December 18, 2012, 4:17 pm

By Robert Talbert

I’m excited and happy to be teaching linear algebra again next semester. Linear algebra has it all — there’s computation that you can do by hand if you like that sort of thing, but also a strong incentive to use computers regularly and prominently. (How big is an incidence matrix that represents, say, Facebook?) There’s theory that motivates the computation. There’s computation that uncovers the theory. There’s something for everybody, and in the words of one of my colleagues, if you don’t like linear algebra then you probably shouldn’t study math at all.

Linear algebra is also an excellent place to use Peer Instruction, possibly moreso than any other sophomore-level mathematics course. Linear algebra is loaded with big ideas that all connect around a central question (whether or not a matrix is invertible). The computation is not the hard part of linear algebra — it…

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December 4, 2012, 4:23 pm

By Robert Talbert

Right after my last post — nearly a month ago — I began to ask myself, *Why is it taking so much effort to blog?* The answer was readily apparent by looking at my OmniFocus inbox, which was filled with orange-colored “Due Tomorrow” tasks having to do with making screencasts for the flipped transition-to-proofs course. I realized that I could have any two of my sanity, screencasts completed in time to deploy to the class, or regularly-appearing blog posts. I resigned myself to the fact that this semester I was screencasting *instead* of blogging. But now — it hardly seems possible — the screencasting is done and we’re moving toward exams next week. So it’s time to release the pent-up blog posts.

I have a *lot* to say about my experience going full-on flipped classroom with the proofs course. I regret that I couldn’t give more of a day-by-day accounting of how the class has …

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November 9, 2012, 7:00 am

By Robert Talbert

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 11, 2012, 9:52 pm

By Robert Talbert

Whenever I talk or write about the flipped classroom, one of the top two questions I get is: *How do you make sure students are doing the reading (and screencast viewing) before class*? (The other is, *How much work is it to do all those videos?*) Everybody seems to have this question, even if they don’t ask it. It seems like an important question. And yet increasingly I think it’s the wrong one.

In my flipped transition-to-proof class, we meet three times a week for 50 minutes each. In between classes, students have roughly 6–10 pages of reading to do in their textbook and around 30 minutes of videos to watch. This is not a huge amount of work to do, but it’s substantial, and the way the class meetings are set up — 10 minutes of quizzing and Q&A, and then launch into a proof-writing problem done in groups — if they don’t prepare, they’re toast.

But here’s the thing: *…*

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October 3, 2012, 8:46 am

By Robert Talbert

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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September 10, 2012, 3:13 pm

By Robert Talbert

Sorry for the absence, but things have been busy around here as we step fully into the new semester. The big experiment this term is with my flipped introduction to proofs class. As I wrote last time, I was pretty nervous going into the semester about the course. But things seem to be working really well so far. I don’t want to jinx the experience by saying so, but so far, nobody in either of my two sections of the course has given any indication that the flipped model isn’t working for them. In fact, I gave a survey in the first week of class that included an item soliticing their concerns or questions about the flipped model, and here’s a sample of the responses:

*I think the “flipped” structure will be better for a lot of the students and end with success from more students than normal.*
*I think this sounds really great. The idea of actually working on problems in class …*

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August 29, 2012, 9:16 pm

By Robert Talbert

The semester for us has gotten underway, and with it the flipped-classroom introduction to proofs class. This class has gotten a lot of interest from folks both at my institution and abroad. In the opening remarks at our annual teaching and learning conference, our university president gave some love to the flipped classroom model — and correctly pointed out that he’d been using it in his chemistry classrooms for 35 years. Indeed, there’s nothing inherently new about the flipped classroom — the name and the technology we sometimes use are new, I suppose — and yet this idea seems to be getting increasing amounts of interest, more than you’d expect from a mere educational fad.

I have to admit that prior to the semester starting, and after I had made the above blog post publicly commiting myself to running the proofs class this way, I had several bouts of cold feet. The first…

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August 14, 2012, 8:00 am

By Robert Talbert

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 13, 2012, 8:00 am

By Robert Talbert

Allow me to make a shameless plug for a very cool project currently underway by my GVSU colleague Matt Boelkins. He is writing a free, open-source calculus textbook that will be available in PDF form online for anyone to use and for any instructor to modify. He has already written the differential calculus portion of the textbook — his Winter semester sabbatical project — and he’s about to begin work on the integral calculus portion. You can download the differential calculus parts here. This is at his blog, where he is promoting the book and soliciting feedback. Matt’s also on Twitter.

Matt and I have talked about this project a lot in the last several months, and I’m deeply impressed by his vision for what this resource could become. He sums it up in this blog post:

While on sabbatical during the winter semester of 2012, I began drafting a free, open-source calculus text….

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July 18, 2012, 9:44 am

By Robert Talbert

This week I am adding to the playlist of screencasts for the inverted intro-to-proofs class I first mentioned here. There are seven chapters in the textbook we are using and my goal is to complete the screencasts for the first three of those chapters prior to the start of the semester (August 27). Yesterday I added four more videos and I am hoping to make four more tomorrow, which will get us through Chapter 1.

The four new ones focus on conditional (“if-then”) statements. I made this video as the second video in the series as a prelude to proofs, which are coming in Section 1.2 and which will remain the focus of the course throughout. Generally speaking, students coming into this course have had absolutely no exposure to proof in their background with the exception of geometry and maybe trigonometry, in which they hated proofs. Watch a part of this and see if you can figure out my …

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