Category Archives: Uncategorized

June 9, 2015, 9:00 am

4+1 Interview: Theron Hitchman

This post is another interview with a leader in the area of inquiry-based learning in university mathematics instruction. These interviews are hopefully whetting your appetite for the Legacy of RL Moore/Inquiry Based Learning conference in Austin at the end of this month.

Our guest this time is Theron Hitchman, associate professor of mathematics at the University of Northern Iowa. Theron, who I know as “TJ”, has been an advocate for and practitioner of IBL in university-level mathematics courses for many years and has a great sense of what works. I was very pleased to be with him and Dana Ernst as workshop facilitators at the Innovations in University Mathematics Teaching last summer in Cardiff, Wales where I got to know him, his thoughts on IBL, and his passion for football (the kind with the round ball) and tea. It’s great to have him contribute his thoughts here.

1. In your own …

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February 16, 2015, 9:00 am

If you don’t succeed, try again: Timed tests using specs grading

3546334679_abb69fc9ff_zIt’s been six weeks since the start of the semester, so it’s time for a brief update on the specifications grading “experiment” (although something being carried out in real life probably shouldn’t be called an “experiment”). So far it’s going quite well. 

In this post I want to talk about timed testing under specs grading. This is an idea that’s not prevalent in Linda Nilson’s book on specs grading that got me started down this road. Mathematics is a subject that typically has a significant amount of procedural knowledge, unlike a lot of the subjects represented in Linda’s book. So there is a need to assess students’ ability to show that they can perform certain tasks on demand, without the benefit of virtually unlimited time and resources — things like calculating derivatives, interpreting graphs, and instantiating definitions.

Don’t misunderstand: Those tasks don’t make up

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November 25, 2014, 9:10 am

4+1 Interview: Linda Nilson

It’s been a while since our last 4+1 interview, so I am very happy to get this series going again. In these interviews, we pick an interesting person somewhere in math, education, or technology and ask four questions along with a special +1 bonus question at the end.

9781620362426_cf200Our guest this time is Linda Nilson, founding director of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation at Clemson University. She’s the author of numerous papers and books on teaching and learning in higher education, including the essential Teaching At Its Best, and she gives regular speaking and workshop engagements around the country on teaching and learning. Her latest book, Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time, is IMO maybe the most innovative, provocative, and potentially revolutionary one she’s done, and that’s the focus of the interview.

I first met Linda …

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October 29, 2014, 12:55 pm

Making screencasts: The pedagogical framework

Last week I was honored to be part of the MOOC on An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching that’s currently being offered by Vanderbilt University through Coursera. Derek Bruff (who did a 4+1 interview for us last year) is one of the lead instructors of the MOOC, and he asked me to contribute three videos about my use of screencasting and lecture as part of the flipped classroom.

Those videos went out on the MOOC last week, and now that the Courserians have had a week with them, I’m going to share them with you as well. I made three of these videos. The first one, below, has to do with my approach to lecture and the pedagogical framework for screencasting as part of a flipped-instruction model. The second and third, which I will post later, get into the nuts and bolts of how I actually construct screencasts. I get asked a lot about those nuts and bolts, so it was …

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February 7, 2014, 2:00 pm

Weekend reading (February 7)

Sorry that this week has been a little off on the posting frequency side. It’ll pick back up soon. In the meanwhile, here are some shiny items from around the web:


  • Neat article from John Baez on the use of category theory in control theory. I like how he describes category theory as a way of formally studying anything that can be diagrammatically expressed.
  • Mathematicians have found that the Rubik’s cube has a Hamiltonian circuit – a sequence of quarter-turn moves that will generate all the 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 positions that a Rubik’s cube can attain, and then on the next move restore it to its original state.


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January 18, 2014, 9:10 am

The Joint Meetings: talks, mathematical beauty, and scarce wifi

Greetings from Baltimore, where I am currently at the American Mathematical Society/Mathematical Association of America Joint Meetings. As noted in my last post, this is the Big Annual Meeting for mathematicians. It’s not as juicy as the MLA meetings and I will not be giving  detailed analysis like Tenured Radical gave of the AHA meetings. Mostly this is because somehow I managed to sign up to give four presentations at the Joint Meetings and do another presentation on a Project NExT panel. (What can I say? I have poor impulse control.) So I’ll keep my observations confined to this one post.

What I’ve seen and noticed at the Joint Meetings:

1. Giving five 15-minute presentations at the same conference does not seem like that much work after having done a 90-minute plenary talk and a couple of 6-hour workshops. But it’s too much, because I really haven’t been able to focus on what …

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December 17, 2013, 9:49 am

Back in the saddle

Well, it’s been a few weeks months since I last posted here. The blog is still alive and so am I. I had to put this blog on unintended, unannounced hiatus for a couple of reasons.

First, and I’m glad for this, Fall semester was a hugely busy time for my speaking and consulting activity. If you go back to August, this semester I gave eight presentations – three of those being intensive workshops on the inverted classroom, and one of which was a keynote presentation at the MichMATYC conference. I really enjoy doing this sort of thing but at one point in October I was averaging one of these a week, and these presentations aren’t quick to produce. I’ve complained in the past that the people who tend to see running around to education conferences and telling people how to be better teachers are not themselves in the classroom; now I understand why. There’s just no way you can…

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December 24, 2012, 3:34 pm

Merry Christmas

It’s not Thanksgiving, but during this season I’m very thankful:

  • For all of you who check in on this blog from time to time, who have it in your RSS feeds, and who add your comments.
  • For the Chronicle, for having the momentary lapse in judgment that led to me being part of the blog network since last fall.
  • For the Chronicle web development team, working behind the scenes to keep all these sites up and running.
  • For my online friends from Twitter and Google+ who interact with me these and give me a tiny slice of a tight budget of attention.

Being able to write about math, education, and technology here at Casting Out Nines is a great privilege. I’m humbled to be able to do it, and I’m looking forward to good conversations in 2013.

I’m taking the rest of this week off to hang out with my wife and kids and friends. In the meanwhile, enjoy Christmas. In my Christian faith…

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November 5, 2012, 7:00 am

What do you do with all that class time?

It’s now week 11 of the semester, so it’s time for some updates on the flipped transition-to-proofs class. Also, this blog needs a jumpstart.

The flipped structure of the class presents a number of logistical and planning issues that can be challenging. For example, structuring the out-of-class reading/viewing activities can be tricky. So can staying disciplined so that you release screencasts at a reasonable pace without procrastinating. But the most challenging planning issue so far has been simply figuring out what to do in class and how to do it.

The whole reason I decided to flip this class was because students needed as much time hands-on actually investigating mathematical questions and writing proofs as possible. All the information transfer in a traditional setup was just getting in the way. So with the flip, all that transfer time is outside of class, leaving the…

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June 29, 2012, 2:23 pm

The summer of BYOD

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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