronym or techie part number and ignore it. Oh, I guess that proofreading stuff is useful, after all.

"Prior to reading this novel (Andromeda Strain, 1969) I believed it being so old would make it a little dated." -- Ack! Are you trying to make Dr. Phil feel old?

"bets-seller" -- All bets are off, I guess.

"astrological bodies" -- okay, we're in a calculus-based physics course for scientists and engineers, so all together now: "Astronomy equals science, astrology equals not science."

"this fictional book" -- um, I think it's a real book. I remember reading it, holding it in my hands before I typed the title and author into my files... and I think you had it in your hands, too.

"Discovery... is a space shuttle" -- Well, in 2005 this is a true statement. Unfortunately, we're talking about the Discovery in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Actually, I've found that many in the current generation of college students, who grew up with the aging NASA Space Shuttle program, call all spaceships space shuttles. I've had the space shuttle Apollo 13 in several previous semesters.


"This is why Western has to offer classes like MATH-1090 and ENGL-1000, sense not all students were adequately challenged in high school." -- I sense that someone still needs those English classes.

"I am an Engineering major for a reason, you know, and it's not just because I love going over integrals in my sleep. In general I found reading to be boring, and even a waist of time, and I defiantly hate writing papers." -- hmm, is the waist of time the narrow part where the relativistic light cone of information theory meets the present? Either way, we're still being defiant.

"I don't believe I learned much because this book was fiction." -- this is very much a common complaint that techie non-readers and some techie hard-core readers share. That just because a book is a work of fiction, there cannot be any reason to read it. This despite the premise of my science literacy assignment, that once one leaves school, one will get one's information about science from a variety of sources, some good and bad, which include the nightly news, Hollywood blockbusters and books of all type. So it seems to be that Dr. Phil has a reason for including some fiction in his booklist...

"It is science fiction, of course, so all of the science aspects to it are fiction, based on some known fact. We all know there is a bit of truth in every lie." -- yup, science fiction is even worse than that other fiction stuff, because of course all SF authors are liars and ignorant idiots. I love absolute pronouncements, particularly condemning whole categories out of hand. (And the sad fact is, we all do so love it...)

Why do I subject myself to this if I complain about being tortured (or at least the tortured English)? For one thing, I am appalled at the number of students who claim they don't ever read any books -- or take almost pride in not having had to read a whole book since elementary school. For someone to whom reading/breathing are close to equivalent acts, this is terrible! Someone has to do something! So why do I torture the students? Because so many of them end up, sometimes grudgingly, acknowledging that they found such-and-such a book fun, exciting -- and for once someone in college is asking for them to have an opinion about something! Sure I do it for science literacy. And to improve their minds and make them more open to books.

And maybe, someday, when Dr. Phil has a science fiction book out there, some of my former students who would otherwise never read SF and certainly have no reason to suck up to Dr. Phil any more, will become part of my audience. Because they'll remember I was a storyteller in class, and I always had a reason for the story. (big-end-of-semester-grin)

Some of us are seriously into this "life-long learning" crap...

Dr. Phil

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