Tag Archives: Teaching

November 29, 2011, 7:45 am

Four things running has taught me about teaching

This year, I did something new on Thanksgiving: I ran one of those 5K “turkey trot” races on Thanksgiving morning. It was actually the second such race I had done in the space of a week. There’s something invigorating about getting up early and joining a crowd of a few hundred people to buck the temptation to lie in bed or on the couch all day.

Running has been a hobby of mine since my 40th birthday (July 2010). Turning 40, I was overweight and constantly tired, and I decided to do something about it. So I declared I would start training for a 5K, to commence as soon as the birthday party was over. As for how that beginning actually went, I’ll get to that later. For the moment, it’s enough to say that running has always accompanied a reflective mood for me. As I was doing the race on Thursday, I got to thinking about the connections between running and teaching. I think I’ve learned a…

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November 15, 2011, 8:59 pm

Technology enabling relationships

Blogging’s been light this week due to a stupid instructional decision to give exams in all three classes on the same day a couple weeks ago and then dealing with the grading fallout, plus having to get an actual print article finished by deadline. Let me ease back into it by sharing this quote by Seymour Papert that I just found, which really sums up my thoughts about teaching and technology:

The best teacher is someone who brings personal knowledge, warmth and empathy to a relationship with a learner. The effect of the new technologies is to provide better conditions for such teachers to work directly with their students. Of course tele-teaching has a role, but I hope it will never be the primary form.

That was from 1997, but it rings true today as well. It’s easy to forget these days that education is a fundamentally human thing, and at bottom it’s about relationships (and trust). …

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October 25, 2011, 7:30 am

Better examples through peer instruction

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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October 14, 2011, 7:30 am

The pedagogy of phlebotomy

When we moved to Michigan from Indiana over the summer, my wife moved to a sort of “standby” status with her employer, a conglomerate of medical labs based in South Bend. They are considering opening up a new lab nearby, and if they do, my wife would not only work in the area in which she was trained — cytotechnology — but she would also be the general do-it-all lab worker for clients. To prepare my wife for her possible new duties, her employer is paying for her to take a class in phlebotomy this semester at a local college. That means she’s learning how to draw blood.

I joke with my students that if they think Calculus 2 is bad, then they should try taking a class that consists of sticking each other (and being stuck) with needles — literally, bloodletting — for 4 hours every week. But all jokes aside, there happens to be some pretty interesting pedagogy that takes place in my…

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October 11, 2011, 7:30 am

Is dependence on technology the real threat?

I came across this Seymour Papert quote over the weekend, the best part of which is below. In context, Papert is speaking about effecting real change in the content of school mathematics, and he focuses particularly on the teaching of fractions:

One theory [among educators about why we should teach fractions in school] was that manipulating fractions was actually closer to what people needed back before there were calculators. So a lot of school math was useful once upon a time, but we now have calculators and so we don’t need it. But people say that surely we don’t want to be dependent on the calculator. To which I say, Look at this thing, these eyeglasses, that make a dramatic difference to my life and the life of everybody who reads or looks at any tiny detail. Once upon a time we would have been crippled, severely handicapped. Now we’ve got these and we don’t need to go …

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September 20, 2011, 8:00 am

Flipping the college classroom

This Thursday (Sept 22) at 2:00 PM EDT, I’ll be giving a webinar for AMATYC called “Flipping the college classroom”. This is all about the flipped, or what I call the “inverted”, classroom — what it is, why it could be a better model for student learning, how it’s been implemented at the college level, and tools and strategies for flipping your own classroom. This is a subject near to my heart, as CO9′s readers know, and it’ll be fun to talk about it. It’ll be my first-ever webinar, and I think it’ll be an interesting experience, even as I pray for no massive tech screwups.

Although it’s an AMATYC event, registration is now open for the general public. Just click here and register yourself as a visitor.

September 15, 2011, 8:52 pm

Using clickers for peer review of proofs


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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September 14, 2011, 8:00 am

Midweek recap, 9.14.2011

Happy Hump Day! Here are some items of interest from the past week:

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September 8, 2011, 7:30 am

A slight defense of syllabus bloat

Two things I noticed at the start of this semester were (1) the number of articles and blog posts coming out about “syllabus bloat” (see Profhacker, for instance), and (2) the insane degree to which my own syllabi have bloated. My Calculus II syllabus is 12 pages long, for instance, and I wasn’t exactly using 36-point font.

I liked (in a chagrined sort of way) Barbara Fister’s metaphor very much of the syllabus as Terms of Service. Put together all the boilerplate, all the course policies, all the tables of grade assignments, etc. and what you have is not very different from the Terms of Service (ToS) agreements we all click through without a glance when we start up new software. And that’s not a good thing:

The trouble is the syllabus-as-contract is not only tiresome to read, it’s not inspiring. You must, you can’t, you ought – that’s not an itinerary for a trip to someplace…

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September 6, 2011, 8:00 am

What does being a “caring” professor mean?

There was a comment on this post back on the old site that I felt deserved more than just a reply. Raphael said:

…I flinched when I read this sentence:

“The ideal result is that the child/kid/student has a sense of being understood, cared for, and valued.”

There is one big difference between being a child and being a student. A child, I guess, has to be supported no matter what in the bounds of somewhat well-defined rules/values. You know your child is being stupid (like painting a green sky) but you still say it is doing great. It is part of the process.

As a student, I am on the verge of becoming a professional. What I need from my teachers (which includes other students, assisstants, professors) is honesty. If I do well, I need to hear that, true. But if I mess up, I need to know, too. And maybe the latter is more important. I have to learn my weaknesses so I can work on…

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