Category Archives: Higher ed

January 22, 2013, 8:00 am

Inside the inverted proofs class: Why I did it

It’s been a month or so now that the inverted transition-to-proofs class drew to a close. A lot of people, both here at my institution and online, have been asking questions about the design and day-to-day operations of the course, especially if they have ideas of their own and want to compare notes. So starting with this post, I’m going to publish a series of posts that describe exactly how this course was designed and managed throughout the semester. I’m not sure how many of these posts there will be. But the idea is to pull everything together so that people who want to try this sort of thing themselves will have a detailed accounting of what I did, what worked, what didn’t, and how it all went.

Some background on the course (MTH 210: Communicating in Mathematics) is in this post. The short version is that MTH 210 is a course on reading and writing proofs. It’s a…

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December 31, 2012, 9:01 am

A conversation about teaching preparation

Here’s a piece of a conversation I just had with my 8-year old daughter, who is interested in becoming a teacher when she grows up.

Daughter: Dad, if you want to become a teacher, do you have to take classes?

Me: Yes. You have to take a lot of classes about how to teach and a lot of classes in the subjects you want to teach. You need to be really good at math to teach math, for example.

D: Then do you have to go out and teach in the schools, like Mr. D___ [the young man who student-taught in my daughter's elementary school this year]?

Me: That’s right. You have to take classes and you have to go into the schools and practice.

D: Do you have to practice with the little kids?

Me: That depends on who you want to teach. If you want to become an elementary school teacher you work with elementary school kids. If you want to teach in a middle school, then you work with middle …

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December 21, 2012, 8:00 am

We need to produce learners, not just students

Paul Pintrich was the creator of the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire, which I used as the main instrument for collecting data for the study on students in the flipped transition-to-proof course this past semester. Now that the data are in, I’ve been going back and reading some of Pintrich’s original papers on the MSLQ and its theoretical framework. What Pintrich has to say about student learning goes right to the heart of why I chose to experiment with the flipped classroom, and indeed I think he really speaks to the purpose of higher education in general.

For me, the main purpose of higher education is to train students on how to be learners — people who take initiative for learning things, who are skilled in learning new things, and who above all want to learn new things. My goal as an instructor is to make sure that every student in my class makes some form of…

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November 9, 2012, 7:00 am

The social element of learning about effective teaching strategies

Speaking of faculty adopting research-based instructional strategies, Theron Hitchman (who blogs at Circles and Tangents) wonders aloud in the direction of math education researchers: Why didn’t you tell me? That is, referring to research-based instructional strategies that seem to work really well with students,

Why do I stumble on these things only to find that they have been understood for decades? Why didn’t someone knock on my door and tell me I was doing it wrong?

My basic point is this: If you do research on teaching and learning, you owe it to society to share what you know. Scholarly publication doesn’t count. The mathematics education community talking to itself is a necessary condition for sorting out the truth of things, but it is insufficient for educating the public and for changing practice on a large scale.

If you know that the standard lecture-homework-exam …

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October 17, 2012, 7:21 am

MOOCs in Minnesota

I just completed my second MOOC, the “Securing Digital Democracy” course from Coursera. Emboldened by actually completing it with a passing grade I’ve jumped into another Coursera offering, this time “Introduction to Interactive Python“. My colleague John Golden and I are both taking it, and yesterday John tweeted:

Which got this attention-getting reply from Bret Benesh:

Further down the conversation, Bret pointed to this quote in the Coursera terms of service:

Notice for Minnesota Users

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If…

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October 3, 2012, 8:46 am

Declaring independence

The flipped transition-to-proof class is now finishing up its sixth week. It’s hard to believe we are nearing the midpoint of the semester. The management of the class is still something of a work in progress, and I hope to have more posts up soon about how the class logistics have evolved since August. But one thing for which I am really grateful, and which I frankly find surprising, is that nobody in the class has yet to express any kind of longing for the good old days when professors lectured and students sat there and listened. In fact most students who express anything at all say that having the lectures on video, in addition to having a well-written textbook for reference, is hugely beneficial for their work in the class.

Recently. when I’ve asked students what we could do differently in the class that would help their learning, two items have shown up multiple times (and these…

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August 14, 2012, 8:00 am

How the inverted classroom works: A manifesto for students

I’ve been sort of quiet on the inverted transition-to-proof course (MTH 210, Communicating in Mathematics) lately, partly due to MathFest and partly because I am having to actually prep said course for startup on August 27. It’s almost ready for launch, and I wanted to share a document that I’m going to hand out to students on opening day and discuss. It’s called “How MTH 210 Works”. I’m fairly proud of this document because I think it says, in clear terms, what I want students to know not only about this class but for inverted classrooms generally.

I’ve written before that the inverted or “flipped” classroom approach always tends to engender a lot of uncertainty and sometimes strongly negative responses. With this document, I am hoping to pre-empt a lot of those feelings by stressing what this is all about: Being realistic about their education in the present day for the things that…

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August 10, 2012, 9:00 am

When exiting graciously isn’t the right thing?

About one hour after I wrote my last post about the importance of leaving an academic position gracefully, I came across this item about the resignation of Annette Clark, the (now former) dean of the law school at Saint Louis University. She didn’t so much resign as she blew up the administrative offices of the university and walked slowly away from their burning ruins. Check out this excerpt from her resignation letter to the university top brass:

…[Y]ou have failed to make good on your assurances to me when I accepted the deanship that you would fully support the law school and our efforts to enhance its program of legal education, national reputation and rankings. From the beginning of my deanship, you have evinced hostility toward the law school and its faculty and have treated me dismissively and with disrespect, issuing orders and edicts that allowed me virtually no…

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August 3, 2012, 2:19 pm

Finding your next job: Keeping secrets

I’m currently at MathFest, and I’ll be speaking in our panel discussion on Issues for Early Career Mathematicians in Academia in a couple of hours. If you’ve been keeping up with this series on Finding Your Next Job then you know about the first half of what I’ll be speaking about. If not, then come to the session! And if you’re coming to (or went to) the session, the blog posts here will go into more detail.

Last time we looked at the importance of not being a jerk and making a commitment to act with integrity and graciousness in the upcoming search process. This time I want to bring up another issue that continues to come up for many throughout a search process: Confidentiality. Should you make your search public? Should you make it a state secret and not talk to anybody except your stakeholders? Or something in between?

In some situations there’s no need to keep a…

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August 1, 2012, 7:19 am

Finding your next job: Don’t be a jerk

Thanks for sticking with this series on Finding Your Next Job. I’ll probably have one or two more posts after this one before I’m done. If you’re heading to MathFest this week, this series ties in to a panel discussion on Issues for Early-Career Mathematicians in Academia that takes place on Friday at 2:30, where I’ll be speaking and leading a breakout discussion on this topic. If you’re interested and available, please stop by. Also, in case you want a one-stop shop for all the posts in this series, I have one for you: http://bit.ly/FindingYourNextJob. I’ll be adding posts to this bundle as they go up.

Last time, we talked about the importance of being creative when looking for work and exploring all options, including nontraditional ones. There’s another point to consider at this initial stage having to do with how you choose to conduct yourself during the long slog…

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