Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Evidence for IBL (via Bressoud)

The short version of this post is "Check out David Bressoud's writing from the last year."

I am finally catching up on some reading blogs...  David Bressoud in the October edition of Launchings has a useful and compelling overview of research evidence supporting IBL.  I thought about writing my own version of this kind of post with the updated results from recent articles, but David Bressoud states things well, and send you to his blog.

Evidence for IBL has been increasing over time. One of the ways I like to phrase this is "all the vectors are pointing in the same direction."   The nature of education research is that there will not be some gigantic airtight proof that method A is better than method B.  It's the aggregate data that points us towards what is most likely to be true. Over time the strength of the signal has increased.  What has been compelling is the aggregate evidence from across the levels of education and across disciplines.  

On that note, I'd like to continue to encourage people to consider the "big tent" IBL framework.   Engaging students and giving them opportunities to think, share, and do mathematics like mathematicians have value.   There are many forms of IBL, including those that incorporate lectures. It's not a binary (on/off) choice. Hence, there are many entry points to active-learning pedagogies. Think Pair Share is an obvious place to start, and does not require wholesale changes in teaching practices.  Find something. Find your IBL comfort zone!

Link:  David Bressoud's Blog Post on Evidence for IBL

Thursday, January 21, 2016

IBL Calculus and "Learn by Doing" Assignments

This past fall I had the pleasure of teaching Calculus 1 to freshmen.  It was a blast!  I enjoyed every minute of it, and it's truly a privilege to be able to be one of the first professors that students see in college.  Not only is it a great experience for me as a teacher, it is also more importantly an opportunity to plant core skills and mindsets in students' minds at the beginning of their college career.

The basic setup for the class I taught is an IBL class using group work and daily handouts.  That's the base.   My colleague, Paul Choboter, was a partner in the endeavor, and we worked together to develop the daily handouts and plans.  A lot can be said about the partnership aspect, and I plan to write about that in another post down the road.  In this post, I'd like to highlight one of the innovations Paul and I implemented, called "Learn by Doing" assignments.

One aspect of IBL teaching is taking advantage of what is given to you, when possible.  At Cal Poly, the motto is "Learn by Doing."  So we used this to give a name to a set of assignments focused on developing dispositions, growth mindsets, and practical integration of information and library research skills.  You might need to call these "Go Wildcats!" assignments or whatever catchy moniker that suits your institution's environment.

What are Learn by Doing (LBD) Assignments?  These are written assignments, conducted entirely outside of class, broadly spanning three main themes.  The assignments are "added" to the course and do not replace the usual Calculus assignments expected of such a course.   Each LBD assignment takes about an hour, and are collected weekly.  The quarter (10 weeks) has 9 assignments in total.

The themes are
  1. Effective Thinking (or problem solving)
  2. University Library Resources
  3. Productive Failure
Let's talk about each of these briefly.  Effective thinking is obviously an important goal, and one goal is to start freshmen with a fresh look on how they do math and how they handle challenges.  Hence, one focus is on the growth mindset.  The vehicle for this theme is Ed Burger and Mike Starbird's book, The Five Elements of Effective Thinking.  The book is an excellent introduction to a problem-solving approach.  I liken it to a friendlier, more general version of Polya's book, How to Solve It?  Three of the LBD assignments were devote to reading chapters from the book and reflective writing, in addition to short videos on growth mindset.

The second theme, University Library Resources, was co-developed with Kaila Bussert, Cal Poly Foundational Experiences Librarian.  Freshman need to learn essential information skills and learn about the fact that libraries are not merely stacks of books.  Finding good information via methods above and beyond basic internet search, such as using a library research database is an essential skill.  Additionally, using library spaces for collaboration, and finding sections of the library related to students' majors were other focal points.

Productive failure was the last theme.  A major obstacle for some students, in my opinion, is the misperception that mistakes are "bad," which is one of the unfortunate side effects afflicting many of our students, who have come up through a very rote memorization education.  When mistakes are viewed as something to be avoided, then students holding this view are severely limited. Curiosity and the adventurous spirit of an explorer are sacrificed for the sake of not ever making a mistake. Productive failure is part of the set of topics within the general area of growth mindset.

A holistic, integrated approach  
An important facet is that IBL courses provide an appropriate foundation or framework for Learn by Doing assignments.  The structure of an IBL course is consistent with the themes of LBD assignments.  Additionally  the three LBD assignment themes work together as an ensemble, where effective thinking, using library resources, and productive failure (growth mindset) as aligned. Students learn about effective thinking, how to find useful information, and are encouraged to take a healthier perspective of mistakes and learn growth mindset.

My sense after the first round of implementation is that there are further opportunities in first-year courses to integrate a broad set of skills, content knowledge, and positive learning dispositions. Integrated approaches are more work to develop initially, but also offer a high upside.  The upside is that we can teach our courses in ways that setup more students for success and align what we do in our classes to the big goals of education, to develop powerful learners.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Good Read: The Novice IBL Blog

Another quick post. Nick Long, Liza Cope, and David Failing, attended an IBL Workshop last summer, and have quickly become powerful voices in the IBL community.  They have developed a wonderful consortium blog, called The Novice IBL Blog, with great insights and honest accounts of what they are thinking and how they are managing their IBL courses. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Quick Post: Re-Entering a New Term, Ken Robinson

Happy New Year!  Things have been relatively quiet on the IBL blog, but that's because we have some big things in the pipeline, such as a new NSF grant to expand IBL Workshop offerings.

This is year 16 for me as a teacher (post PhD program).  Year 20 including my grad TA days.  Each term I like to start by reading books on teaching and re-watching inspiring videos.  Doing this gets me into my teaching mode, thinking about why I do what I do by revisiting core principles.  Each term is an opportunity to build on our prior successes, by looking at what worked and what we can improve in each of our classes.

Videos are easier to share in a blog post, so I'll do that :)  Here's Ken Robinson:  "How to Escape Education's Death Valley."

Friday, November 20, 2015

IBL Workshops in June 2016!

I am pleased to announce two IBL Workshops in June 2016.  The 4-day IBL Workshops will be located on the campus of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.  These workshops are open to all college math instructors teaching undergraduate math courses at their institution.  Early-career faculty (grad students, postdocs, and assistant professors) are especially encouraged to apply!

For more details please visit the IBL Workshop page on the AIBL Website.

These workshops are funded by an National Science Foundation Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) grant (NSF DUE - 1525058)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Video by Jo Boaler, "Boosting Math"

Professor Jo Boaler, Stanford University recently posted a great video, called "Boosting Math."   It's intended for students (and parents, teachers, administrators) and highlights better mindsets and brain research that supports the notion that we can all learn Mathematics!

Friday, September 25, 2015

AMS Blog on Teaching and Learning Mathematics

Math instructors, check out a great blog on teaching and learning by Ben Braun, Priscilla Bremser, Art Duval, Elise Lockhart, and Diana White that is run out of the AMS.  Their latest series is on active learning and worth your time.

AMS Blog On Teaching and Learning Mathematics