Author Archives: Robert Talbert

January 27, 2014, 7:55 am

The inverted calculus course: Overture

3011652637_05f202dca6_n As many Casting Out Nines readers know, last semester I undertook to rethink the freshman calculus 1 course here at my institution by converting it to an inverted or “flipped” class model. It’s been two months since the end of that semester, and this blog post is the first in a (lengthy)  series that I’ll be rolling out in the coming weeks that lays out how the course was designed, what happened, and how it all turned out.

Let me begin this series with a story about why I even bother with the flipped classroom.

The student in my programming class looked me straight in the eye and said, “I need you to lecture to me.” She said, “I can’t do the work unless someone tells me how to get started and then shows me how, step by step.” I took a moment to listen and think. “Do you mean that you find the work hard and it’s easier if someone tells you how to start and…

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January 24, 2014, 8:03 am

Weekend reading

Here are some items from around the web for your weekend enjoyment.

Math

  • Here’s a great post on Medium by Nik Custodio in which he explains Bitcoin like I’m five. I think the audience level here is rather older than five, but it’s still probably the best explanation of the problems that Bitcoin attempts to solve, and how it solves them, that I’ve seen. (I wasn’t sure whether to file this under “Math” or “Technology” because it’s a lot of both.)

Education

  • If you’ve ever been interested in standards-based grading, you won’t want to miss Kate Owens’ post An Adventure in Standards-Based Calculus where she lays out why, and bits about “how”, she intends to use SBG in her Calculus 2 course this semester. Don’t miss the link to George McNulty’s calc 2 syllabus at the end, which is a great example of how to use SBG in actual practice.
  • Good report…

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January 22, 2014, 7:52 am

How about a little humor in higher education?

logoAre you like me, and think that higher education could benefit from a sense of humor? That we’re hearing lots of dystopian stories about how bad things are but little about what people – individual people – are doing to effect positive change in their situations? If so, you might find this upcoming workshop called There’s Something Funny About Higher Education appealing. Blurb:

This spring, the satirists behind the humor blog The Cronk of Higher Education at CronkNews.com will launch a workshop series “There’s Something Funny about Higher Education” to ignite a spirit of creativity, optimism and humor in the ivory tower.

“We started CronkNews in 2009 with a mission to generate dialogue and healthy laughs about the world of colleges,” said editor-in-chief Leah Wescott. “Poking fun at problems is fun, but making meaningful changes requires a certain skill set.…

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January 19, 2014, 11:00 am

Fixing the wifi situation at academic conferences

WIFIMy innocuous remark about scarce wifi at the Joint Mathematics Meetings yesterday struck a chord with a bunch of people on Twitter. Apparently and unsurprisingly this sort of thing happens at every conference, not just math conferences. So rather than just whine about it, I’d like to propose a solution.

Let’s start with some facts.

1. Wireless internet is not a luxury at an academic conference. Presenters need to be able to access files stored in online repositories like Dropbox. Sometimes internet access is crucial to the presentation itself (like for me on Saturday when I needed to show an example I put on a course website). Most people simply want to be able to access email on their laptops, get work done remotely during downtime, or Skype home to their families at night. This is not something just for screwing around on reddit.

2. Wireless internet enables conferences to…

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January 18, 2014, 9:10 am

The Joint Meetings: talks, mathematical beauty, and scarce wifi

Greetings from Baltimore, where I am currently at the American Mathematical Society/Mathematical Association of America Joint Meetings. As noted in my last post, this is the Big Annual Meeting for mathematicians. It’s not as juicy as the MLA meetings and I will not be giving  detailed analysis like Tenured Radical gave of the AHA meetings. Mostly this is because somehow I managed to sign up to give four presentations at the Joint Meetings and do another presentation on a Project NExT panel. (What can I say? I have poor impulse control.) So I’ll keep my observations confined to this one post.

What I’ve seen and noticed at the Joint Meetings:

1. Giving five 15-minute presentations at the same conference does not seem like that much work after having done a 90-minute plenary talk and a couple of 6-hour workshops. But it’s too much, because I really haven’t been able to focus on what …

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January 11, 2014, 11:47 am

Flashback: Unsolicited advice about interviews at the Joint Meetings

I first published the post below about two years ago, just before the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Boston. I had forgotten that I wrote it until this week, when someone — I’m assuming a job candidate headed to the Joint Meetings this year — emailed me about it. The Joint Meetings are about to begin again this coming week in Baltimore, so I thought it would be fun and possibly useful to bump it to the present.

After two years, I really don’t have much to add to what I said in the original post. The only things I might change to the original are that I’d probably use Evernote (one notebook per opening, and a tag of #job or something) instead of VoodooPad to keep track of job openings; and that I think interviewees should ask pointed questions to the institutions about their (the institutions’) vision for higher ed in the next 25 years. The landscape of higher ed is too much in flux …

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January 6, 2014, 4:26 pm

Getting students to want to do pre-class work

Look into any discussion about the inverted classroom and you will find one particular concern rise to the top of people’s questions: How do you make sure students come to class having done the reading and the viewing? Actually, in my experience giving talks and workshops about the inverted classroom, that’s a charitable way of putting it – many times I hear this, it’s more like, I already know my students won’t put in the work outside of class, so why bother?

I saw this tweet yesterday which brought this up:

My response was:

 

Students are rational actors when it comes to the work they do. They are a lot like faculty in that regard – if the benefit of a task appears to be worth the cost, they’ll do it. If not, they won’t – or they will…

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December 29, 2013, 1:05 pm

4+1 Interview: Gavin LaRose

glrsign2After a bit of a hiatus, here is the newest installment in this Casting Out Nines’ series of 4+1 Interviews. In these interviews, I’ve tapped various people who are doing interesting work in some combination of math, technology, and education to see what they’re up to and what’s on their minds.

In this interview, I had a chance to catch up with Gavin LaRose. Gavin is affiliated with the Mathematics Department at the University of Michigan. He is officially listed as a Program Manager of Instructional Technology in the Mathematics Department, but his areas of interest and accomplishment are a lot more varied than what that title suggests. He’s been involved with Project NExT and other programs in the MAA and is well known for his work with innovative pedagogy and instruction, especially instruction using technology, at U-M. 

1. At the University of Michigan, you do some…

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December 18, 2013, 1:25 pm

Dijkstra, radical novelty, and the man on the moon

dijkstraOver three years ago, I wrote a post to try to address a fallacy that is used to refute the idea of novel ways of teaching mathematics and science. That fallacy basically says that mathematics and the way people learn it have not fundamentally changed in hundreds if not thousands of years, and therefore the methods of teaching  that have “worked” up to this point in history  don’t need changing. Or more colloquially, “We were able to put a man on the moon with the way we’ve taught math for hundreds of years, so we shouldn’t change it now.” I sometimes refer to this as the “man on the moon” fallacy because of that second interpretation.

To understand why I think this is a fallacy, read the post above – or better yet, read this long quote from a 1988 paper by Edsger Dijkstra, one of the great scientific minds of the last 100 years and one of the authors of modern…

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December 17, 2013, 9:49 am

Back in the saddle

Well, it’s been a few weeks months since I last posted here. The blog is still alive and so am I. I had to put this blog on unintended, unannounced hiatus for a couple of reasons.

First, and I’m glad for this, Fall semester was a hugely busy time for my speaking and consulting activity. If you go back to August, this semester I gave eight presentations – three of those being intensive workshops on the inverted classroom, and one of which was a keynote presentation at the MichMATYC conference. I really enjoy doing this sort of thing but at one point in October I was averaging one of these a week, and these presentations aren’t quick to produce. I’ve complained in the past that the people who tend to see running around to education conferences and telling people how to be better teachers are not themselves in the classroom; now I understand why. There’s just no way you can…

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