Category Archives: Education

March 5, 2014, 2:37 pm

Creating learning objectives, flipped classroom style

1206099628_f04d5d28f9_mIn my last post about the inverted/flipped calculus class, I stressed the importance of Guided Practice as a way of structuring students’ pre-class activities and as a means of teaching self-regulated learning behaviors. I mentioned there was one important difference between the way I described Guided Practice and the way I’ve described it before, and it focuses on the learning objectives.

A clear set of learning objectives is at the heart of any successful learning experience, and it’s an essential ingredient for self-regulated learning since self-regulating learners have a clear set of criteria against which to judge their learning progress. And yet, many instructors – myself included in the early years of my career – never map out learning objectives either for themselves or for their students. Or, they do, and they’re so mushy that they can’t be measured – like any…

Read More

March 4, 2014, 2:59 pm

The inverted calculus course: Using Guided Practice to build self-regulation

7369580478_92ccf6bfbd_mThis post continues the series of posts about the inverted/flipped calculus class that I taught in the Fall. In the previous post, I described the theoretical framework for the design of this course: self-regulated learning, as formulated by Paul Pintrich. In this post, I want to get into some of the design detail of how we (myself, and my colleague Marcia Frobish who also taught a flipped section of calculus) tried to build self-regulated learning into the course structure itself.

We said last time that self-regulated learning is marked by four distinct kinds of behavior:

  1. Self-regulating learners are an active participants in the learning process.
  2. Self-regulating learners can, and do, monitor and control aspects of their cognition, motivation, and learning behaviors.
  3. Self-regulating learners have criteria against which they can judge whether their current learning status is…

Read More

March 3, 2014, 9:00 am

The inverted calculus course and self-regulated learning

895220635_71c0ea6ee4_mA few weeks ago I began a series to review the Calculus course that Marcia Frobish and I taught using the inverted/flipped class design, back in the Fall. I want to pick up the thread here about the unifying principle behind the course, which is the concept of self-regulated learning.

Self-regulated learning is what it sounds like: Learning that is initiated, managed, and assessed by the learners themselves. An instructor can play a role in this process, so it’s not the same thing as teaching yourself a subject (although all successful autodidacts are self-regulating learners), but it refers to how the individual learner approaches learning tasks.

For example, take someone learning about optimization problems in calculus. Four things describe how a self-regulating learner approaches this topic.

  1. The learner works actively on optimization problems as the primary form of…

Read More

February 11, 2014, 2:46 pm

4+1 Interview: Eric Mazur

speaker-eric-mazurI am very excited to present this next installment in the 4+1 Interview series, this time featuring Prof. Eric Mazur of Harvard University. Prof. Mazur has been an innovator and driving force for positive change in STEM education for over 25 years, most notably as the inventor of peer instruction, which I’ve written about extensively here on the blog. His talk “Confessions of a Converted Lecturer” singlehandedly and radically changed my ideas about teaching when I first saw it six years ago. So it was great to sit down with Eric on Skype last week and talk about some questions I had for him about teaching and technology.

You can stream the audio from the interview below. Don’t miss:

  • A quick side trip to see if peer instruction is used in K-6 classrooms.
  • Thoughts about how Eric’s background as a kid in Montessori schools affected his thoughts about teaching later.
  • What’s going…

Read More

January 24, 2014, 8:03 am

Weekend reading

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


  • 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.)


  • 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…

Read More

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 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.…

Read More

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…

Read More

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…

Read More

October 7, 2013, 9:19 am

The biggest lesson from the flipped classroom may not be about math

63217989_efcd3b7c6c_mFor the last six weeks, my colleague Marcia Frobish and I have been involved in an audacious project – to “flip” our freshman Calculus 1 class at Grand Valley State University. I started blogging about this a while back and it’s been quiet around the blog since then, mainly because I’ve been pretty busy actually, you know, planning and teaching and managing the actual course. When I say “audacious project” to describe all this, I’m not engaging in hyperbole. It’s definitely a project – there are screencasts to make, activities to write, instruction to differentiate and so on. And it’s definitely audacious because at the core of this project is a goal of nothing less than a complete reinvention of freshman calculus at the university level. So, no pressure.

What’s surprised me the most about this project so far is one thing in particular I’ve learned about the …

Read More

September 1, 2013, 1:49 pm

Week 1 of the inverted calculus class: Failure is an option

failWeek 1 of the new semester is in the books, and with it the first week of the inverted calculus class. I am teaching two sections of this class, one that meets Monday/Wednesday/Friday and the other Tuesday/Thursday. It makes for tricky scheduling, but as I learned this week it also gives an opportunity for second chances, which is important if you don’t always get the in-class portion of the flipped classroom right.

People always seem to focus on the out-of-class experience when they talk about the inverted classroom. How much time does it take to make the videos? How do I make sure my students do the Guided Practice? But that’s not the hard part, nor is it the part where most of the learning takes place. The in-class experience for students is what makes the inverted classroom more than just a lab or a seminar course, and as the instructor, it’s both hard and crucial to get it …

Read More