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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July 11, 2013, 8:00 am

By Robert Talbert

It’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…*

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February 14, 2013, 7:45 am

By Robert Talbert

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….

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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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November 7, 2012, 7:00 am

By Robert Talbert

I’m really excited to be working next semester as a co-PI on a National Science Foundation grant with my Grand Valley State colleagues Scott Grissom (Computer Science), Shaily Menon (Chemistry), and Shannon Biros (Chemistry). We’re going to be interviewing a large number of GVSU faculty to try to understand why some of us adopt research-based instructional methods like peer instruction and why others don’t.

As we were putting together the grant proposal earlier this year, one statistic really impressed the importance of this study on me. GVSU is a fairly big place – we have nearly 25,000 students on multiple campuses with both undergraduate and graduate degrees offered. I don’t know how many sections of courses we offer in a given semester, but it’s got to be in the thousands. We have over 40 sections currently running for just College Algebra! And yet: How many sections…

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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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July 5, 2012, 4:13 pm

By Robert Talbert

Amid all the shuffle of the #mtt2k phenomenon and my piece on Khan Academy this week — which is well on its way to being the most-read and -retweeted article I’ve ever done — Konstantin Kakaes put up a response to critiques of his Slate piece on educational technology. In it, he addresses both my critique and that of Paul Karafiol. I wanted to give just a few counter-critiques here. I haven’t had a chance to read Paul’s piece, so I’m just going to focus on the part of the response that referenced my post. (Here’s the full post I wrote about the Slate article.)

Let’s go back to the original Slate piece, which said:

Though no well-implemented study has ever found technology to be effective, many poorly designed studies have—and that questionable body of research is influencing decision-makers.

The Slate piece suggests that researcher bias, brought on by having a financial stake in…

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June 29, 2012, 2:23 pm

By Robert Talbert

So, the six-week Calculus 2 class is over with — *that* didn’t take long — and there’s beginning to be enough distance between me and the course that I can begin to evaluate how it all went. Summer classes for me are a time when I like to experiment with things, and I wanted to comment on the outcomes of one experiment I tried this time, which is using a **bring-your-own-device** setup for clicker questions.

I’ve been using TurningPoint clickers ever since I started doing peer instruction, and I recommend these devices highly. They have a lot going for them in terms of classroom technology: They are small and unobtrusive, relatively cheap ($35), exceedingly simple to use, rely on no pre-existing infrastructure (for example, whether or not you have decent wifi in the room), and are nearly indestructible. They are about as simple, dependable, and inexpensive as a radio-operated garage door…

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June 12, 2012, 7:00 am

By Robert Talbert

The first speaker in the Model-Eliciting Activities (MEA’s) session Monday morning said something that I’m still chewing on:

**Misunderstanding is easier to correct than misconception.**

She was referring to the results of her project, which took the usual framework for MEA’s and added a confidence level response item to student work. So students would work on their project, build their model, and when they were done, give a self-ranking of the confidence they had in their solution. When you found high confidence levels on wrong answers, the speaker noted, you’ve uncovered a deep-seated misconception.

I didn’t have time, but I wanted to ask what she felt the difference was between a misunderstanding and a misconception. My own answer to that question, which seemed to fit what she was saying in the talk, is that a misunderstanding is something like an incorrect interpretation of an idea …

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May 8, 2012, 12:52 pm

By Robert Talbert

I blog a lot about peer instruction, but I think this screenshot from this morning’s Calculus 2 class is worth 1000 of my blog posts about just how effective a teaching technique PI can be. It’s from a question about average value of a function. Just before this question was a short lecture about average value in which I derived the formula and did an example with a graph of data (not as geometrically regular as the one you see below). I used Learning Catalytics to set up the question as Numerical, which means that student see the text and the picture on their devices along with a text box in which to enter what they think is the right answer. (I.e. it’s not multiple choice.) Here are the results of two rounds of voting (click to enlarge):

After the first round of voting, there were 12 different numerical answers for 23 students! (Some of these would be the same answer if students …

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