Yesterday I was doing some literature review for an article I’m writing about my inverted transition-to-proof class, and I got around to reading a paper by Guershon Harel and Larry Sowder¹ about student conceptions of proof. Early in the paper, the authors wrote the following passage about mathematical proof to set up their main research questions. This totally stopped me in my tracks, for reasons I’ll explain below. All emphases are in the original.

An observation can be conceived of by the individual as either a conjecture or as a fact.

A conjecture is an observation made by a person who has doubts about its truth. A person’s observation ceases to be a conjecture and becomes a fact in her or his view once the person becomes certain of its truth.

This is the basis for our definition of the process of proving:

In the last couple of posts on the inverted transition-to-proofs course, I talked about course design, and in the last post one of the prominent components of the course was an assignment type that I called Guided Practice. In my opinion Guided Practice is the glue that held the course together and the engine that drove it forward, and without it the course would have gone a little like this.

So, what is this Guided Practice of which I speak?

First let’s recall one of the most common questions asked by people learning about the inverted classroom. The inverted classroom places a high priority on students preparing for class through a combination of reading, videos, and other contact with information. The question that gets asked is — How do you make sure your students do the reading? Well, first of all I should say that the answer is that there really is no simple way to …

It’s been a while since I last wrote about the recently-completed inverted transition-to-proof course. In the last post, I wrote about some of the instructional design challenges inherent in that course. Here I want to write about the design itself and how I tried to address those challenges.

To review, the challenges in designing this course include:

An incredibly diverse set of instructional objectives, including mastery of a wide variety new mathematical content, improvement in student writing skills, and metacognitive objectives for success in subsequent proof-based courses.

The cultural shock encountered by many students when moving from a procedure-oriented approach to mathematics (Calculus) to a conceptual approach (proofs).

The need for strong mathematical rigor, so as to prepare students well for 300-level proof based courses, balanced with a concern for student…

This is the second post in a series on the nuts and bolts behind the inverted transition-to-proofs course. The first post addressed the reasons why I decided to turn the course from quasi-inverted to fully inverted. Over the next two posts, I’m going to get into the design of the course and some of the principles I kept in mind both before and during the semester to help make the course work. Here I want to talk about some of the design challenges we face when thinking about MTH 210.

As with most courses, I wanted to begin with the end in mind. Before the semester begins, when I think about how the semester will end, the basic questions for me are: What do I want students to be able to do, and how should they be doing it?

This course has a fairly well defined, standard set of objectives, all centered around using logic and writing mathematical proofs. I made up this list that has…

Right after my last post — nearly a month ago — I began to ask myself, Why is it taking so much effort to blog? The answer was readily apparent by looking at my OmniFocus inbox, which was filled with orange-colored “Due Tomorrow” tasks having to do with making screencasts for the flipped transition-to-proofs course. I realized that I could have any two of my sanity, screencasts completed in time to deploy to the class, or regularly-appearing blog posts. I resigned myself to the fact that this semester I was screencasting instead of blogging. But now — it hardly seems possible — the screencasting is done and we’re moving toward exams next week. So it’s time to release the pent-up blog posts.

I have a lot to say about my experience going full-on flipped classroom with the proofs course. I regret that I couldn’t give more of a day-by-day accounting of how the class has …

Whenever I talk or write about the flipped classroom, one of the top two questions I get is: How do you make sure students are doing the reading (and screencast viewing) before class? (The other is, How much work is it to do all those videos?) Everybody seems to have this question, even if they don’t ask it. It seems like an important question. And yet increasingly I think it’s the wrong one.

In my flipped transition-to-proof class, we meet three times a week for 50 minutes each. In between classes, students have roughly 6–10 pages of reading to do in their textbook and around 30 minutes of videos to watch. This is not a huge amount of work to do, but it’s substantial, and the way the class meetings are set up — 10 minutes of quizzing and Q&A, and then launch into a proof-writing problem done in groups — if they don’t prepare, they’re toast.

Sorry for the absence, but things have been busy around here as we step fully into the new semester. The big experiment this term is with my flipped introduction to proofs class. As I wrote last time, I was pretty nervous going into the semester about the course. But things seem to be working really well so far. I don’t want to jinx the experience by saying so, but so far, nobody in either of my two sections of the course has given any indication that the flipped model isn’t working for them. In fact, I gave a survey in the first week of class that included an item soliticing their concerns or questions about the flipped model, and here’s a sample of the responses:

I think the “flipped” structure will be better for a lot of the students and end with success from more students than normal.

I think this sounds really great. The idea of actually working on problems in class …

The semester for us has gotten underway, and with it the flipped-classroom introduction to proofs class. This class has gotten a lot of interest from folks both at my institution and abroad. In the opening remarks at our annual teaching and learning conference, our university president gave some love to the flipped classroom model — and correctly pointed out that he’d been using it in his chemistry classrooms for 35 years. Indeed, there’s nothing inherently new about the flipped classroom — the name and the technology we sometimes use are new, I suppose — and yet this idea seems to be getting increasing amounts of interest, more than you’d expect from a mere educational fad.

I have to admit that prior to the semester starting, and after I had made the above blog post publicly commiting myself to running the proofs class this way, I had several bouts of cold feet. The first…

Here’s the first (and so far, only) screencast that students will use in the inverted transition-to-proof class:

This one is a bit more lecture-oriented than I intend most of the rest of them to be, so it’s a little longer than I expect most others will be. But I do break up the lecture a little bit with a “Concept Check”, which is the same thing as a ConcepTest except I’ve never warmed to that particular term (the word “test” puts students on edge, IMO).

If you have tried out any of Udacity’s courses or read my posts about taking Udacity courses, you will see some obvious inheritances here. I tried to keep the video short, provide simple but interesting examples, and give some measure of formative assessment in the video. I am exploring ways to make the Concept Check actually doable within YouTube — Camtasia 2 has an “interactive hotspot” feature I am trying to figure out — …

I am a mathematician and educator with interests in cryptology, computer science, and STEM education. I am affiliated with the Mathematics Department at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. The views here are my own and are not necessarily shared by GVSU.

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