February 11, 2014, 2:46 pm

4+1 Interview: Eric Mazur

speaker-eric-mazurI 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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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:

Math:

  • 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.

Technology:

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January 31, 2014, 2:00 pm

Weekend reading (January 31)

Some shiny things from around the web for your weekend reading:

Math

Technology

  • I’m enrolled in Cathy Davidson’s higher education MOOC right now and she mentioned lynda.com in one of the lectures. It’s a massive repository of instructional videos on all kinds of technical subjects from programming languages to how to arrange the lighting for your video shoot. Costs money to subscribe but you can get some videos free.
  • Evernote (one of my can’t-live-without apps) has made some nice updates to the iOS version. Android next please?

Education

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January 29, 2014, 5:17 pm

An end to unsolicited review copies of textbooks, please

2014-01-29 16.29.42The 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

The inverted calculus course: Overture

3011652637_05f202dca6_n 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 24, 2014, 8:03 am

Weekend reading

Here are some items from around the web for your weekend enjoyment.

Math

  • Here’s a great post on Medium by Nik Custodio in which he explains Bitcoin like I’m five. I think the audience level here is rather older than five, but it’s still probably the best explanation of the problems that Bitcoin attempts to solve, and how it solves them, that I’ve seen. (I wasn’t sure whether to file this under “Math” or “Technology” because it’s a lot of both.)

Education

  • If you’ve ever been interested in standards-based grading, you won’t want to miss Kate Owens’ post An Adventure in Standards-Based Calculus where she lays out why, and bits about “how”, she intends to use SBG in her Calculus 2 course this semester. Don’t miss the link to George McNulty’s calc 2 syllabus at the end, which is a great example of how to use SBG in actual practice.
  • Good report…

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January 22, 2014, 7:52 am

How about a little humor in higher education?

logoAre you like me, and think that higher education could benefit from a sense of humor? That we’re hearing lots of dystopian stories about how bad things are but little about what people – individual people – are doing to effect positive change in their situations? If so, you might find this upcoming workshop called There’s Something Funny About Higher Education appealing. Blurb:

This spring, the satirists behind the humor blog The Cronk of Higher Education at CronkNews.com will launch a workshop series “There’s Something Funny about Higher Education” to ignite a spirit of creativity, optimism and humor in the ivory tower.

“We started CronkNews in 2009 with a mission to generate dialogue and healthy laughs about the world of colleges,” said editor-in-chief Leah Wescott. “Poking fun at problems is fun, but making meaningful changes requires a certain skill set.…

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January 19, 2014, 11:00 am

Fixing the wifi situation at academic conferences

WIFIMy innocuous remark about scarce wifi at the Joint Mathematics Meetings yesterday struck a chord with a bunch of people on Twitter. Apparently and unsurprisingly this sort of thing happens at every conference, not just math conferences. So rather than just whine about it, I’d like to propose a solution.

Let’s start with some facts.

1. Wireless internet is not a luxury at an academic conference. Presenters need to be able to access files stored in online repositories like Dropbox. Sometimes internet access is crucial to the presentation itself (like for me on Saturday when I needed to show an example I put on a course website). Most people simply want to be able to access email on their laptops, get work done remotely during downtime, or Skype home to their families at night. This is not something just for screwing around on reddit.

2. Wireless internet enables conferences to…

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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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January 11, 2014, 11:47 am

Flashback: Unsolicited advice about interviews at the Joint Meetings

I first published the post below about two years ago, just before the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Boston. I had forgotten that I wrote it until this week, when someone — I’m assuming a job candidate headed to the Joint Meetings this year — emailed me about it. The Joint Meetings are about to begin again this coming week in Baltimore, so I thought it would be fun and possibly useful to bump it to the present.

After two years, I really don’t have much to add to what I said in the original post. The only things I might change to the original are that I’d probably use Evernote (one notebook per opening, and a tag of #job or something) instead of VoodooPad to keep track of job openings; and that I think interviewees should ask pointed questions to the institutions about their (the institutions’) vision for higher ed in the next 25 years. The landscape of higher ed is too much in flux …

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