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I insist on putting this never-before-heeded advice in my math syllabus every semester (this is only my third one). I often obsess about the way I write things and I actually re-read it myself this time and realize that it's probably not good English, and certainly not understandable. I could not figure out a nice, concise way of stating that third sentence (the one I put in square brackets, []).

Please can someone suggest a good, concise (but not terse) edit for the sentence in square brackets which would be clear to college freshman who are in a basic skills (that is, high school level) math class?

How to do well in this class: ...

  1. Do all of the homework as soon as possible. Do the homework to make sure you understand the underlying concepts. [You will not learn what you need to know from me in lecture – not because I’m such a lousy lecturer, though I might be -- but because you only learn math by doing it.] Ask for help when you cannot understand a problem.

Thanks.

P.S. You are now probably the only people, other than me, to have read it.

P.P.S. "Concise" means as short as reasonably possibly so that the reader will still understand it (and I can fit my syllabus on 2 sides of a paper). "Terse" is shorter than than "concise".

Edit: All the answers were helpful (even the one inexplicably given a down vote, which I cancelled). I used a combination of them:

  1. Do all of the homework as soon as possible. You learn math by doing math. You will learn the concepts in lecture. But you will only learn all of the detail by doing the problems (despite my peerless lectures!). You will be expected to know the material from each lecture by the next one.
  • Do all of the homework as soon as possible. Getting into this habit will make the information covered in the "lecture" portion of the class easier to retain - because you will have reinforced it. Ask for help when you need it. – Oldbag Dec 30 '14 at 5:37
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    The third sentence reads fine to me, and I'm sure any college freshman would understand it. The only change there I would suggest is to pluralize lecture. – Erik Kowal Dec 30 '14 at 5:52
  • This is a constructive subjective question. I hope answers use SE's hints, and provide reasonably long, not short, answers that explain “why” and “how” in a constructive, fair, and impartial tone, sharing experiences over opinions and backing up any opinion with facts and references. – Andrew Leach Dec 30 '14 at 7:06
  • Your writing is clear and straightforward. No one can defend their negligence by accusing you of a lack of clarity. If you absolutely want it shorter, you can drop the middle: Do all of the homework as soon as possible. Only by actually doing the homework will you understand the underlying concepts. [skip] It is your responsibility to ask for help when you cannot understand a problem. – anongoodnurse Dec 30 '14 at 7:07
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How to perform well in this class...

Complete all assignments as soon as possible. This will assure you understand the underlying concepts. You will learn concepts in the lecture, but you will only fully understand them by practicing those concepts through completing the assignments. Above all, ASK QUESTIONS when you cannot understand a problem.

I am not sure what level you are teaching towards, but one suggestion I have is NEVER criticize yourself towards your students [...not because I’m such a lousy lecturer, though I might be...] stop that! If you don't have confidence in your abilities, how do you expect your students to? Everyone has room for improvement, this much is true, but don't start them off thinking that you can't lecture, its self defeating.

Good luck!

  • You make your point very strongly, but I agree that self-deprecation should be avoided in this context. And I also agree that the students should know that there are important things they will learn in the lectures. – Shoe Dec 30 '14 at 8:05
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Since you seem to be going for a somewhat easygoing voice in your instructions (judging by your aside), I'd suggest simply reversing the implied humor of the aside, which could be done while simplifying it significantly. I believe it's likely that aside in the middle of the sentence which is causing you grief in terms of possible misreading, so I'd try:

Do all of the homework as soon as possible. Do the homework to make sure you understand the underlying concepts. You will not learn what you need to know from me in lecture, despite my peerless lecturing ability, because you can only learn math by doing it yourself. Ask for help when you cannot understand a problem.

I think that still "sounds like you", but is much clearer, and has the added benefit of not mentioning poor lecturing even in a humorous manner.

I'll note that I couldn't help but add an extra "yourself" on your admonition, as it seems to be the central point of your instruction and adding it there adds some emphasis. But season to taste, of course.

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    Responding to the point that you might not want to seem to encourage non-attendance at your lectures, you could perhaps use "You will not learn everything you need to know from me in lecture..." just to be clear that they will learn something they need to know. :-) – Mark Thompson Dec 30 '14 at 9:12
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I find that flipping the focus often helps me rephrase. In this case, focusing on what you teach rather than what you don't teach may help.

How about:

  1. I teach you the theory and techniques required to solve problems. You need to apply it to actually understand the value.

  2. The knowledge I pass to you in lectures is not math until you apply it.

Or something to that effect.

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