October 11, 2011, 7:30 am

By Robert Talbert

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

By Robert Talbert

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

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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September 14, 2011, 8:00 am

By Robert Talbert

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

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September 8, 2011, 7:30 am

By Robert Talbert

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

By Robert Talbert

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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May 10, 2011, 7:42 am

By Robert Talbert

This past Saturday, I was grading a batch of tests that weren’t looking so great at the time, and I tweeted:

I do ask these two questions a lot in my classes, and despite what I tweeted, I will probably continue to do so. Sometimes when I do this, I get questions, and sometimes only silence. When it’s silence, I am often skeptical, but I am willing to let students have their end of the responsibility of seeking help when they need it and handling the consequences if they don’t.

But in many cases, such as with this particular test, the absence of questions leads to unresolved issues with learning, which compound themselves when a new topic is connected to the old one, compounded further when the next topic is reached, and so on. Unresolved questions are like an invasive species entering an ecosystem. Pretty soon, it becomes impossible even to ask or answer questions about the material…

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April 1, 2011, 5:20 am

By Robert Talbert

December 22, 2010, 12:00 pm

By Robert Talbert

Image via Wikipedia

Robert Lewis, a professor at Fordham University, has published this essay entitled “Mathematics: The Most Misunderstood Subject”. The source of the general public’s misunderstandings of math, he writes, is:

…the notion that mathematics is about formulas and cranking out computations. It is the unconsciously held delusion that mathematics is a set of rules and formulas that have been worked out by God knows who for God knows why, and the student’s duty is to memorize all this stuff. Such students seem to feel that sometime in the future their boss will walk into the office and demand “Quick, what’s the quadratic formula?” Or, “Hurry, I need to know the derivative of 3x^2 – 6x +1.” There are no such employers.

Prof. Lewis goes on to describe some ways in which this central misconception is worked…

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April 17, 2010, 6:15 am

By Robert Talbert

This article (1.2 MB, PDF) by three computer science professors at Miami University (Ohio) is an excellent overview of the concept of the inverted classroom and why it could be the future of *all* classrooms given the techno-centric nature of Millenials. (I will *not* say “digital natives”.) The article focuses on using inverted classroom models in software engineering courses. This quote seemed particularly important:

Software engineering is, at its essence, an applied discipline that involves interaction with customers, collaboration with globally distributed developers, and hands-on production of software artifacts. **The education of future software engineers is, by necessity, an endeavor that requires students to be active learners.** That is, students must gain experience, not in isolation, but in the presence of other learners and under the mentorship of instructors and practitioners. …

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