Tag Archives: Teaching

August 12, 2014, 12:22 pm

Is lecture really the thing that needs fixing?

d510c2df-22fc-47b9-8511-e1e69a9d560bOne of my Twitter people asked me to share my thoughts on yesterday’s Chronicle article, “Can Universities Use Data to Fix What Ails the Lecture?” At the time, I skimmed the article and replied that LectureTools, the technological tool developed by Perry Samson to gather real-time data from students during a lecture, reminded me of the contraption you see in the photo to your left. That’s an automated chalkboard eraser. As technology goes, it’s quite effective in what it does. Just look at how clean that board is! Which is great but… that’s a chalkboard for goodness’ sake. A piece of communications technology that is not significantly different than prehistoric cave drawing, and which has been improved upon countless times. (Purists who still cling to chalkboards: You guys are Luddites. Sorry.)  Strapping an awesome piece of technology to a chalkboard doesn’t make the …

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June 13, 2014, 2:40 pm

Three issues with the case for banning laptops

2984626120_6f756e2da7_mThis article, “The Case for Banning Laptops in the Classroom”, written by Dan Rockmore for The New Yorker, has been getting considerable airtime on social media this week. As a classroom instructor I can certainly attest to the power of technology to distract and interfere with student learning. But I had three issues with the “case” being made.

1. Because the headline focuses on banning laptops from the classroom, it’s easy to miss this very important point made in the article:

These examples [of how learning is negatively affected by the presence of technology] can be seen as the progeny of an ill-conceived union of twenty-first-century tools (computers, tablets, smartphones) with nineteenth-century modalities (lectures). I’m not discussing the “flipped classroom,” wherein lectures are accessed outside of class on digital devices and the classroom is used as a…

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June 5, 2014, 8:00 pm

Four things I wish I’d known about the flipped classroom

I have been spending this week at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina as a plenary speaker and instructional faculty at the Teaching and Learning Institute of the Appalachian College Association. This is the second year in a row I’ve been at the TLI as a plenary speaker and staff member, and I’m honored to have been asked back, and it’s been a great week. I’ll have more to say about the TLI in upcoming posts.

For now, though, I wanted to share another thing I did this week, which was to give a talk to the faculty at Ecole Centrale Paris, one of the foremost technical universities in France on the flipped classroom. I was able to be in two places at the same time because the talk to ECP was given via pre-recorded video. That talk was given at the same time as my plenary talk at Lenoir-Rhyne, in fact! Is there a prize for this?

The talk was titled, “Four Things I…

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April 8, 2014, 2:58 pm

The problem is not the students.

Last week I posted what I considered to be an innocuous and mildly interesting post about a proposed formal definition of flipped learning. I figured it would generate a few retweets and start some conversations. Instead, it spawned one of the longest comment threads we’ve had around here in a while – probably the longest if you mod out all the Khan Academy posts. It was a comment thread that made me so angry in places that it has taken me a week to calm down to the point where I feel I can respond.

It takes a bit of backstory to explain why I was so emotionally worked up over some of the comments in that thread, so bear with me for a minute.

We’re in week 13 of our semester here. I am teaching three courses (two preps), all using flipped learning models. One of these courses is part of the General Education curriculum, and the other serves mostly students in the CS…

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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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December 18, 2013, 1:25 pm

Dijkstra, radical novelty, and the man on the moon

dijkstraOver 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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March 25, 2013, 8:00 am

Examples and the light bulb

6186929069_f72cf92699_nI have a confession to make: At this point in the semester (week 11), there’s a question I get that nearly drives me to despair. That question is:

Can we see more examples in class?

Why does this question bug me so much? It’s not because examples are bad. On the contrary, the research shows (and this is surely backed up by experience) that studying worked examples can be a highly effective strategy for learning a concept. So I ought to be happy to hear it, right?

When people ask this question because they want to study an example, I’m happy. But studying an example and seeing an example are two radically different things. Studying an example means making conscious efforts to examine the example in depth: isolating the main idea or strategy, actively trying out modifications to the objects involved, making connections to previous examples and mathematical results, and – very …

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March 8, 2013, 4:30 pm

The inverted classroom as platform

211239773_940d75fc4d_nI’ve been talking a lot with my colleagues about their teaching practices, as part of the NSF grant I’m working on. The inverted classroom (I used to call it the flipped classroom, but I’m going back to “inverted”) has come up a lot as a teaching technique that people have heard a lot about but haven’t tried yet — or are wary of trying. I’ve been wondering about the language being used, namely: Is the inverted classroom really a “teaching technique” at all?

My answer used to be “yes”. When I first started using the inverted classroom idea, I would describe the inverted classroom as “a teaching technique” that involves reversing where information transmission and internalization take place. Later I moved to saying that the inverted classroom refers to “any teaching method” that implements this reversal. Today as I was thinking about this, I think a…

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December 31, 2012, 9:01 am

A conversation about teaching preparation

Here’s a piece of a conversation I just had with my 8-year old daughter, who is interested in becoming a teacher when she grows up.

Daughter: Dad, if you want to become a teacher, do you have to take classes?

Me: Yes. You have to take a lot of classes about how to teach and a lot of classes in the subjects you want to teach. You need to be really good at math to teach math, for example.

D: Then do you have to go out and teach in the schools, like Mr. D___ [the young man who student-taught in my daughter's elementary school this year]?

Me: That’s right. You have to take classes and you have to go into the schools and practice.

D: Do you have to practice with the little kids?

Me: That depends on who you want to teach. If you want to become an elementary school teacher you work with elementary school kids. If you want to teach in a middle school, then you work with middle …

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November 9, 2012, 7:00 am

The social element of learning about effective teaching strategies

Speaking of faculty adopting research-based instructional strategies, Theron Hitchman (who blogs at Circles and Tangents) wonders aloud in the direction of math education researchers: Why didn’t you tell me? That is, referring to research-based instructional strategies that seem to work really well with students,

Why do I stumble on these things only to find that they have been understood for decades? Why didn’t someone knock on my door and tell me I was doing it wrong?

My basic point is this: If you do research on teaching and learning, you owe it to society to share what you know. Scholarly publication doesn’t count. The mathematics education community talking to itself is a necessary condition for sorting out the truth of things, but it is insufficient for educating the public and for changing practice on a large scale.

If you know that the standard lecture-homework-exam …

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