October 25, 2011, 7:30 am

By Robert Talbert

I just gave midterm evaluations in my classes, and for the item about “What could we be doing differently to make the class better?”, many students put down: *Do more examples at the board*. I think I’ve seen that request more often than any other in my classes at midterm. This is a legitimate request (it’s not like they’re asking for free points or an extra day in the weekend), but honestly, I’m hesitant to give in to it. Why? Two reasons.

First, doing more examples at the board means more lecturing, therefore less active learning, and therefore more passivity and dependence by students on authority. That’s bad. Second, we can’t add more time to the meetings, so doing more examples means either going through them in less detail or else using examples that are overly simple. In the first case, we have less time for questions and deep thought, and therefore more passivity and dependence….

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September 15, 2011, 8:52 pm

By Robert Talbert

http://www.flickr.com/photos/unav/

Right now I’m teaching a course called Communicating in Mathematics, which serves two purposes. First, it’s a transitional course for students heading from the freshman calculus sequence into more theoretical upper-level math courses. We learn about logic, how to formulate and test mathematical conjectures, and we spend a lot of time learning how to write correct mathematical proofs. And therein is the second purpose: The course is also labelled as a “Supplemental Writing Skills” course at Grand Valley, which means that a large portion of the class, and of the course grade, is based on writing. (

Here are the specifics.) It’s a sort of second-semester, discipline-specific composition class. (Students at GVSU have to have two of these SWS courses, each in different…

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April 12, 2011, 8:07 pm

By Robert Talbert

I’m finally through one of the busiest three months I think I’ve ever spent in this business, so hopefully I can get around to more regular posting here. The last big thing that I did as part of this busy stretch also happened to be one of the coolest things I’ve done in a while: I got to do a clicker workshop for some of the senior staff of the Johnson County Humane Society.

It turns out that someone had donated a set of 50 TurningPoint RF cards and a receiver to the Humane Society for use in educational programming — but nobody at the Humane Society knew how to use them or had any idea what they could do with them. One of the leaders in the Humane Society saw an email announcing a workshop I was doing on campus and contacted me about training. We had a great workshop last Friday and came up with some very cool ideas for using clickers in the elementary schools to teach kids about…

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November 15, 2010, 9:17 pm

By Robert Talbert

This morning as I was driving in to work, I got to thinking: Could I teach my courses without all the technology I use? As in, just me, my students, and a chalk/whiteboard with chalk/markers? As I pulled in to the college, I thought: *Sure I could. It just wouldn’t be as good or fun without the tech*.

Little did I know, today would be centered around living that theory out:

- I planned a Keynote presentation with clicker questions to teach the section on antiderivatives in Calculus. As soon as I tried to get the clickers going, I realized the little USB receiver wasn’t working. Turns out, updating Mac OS X to v10.6.5 breaks the software that runs the receiver. Clicker questions for this morning: Out the window. Hopefully I’ll find a useable laptop for tomorrow, when I’m using even more clicker questions.
- Also in calculus, the laptop inexplicably went into presenter mode when I tried to…

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April 25, 2010, 1:47 pm

By Robert Talbert

I just graded my second hour-long assessment for the Calculus class (yes, I do teach other courses besides MATLAB). I break these assessments up into three sections: *Concept Knowledge*, where students have to reason from verbal, graphical, or numerical information (24/100 points); *Computations*, where students do basic context-free symbol-crunching (26/100 points); and *Problem Solving*, consisting of problems that combine conceptual knowledge and computation (50/100 points). Here’s the Assessment itself. (There was a problem with the very last item — the function doesn’t have an inflection point — but we fixed it and students got extra time because of it.)

Unfortunately the students as a whole did quite poorly. The class average was around a 51%. As has been my practice this semester, I turn to data analysis whenever things go really badly to try and find out what might have happened. I …

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