# Category Archives: Teaching

February 11, 2014, 2:46 pm

By Robert Talbert

I 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…

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January 29, 2014, 5:17 pm

By Robert Talbert

The picture you see here is my afternoon mail today. It consists of two copies of a new Calculus text (hardcover), two copies of another Calculus text (hardcover), and one copy of an intermediate algebra text (softcover).

I did not request a single one of these. I certainly did not request duplicates of two of them. The last time I taught intermediate algebra was the mid-1990′s. I am not on a committee that selects textbooks. I have no use for these books other than to prop open a door. So why did I get them? I have no idea.

When I think about the waste and expense of these unsolicited review copies of textbooks, it makes me downright angry. I went to UPS.com and used a back-of-the-envelope estimate of weight and shipping distance, and got that the total package of these books would have cost about $20 to ship to me from its point of origin. That’s not a large sum, but how many…

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January 27, 2014, 7:55 am

By Robert Talbert

* 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 6, 2014, 4:26 pm

By Robert Talbert

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

By Robert Talbert

*After 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

By Robert Talbert

Over 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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October 23, 2013, 7:25 am

By Robert Talbert

In this news item from the Washington post (h/t to @ValerieStrauss) we learn that Khan Academy is using “contractors” to check the accuracy of some of its videos. The report is prompted by an email exchange between the piece’s author and Sal Khan himself regarding the accuracy of one of the physics videos. In Khan’s response, he says:

We have deleted the video [a physics video that had an error in it]. We are trying our best to keep up with any errors on the site (both through feedback from users and peer-review from educators). I checked into why we didn’t notice this one earlier, either your friend or someone else did point this out in the comments but they did not surface to the top (we currently have contractors with math/science backgrounds reviewing much of the math material and the comments to find other issues like this). We do need to get better at making sure that…

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October 7, 2013, 9:19 am

By Robert Talbert

For 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 …

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September 1, 2013, 1:49 pm

By Robert Talbert

Week 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 …

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August 25, 2013, 2:38 pm

By Robert Talbert

In the last post, I said I might be taking a couple of weeks off, and I ended up taking three. Well, the week before classes start is basically a blackout period during which nothing gets done except course preps, so that’s why.

Yes, it all starts back up again here this week. This semester is going to be fuller than usual for a lot of reasons, three primary: First, I’m up for contract renewal in January, meaning that I am approaching the “midterm exam” at the halfway point toward tenure, which requires the usual aggregation of evidence demonstrating that I’m making satisfactory progress. Second, I’m teaching my first upper-level course since arriving at GVSU, one section of our Modern Algebra course, which I have not taught in a few years and I am anxious to get into it. I’m also trying out a new platform for classroom response systems in that course and I will tell you…

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