Author Archives: Robert Talbert

June 16, 2015, 6:40 pm

Hello Goodbye

Today I want to officially announce the end of one era at this blog and the beginning of a new one. Beginning Fall 2015 (I don’t know the exact date), the Chronicle of Higher Education will no longer be hosting Casting Out Nines. The article you are reading now is the last one I will be posting at this URL. Instead, my writing will be going in a bunch of different directions; and Casting Out Nines will live on, at a different location and with some stylistic changes you might enjoy.

Now that I’ve dropped that bombshell, let me go into detail.

I’ve been blogging for almost 11 years now in various venues. Casting Out Nines was started in December 2006 (here’s the very first post, if you’re curious) as a blog dedicated to discussions on math, technology, and education and the interactions between these. CO9s was something I did in my spare time, for my own amusement, and don…

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June 9, 2015, 9:00 am

4+1 Interview: Theron Hitchman

This post is another interview with a leader in the area of inquiry-based learning in university mathematics instruction. These interviews are hopefully whetting your appetite for the Legacy of RL Moore/Inquiry Based Learning conference in Austin at the end of this month.

Our guest this time is Theron Hitchman, associate professor of mathematics at the University of Northern Iowa. Theron, who I know as “TJ”, has been an advocate for and practitioner of IBL in university-level mathematics courses for many years and has a great sense of what works. I was very pleased to be with him and Dana Ernst as workshop facilitators at the Innovations in University Mathematics Teaching last summer in Cardiff, Wales where I got to know him, his thoughts on IBL, and his passion for football (the kind with the round ball) and tea. It’s great to have him contribute his thoughts here.

1. In your own …

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May 29, 2015, 3:19 pm

4+1 Interview: Victor Piercey

PierceyA while ago, I blogged an invitation to the 18th annual Legacy of R.L. Moore and Inquiry Based Learning conference, to be held in Austin, Texas on June 25–27. That’s only a month away! To lead in to this event, I’ve asked a few members of the organizing committee, who are leading practitioners in inquiry-based learning, to join us here for a 4+1 interview. The first of these is Victor Piercey. Victor is an associate professor in the Mathematics Department at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan (practically a neighbor to me, in other words). He took time out from the hectic pre-conference organizing schedule to answer a few questions about IBL and the R.L. Moore conference.

1. In your own words, how would you describe or define inquiry-based learning to someone who had never heard of this concept? 

To me, inquiry based learning is all about engaging students in…

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May 14, 2015, 12:57 pm

Is flipping an online course possible?

6247271401_a39a9b0f5c_mI am emerging from a self-imposed blog exile that happened because of the usual end-of-semester chaos, plus the fact that I am currently teaching my very first online course — a fully online version of our standard Calculus 1 class. Being new to online teaching, designing and building the course was a major time investment. The class has turned out to be a microcosm of everything I have tried pedagogically in the last several years: it uses a lot of technology, it uses specifications grading, and it’s flipped.

That last part, about being flipped, has been a fascinating and perplexing problem. Flipping a fully online class challenges all the usual assumptions about the flipped classroom that we make. Our language about flipped learning is rooted in the concept of “class time”. Students gain first contact with new material “before class”, then there is some work on more advanced and…

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March 18, 2015, 9:00 am

GTD for academics: The importance of review

This is the second in an ongoing series of posts about using the Getting Things Done (GTD) system to manage time, tasks, and life in academia. Here’s the first post.

4680873542_d046edbe82_zIn the first post in this series I discussed the basic premises behind GTD and the problems it attempts to solve. In the next few posts, I want to give a description of how I operate on a day-to-day basis as a professor using GTD. You’ll see parts of my system in the process.

Doing academic work with GTD involves things that happen in the moment as well as careful planning that I set aside time to do at various points in the week. The interplay between our plans and those moments is what life and work are all about. This post was going to be a single post at one point, but in writing this I realized that both the planning part and the moment-by-moment part deserve some depth. So this post will focus only on planning,…

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March 16, 2015, 9:03 am

An invitation to the Legacy of R. L. Moore/IBL conference

agh3math-1060669If you’re interested in inquiry-based learning in mathematics, I highly recommend you consider attending the 18th Annual Legacy of R.L. Moore and IBL Conference in Austin, TX from June 25–27. This conference is lively and active affair with mathematics instructors from all walks of life and from all over the country coming together to talk about IBL and how to practice it in the classroom. This year’s theme is “Empowering with IBL” and promises to “highlight how inquiry-based learning gives students and instructors the space to realize their own talents”.

This year I’m on the organizing committee for this conference, although I myself am not a practitioner — at least not at the moment — of inquiry-based learning in my classrooms in the sense of using the “Moore method” (modified or otherwise). The reason I’m helping to organize this year is because I see an opportunity for the IBL …

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March 9, 2015, 9:00 am

GTD for academics: The mindset and the precepts

352200409_283935d56a_mLike many of you, I have a lot going on both in my professional as well as my personal life. Also like many of you, I am pretty committed to finding and maintaining a healthy work/life balance so that I can get maximum enjoyment out of both life and work. But how do we find and maintain that balance? For me, it’s a matter of being sort of obsessive when it comes to productivity. And with this article, I want to kick off a regular series of posts where I talk about my system for productivity, which uses the Getting Things Done or GTD system created and championed by David Allen.

I remember the first time when it dawned on me that whatever it was I was doing to manage time, tasks, and projects wasn’t enough. It was at my previous institution; I was walking down the hall when I happened to pass my VPAA, who said to me: “So, I’ll see you at 2:00?” It took me a half second to realize that …

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March 6, 2015, 11:56 am

Observations and changes for specs grading, 8 weeks in

3871170258_8914063280_mIt’s hard to believe, but right now we are about 2/3 of the way through our semester, and with each week that passes, I’m getting more experience and insight with the use of specifications grading. Several people have mentioned on Twitter that they are following these updates with interest — and I don’t mind being the guy who goes first and makes all the mistakes. So here is an update on how things are going on the specs grading front.

First, some observations:

  • We have now had two timed assessment periods in each of the classes in which I am using specs grading, and so every student at this point has worked a CORE-M problem, failed, and tried again. My first observation is just that this cycle of try, fail, try again has an importance in higher education that I had previously failed to appreciate. In higher ed, we talk a lot of platitudes about “lifelong learning” without seeming…

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February 16, 2015, 9:00 am

If you don’t succeed, try again: Timed tests using specs grading

3546334679_abb69fc9ff_zIt’s been six weeks since the start of the semester, so it’s time for a brief update on the specifications grading “experiment” (although something being carried out in real life probably shouldn’t be called an “experiment”). So far it’s going quite well. 

In this post I want to talk about timed testing under specs grading. This is an idea that’s not prevalent in Linda Nilson’s book on specs grading that got me started down this road. Mathematics is a subject that typically has a significant amount of procedural knowledge, unlike a lot of the subjects represented in Linda’s book. So there is a need to assess students’ ability to show that they can perform certain tasks on demand, without the benefit of virtually unlimited time and resources — things like calculating derivatives, interpreting graphs, and instantiating definitions.

Don’t misunderstand: Those tasks don’t make up

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January 22, 2015, 8:00 am

Three evolving thoughts about flipped learning

8617442811_567440ed8c_mWhile specifications grading continues to unfold in class, I’m also still using and refining the flipped learning model. Recently I had time to reflect on how I’m implementing flipped learning in my classes, and I noticed that some of my thoughts on flipped learning have evolved over the last few years, including some breaks from things I’ve written here on the blog. Here are three of those thoughts that stood out for me.

What I used to think: Pre-class activity in a flipped learning model is about mastering content-oriented instructional objectives.

What I think now: Pre-class activity is for generating questions.

I attended a talk by Jeremy Strayer last year, and he said something that stuck with me: that the purpose of pre-class work in the flipped classroom is to “launch” the in-class activity. In flipped learning we certainly want students to pick up fluency with …

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