Category Archives: Education

July 11, 2013, 8:00 am

4+1 Interview with Derek Bruff

Derek BruffIt’s my pleasure to introduce a new series here at Casting Out Nines called 4+1 Interviews. In each of these interviews, I’ve picked out someone who I believe has something interesting to say about mathematics, education, or technology and given them four questions to ask. And at the end, the interviewee gets to pick his or her own question to answer, hence the +1. One of my favorite things about my job and about blogging and Tweeting is that I come into contact with a lot of really smart people very frequently, and I thought it would be nice to share these folks with you. I’m hoping to post about one of these every 2-4 weeks, and the lineup of upcoming interviews is very exciting.

Our first interview in this series is with Derek Bruff. Derek is the Director for Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching and the author of Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating…

Read More

July 8, 2013, 3:17 pm

What’s in a (gender-specific) name?

Here’s an interesting study (paywall) by a team of psychologists from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and the University of British Columbia that speaks to just how strong is the link between our personal identity and the way we perform on academic tests, especially mathematics tests. In the study, a group of 110 female and 72 male undergraduates were given a 30-question multiple choice math test. At the beginning of the test, all participants were told that men usually outperform women on math performance. (Never mind whether this is true for the moment.) Then, one group of participants completed the test using their own names on the test papers, while another group used one of four fake names – two of which were male names and the other two females.

The males who took the test did equally well regardless of whether they used an alias or not – even if they used a female …

Read More

June 25, 2013, 12:04 pm

What math topic do engineering faculty rate as the most important?

did-an-even-math-problem-by-accident-answer-not-in-back-of-bookI’m at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference right now through Thursday, not presenting this time but keeping the plates spinning as Mathematics Division program chair. This morning’s technical session featured a very interesting talk from Kathy Harper of the Ohio State University. Kathy’s talk, “First Steps in Strengthening the Connections Between Mathematics and Engineering”, was representative of all the talks in this session, but hers focused on a particular set of interesting data: What engineering faculty perceive as the most important mathematics topics for their areas, and the level of competence at which they perceive students to be functioning in those topics.

In Kathy’s study, 77 engineering faculty at OSU responded to a survey that asked them to rate the importance of various mathematical topics on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the…

Read More

June 13, 2013, 8:00 am

Can instructors learn something from business about student pushback?

Tompkins_square_riot_1874
Have you ever tried out a new instructional method or course design – like peer instruction or the inverted classroom – and had not just a few students become discontent but entire groups of students who band together to push back? Or even put together a Facebook group to protest? It’s not pretty. Following last week’s Teaching and Learning Institute, where I talked with several college profs about this and other potential pitfalls of the flipped classroom, I happened to catch this answer on Quora to the question, How does a company handle an anti-marketing campaign like Dump Dropbox? and it seemed to me there are a lot of potential applications of this problem to the problem of mass student pushback.

To begin, the answer’s author says:

1. In public, ignore it.

2. Quietly shore up your messaging on any points where they landed a good punch.

Don’t bring up the…

Read More

May 15, 2013, 6:53 am

Udacity to offer Master’s degree in Computer Science

Sebastian Thrun presentation.Sebastian Thrun of Udacity today announced that Udacity, Georgia Tech, and AT&T are teaming up to offer an online Master’s degree in Computer Science. Here is Thrun’s official announcement. The details are slim at this point but Thrun states that the course materials will be entirely free, that there will be a tuition charge if you want to have the actual credit-bearing Master’s degree certification, and non-credit certificates will be offered at “a much reduced price point”.

Without details, there’s not much to say at this point about all this, other than this is clearly a major advance in the reach of massively open online courses. Udacity was the first to partner with brick-and-mortar universities to offer academic credit for MOOCs, and just as others are beginning to follow suit, they have made the leap into graduate education.

What this means for traditional…

Read More

April 22, 2013, 9:29 am

The flipped classroom is not about “throughput”

The Washington Post reports this morning (apologies if this is behind a paywall) about how some universities are (finally?) moving from in-class lecture as the basis for their “large lecture” courses to the flipped or inverted classroom. Says the article:

Colleges are absorbing lessons from the online education boom, including the growth of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. And some professors are “flipping”  their classrooms to provide more content to students online and less through standard lectures.

William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said the system hopes the redesigned courses save money and boost performance.

“The passive, large lecture method of instruction is dead,” Kirwan said. “It’s just that some institutions don’t know it yet. We do.”

This is nice to hear, but watch out for that phrase, “saves money…

Read More

March 27, 2013, 8:00 am

Inside the inverted transition-to-proofs class: What the students said

6799510744_d2085426d7_mIn my series of posts on the flipped intro-to-proofs course, I’ve described the ins and outs of the design challenges of the course and how the course was run to address those challenges and the learning objectives. There’s really only one thing left to describe: How the course actually played out through the semester, and especially how the students responded.

I wasn’t sure how students in the course would respond to the inverted classroom structure. On the one hand, by setting the course up so that students were getting time and support on the hardest tasks in the course and optimizing the cognitive load outside of class, this was going to make a problematic course very doable for students. On the other hand, students might be so wed to the traditional classroom setup that no amount of logic was going to prevail, and it would end up like my inverted MATLAB class did where a

Read More

March 25, 2013, 8:00 am

Examples and the light bulb

6186929069_f72cf92699_nI have a confession to make: At this point in the semester (week 11), there’s a question I get that nearly drives me to despair. That question is:

Can we see more examples in class?

Why does this question bug me so much? It’s not because examples are bad. On the contrary, the research shows (and this is surely backed up by experience) that studying worked examples can be a highly effective strategy for learning a concept. So I ought to be happy to hear it, right?

When people ask this question because they want to study an example, I’m happy. But studying an example and seeing an example are two radically different things. Studying an example means making conscious efforts to examine the example in depth: isolating the main idea or strategy, actively trying out modifications to the objects involved, making connections to previous examples and mathematical results, and – very …

Read More

March 13, 2013, 8:00 am

Inside the inverted proofs class: Guided Practice holds it together

In the last couple of posts on the inverted transition-to-proofs course, I talked about course design, and in the last post one of the prominent components of the course was an assignment type that I called Guided Practice. In my opinion Guided Practice is the glue that held the course together and the engine that drove it forward, and without it the course would have gone a little like this.

So, what is this Guided Practice of which I speak?

First let’s recall one of the most common questions asked by people learning about the inverted classroom. The inverted classroom places a high priority on students preparing for class through a combination of reading, videos, and other contact with information. The question that gets asked is — How do you make sure your students do the reading? Well, first of all I should say that the answer is that there really is no simple way to …

Read More

February 14, 2013, 7:45 am

Update on the peer-instruction based linear algebra class

One of the projects I was taking on with my teaching this semester was a revamped linear algebra course built around peer instruction and the use of Learning Catalytics, a web-based classroom response platform. I probably owe you a quick update now that it’s nearly mid-semester (what?).

Linear algebra is a strange course in some ways. There are a lot of mechanical skills one has to learn, like multiplying matrices and performing the Row Reduction Algorithm. If you come into linear algebra straight out of calculus with a purely instrumental viewpoint on mathematics, you will almost certainly think that these mechanical skills are the point of linear algebra. But you’d be wrong! It’s the conceptual content of the subject that really matters. Like I tell my students, you can answer almost any question in linear algebra by forming a matrix and getting it to reduced row echelon form….

Read More