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A rundown of Wednesday at the Joint Meetings

January 5, 2012, 8:00 am

By the time you read this, I’ll be heading back home to Michigan from the AMS/MAA Joint Meetings. Yesterday was the first day of the actual conference, and since it was the only day of the conference I was in attendance, I tried to pack in as much as I could. Here’s a rundown of what I saw.

I attended a talk on “The Separability Problem in Referendum Elections” by my GVSU colleague Jonathan Hodge in the AMS Special Session on the Mathematics of Decisions, Elections, and Games. I knew Jon worked in game theory but I had never seen a sustained scholarly presentation of his work before. It was impressive. What I appreciate the most about Jon’s research is its blend of real-world accessibility with mathematical depth. Also impressive was the amount of collaboration with undergraduates Jon did as a part of the research; three of those undergrads were in the audience.

Next was a talk on “Using and Analyzing Student Confidence in Classroom Voting” by Ann Stewart of Hood College. Ann’s involved with the MathQuest project and co-authored some of the work in this new MAA book on classroom voting. Her talk was about the use of confidence ratings in classroom voting questions. For example, a True/False question might be broken up into four questions combining true/false responses with a student self-rating of “I am very confident” or “I am not very confident”. Combining true/false with confidence ratings gives finer-grained data on student understanding, and her talk was on what we might learn from such data. There was a brief but interesting Q&A session afterward about applying the same concept to multiple choice items.

Then I gave my talk on using clickers in transition-to-proof courses. The slides for that talk are here. Had some good questions from the audience — unfortunately too many to respond to in the time we had.

Later in the afternoon, I attended Jim Rolf‘s talk on whether metacognitive activities influence the completion rates of pre-class assignments. Jim and his colleagues at the Air Force Academy give pre-class reading assignments in their discrete math classes. They split their five (?) sections into control and experimental groups. Both groups were given additional, optional reading questions to be completed (or not) before class. The experimental group was required to complete a survey asking them to rate and articulate the benefits of pre-class reading assignments, three times during the semester. While both groups tended to complete fewer of the optional reading questions as the semester wore on, the experimental group’s completion rate dropped less by a statistically significant amount, and they tended to do better on the final exam.

Next it was Dana Ernst speaking. Dana is at Plymouth State University, and his collaborator is at Wellesley College. They had the very cool idea of teaching an inquiry-based learning course in number theory at the same time, and having students from one institution serve as anonymous peer reviewers of work by students at the other institution. Dana’s talk was on the logistics and results of this process. I loved how the process really mimics real-life professional peer review of research, down to the nitpicky comments and emotional reactions. I’d definitely like to see if I can find someone with whom to do this the next time I teach my transition-to-proof course again (in the Fall).

The last talk was from Patrick Bahls, at UNC-Asheville and blogger at Change of Basis. Patrick was speaking on doing a cross-disciplinary analysis of math students’ writing. He collaborated with three faculty members at UNCA in rhetoric and composition and worked with them to try to identify “rhetorical markers” for use in assessing the development of students’ writing skills over time. They looked at dozens of drafts of papers written by students in UNCA’s summer REU program and were able to isolate a few criteria for doing this, including elements of style, tone, use of sources, contextualization, and what he called “visual rhetoric” or the use of whitespace, sectioning, bulleted lists, etc. to communicate. Their next phase of work will be in tracking students’ writing longitudinally across a three-year period.

So it was a brief but fruitful time at the meetings, with all these great talks, the excellent computational geoemetry minicourse I attended on Monday and Tuesday, and getting to see all the people I usually don’t see unless it’s at a conference.

One final programming note: I’ll be mostly off the grid from now until Monday as I get ready for the new semester to start. Those of you still at the Joint Meetings, safe travels and have fun.

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