Thursday, May 31, 2012

IBL Instructor Perspectives: Jackie Jensen Vallin, Slippery Rock University

Jackie Jensen Vallin is a faculty member at Slippery Rock University in PA.  Jackie has been the co-organizer for the Legacy of R. L. Moore conference, and has been actively involved in mentoring new IBL instructors, the MAA, and Project NExT.

1. How long have you been teaching and what was your teaching style before you started using IBL?

Counting my teaching experiences in graduate school, I have been teaching for 15 years.  In the early days, including when I finished graduate school and had to write my first “Teaching Statement,” I was much more of a lecture-based instructor. I even said in that statement “I am more of a sage on the stage than a guide on the side.”  This was probably a little misleading since I really had a very interactive style with my students – knowing them all by name and calling on them to further the conversation in class. However, it was pretty unusual to do anything in my classroom except lecture and a few group-work style worksheets.

2. How did you learn about IBL and when did you begin using it in your classes?

The spring of my first year of “real teaching” (in a faculty position), I attended the Legacy of RL Moore Conference in Austin, TX.  There were a lot of people talking about the Moore Method (and, appropriately enough) refusing to define that method.  But I met some great educators and was intrigued by the idea of putting the responsibility for learning more firmly on my students by guiding them to the answers without pretending that my lecturing them would be enough to get them to understand.

I began simply after that – introducing more worksheets into my classes, doing more group work, and implementing presentation days during calculus. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I taught a class in which the students were really responsible for presenting almost all of the material. And even then I didn’t do that in all of my classes, but only in upper level courses (intro to proofs and abstract algebra, in particular).  It was another couple of years before I integrated IBL into all of my classes, and now I teach everything (from Math as a Liberal Art to Math for Future Teachers to Intro to Proofs) with as many student-centered activities as I can.

3. What was one of your best IBL experiences?

My best IBL experiences actually happen in lower level courses – students take responsibility for their own learning.  This means that frequently students who thought that they were bad at math get to master that fear, the material, and convince themselves that they are not “bad at math.”  This happened this semester in my Financial Mathematics (for non-majors) courses – students were shown a couple of examples of how to do problems, and then completed problems on their own, in groups, sharing answers at the end of the period.  I walked around the room, checking work, answering questions (by asking more questions) and making sure everyone was on task.  Since this course is based entirely on applying formulas to word problem scenarios, the only way for students to learn to read word problems is by making them *do* word problems.  And they are succeeding!  What a great semester!

4. What advice do you have for new IBL instructors?

Start in a way that you feel comfortable – if that means turning over presentation to students one day per week and lecturing the other days, then do that.  Don’t let anyone else tell you how *you* have to do IBL.  Find your own method.  And ask lots of people for ideas, suggestions about notes or activities, or if you feel stuck. I have gotten great pieces of advice from many different people – I steal the parts that work for me and discard the pieces that don’t to have found my own method of IBL.  Everyone is willing to help and talk about teaching – we all care a great deal about our students, or we wouldn’t spend so much time developing good course notes!

Note:  This is great advice -- "find a level that is comfortable for you."  If you want to be "scripted" at the beginning that is also fine, and lets you concentrate on the day-to-day teaching aspects.  Most importantly, if you need help, let me know!