Thursday, September 27, 2012

Does Teacher Personality Matter?

Yes, but only if you're like Darth Vader or Lord Voldemort.  Both of these personality types tend to have issues with restraint, power, and creating a safe (learning) environment :)

Personality matters less than what some may think.  It's very easy to think about a charismatic professor like Ed Burger getting high marks and saying, "Well he's such a wonderful personality.  How could I ever be that?"  First of all, we shouldn't be comparing ourselves based on perceived personality attributes.  Second, we all have different teaching environments, so it's really not about us as personalities and about how we help our students overcome their challenges.

It's really about the teaching skills.  It's really about the teaching practice.  

Noticing big personalities is rather obvious and easy to latch onto.  What is hard to see is how courses are setup and what skills and practices are brought to the table, how the "little stuff" is handled on a day-to-day basis. While being charming may be minimally helpful, when I talk to faculty about why their students are not (yet) buying in to their IBL classes, almost always we can identify something technical that is the root cause.

A starter list of questions to ask yourself to help you reflect on your teaching:
  • Have you been marketing IBL effectively and regularly? That is, do students know their role, your role, and how things will operate daily?
  • Beyond saying "It's okay to be stuck," what activities have you employed to encourage and support the process of being stuck?
  • Are you giving regular, positive feedback? How often?  Have you given positive feedback of some form to every student presentation or comment?
  • When the class is silent or not talking enough, do you employ various small group activities to engage your students?
  • Are the problems too hard or too easy?
  • Have you dealt with the quite/shy students in your class, by finding activities to specifically engage them and get them involved more and more over time?
  • What are you formative assessment strategies?
  • Are you still relying primarily on traditional exams for summative and formative assessment?
  • Do you know how your students are doing before the first exam?  If no, then you've missed out on a lot of data gathering.
  • Do you listen to your students to see if they know the answer, or are you also listening to figure out where they are?  Put another way, do you know how your students think and what their specific strengths and weaknesses are?
  • Do you spend more than one-third of IBL class time talking?
  • Are you still looked upon as the mathematical authority (i.e. answer validator)?
  • What grade would you give yourself for restraint and knowing when to step in?
  • If a student makes a mistake or is stuck, do you have several strategies for dealing with this situation?  What cues do you use to know when to step in?
  • Are students having fun in class doing math?
This list of questions is meant to help you reflect on your practice.  As you consider some of the questions above, it may make you think "Oh, I could do more of..."   Rather than think about who you are as a personality, which really does not matter, you can instead focus on the skills and practice that actually make a difference in learning.

And the data speaks to this as well.  The work by Hake, et al has been well documented and accepted in Science Education.  There's famous graph that speaks volumes:

In the red group are the traditional instructors and the green are the interactive engagement instructors.  Included in both groups are novice instructors, experienced instructors, award winning instructors, and those who have not been rated highly be students.  What matters isn't the personality or the perceived ability (i.e. popularity) of the instructor.  What matters are the skills and practice employed by the instructor.

A more useful self-assessment tool is in the works. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

IBL Miniworkshop at JMM 2013

Matthew Jones, Carol Schumacher and I will be conducting an IBL Miniworkshop at the Joint Meetings in San Diego in January.  Please spread the word!  This is a great way to get introduced to IBL.  If you have colleagues who are interested in IBL, this miniworkshop is a great way for them to get started.  More details are coming!

Thursday January 10, 2013, 1:00 p.m.-2:20 p.m.
MAA Workshop
An introduction to inquiry-based learning.
Room 1B, Upper Level, San Diego Convention Center
Stan Yoshinobu, California Polytechnic State University---San Luis Obispo 
Matthew Jones, California State Unviersity, Dominguez Hills 
Carol Schumacher, Kenyon College

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Euclidean Geometry: A Guided Inquiry Approach" by David Clark

A quick post on a busy Monday... FYI -- David M. Clark, SUNY New Paltz, has recently published an IBL Euclidean Geometry book.  It is flexible enough to be used at many levels.  It has been successfully used in high school, college, and in a masters program in Math Education, with emphasis on inservice teachers.  It is appropriate for HS teachers, college faculty who teach Euclidean Geometry, and faculty who teach in a masters in Math Teaching or masters in Math Ed.

Here's the link to book on the publisher's website:
Euclidean Geometry: A Guided Inquiry Approach

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

So That About Does It for Lecture

The title for this blog post is a bit tongue in cheek.  Certainly data by itself isn't going to change people.  Change requires actions by people.  But on a data level, there is an increasingly clear picture about what works in education.  This post is about yet another body of work that validates collaborative learning and IBL methods.

All the vectors are pointing in the same direction.  Namely, IBL is more effective than lecture.

Effectiveness of STEM Small Group Learning

Dr. Sema Kalaian et al have been conducting a large, NSF-funded meta-analysis to determine whether or not small group learning in classrooms is more effective than the traditional lecture-based instruction in promoting higher achievement and attitudes toward STEM subjects as well as persistence in STEM college classrooms.  Their work produced rigorous, scientific evidence that establishes a "medium" effect size of 0.37 in favor of small group learning.

As I mentioned this before -- all the vectors are pointing in the same direction.  Whether one looks at elementary school math ed studies, secondary math ed studies, college STEM, other subjects,... all the evidence points towards active learning.  

Students who DO do better.  Students who engage deeply in the subject and are allowed opportunities to collaborate have better learning outcomes.

It's starting to evolve into a moral issue, when looked upon from the seat of an Education researcher.  The evidence in favor of active learning is heading towards the equivalent level of "smoking increases the risks for cancer."  At some point we need to start asking fundamental questions about what we are doing as profession and how we can evolve as a profession appropriately.

If you have thought about the notion that IBL is a style or fad, then I encourage you to think otherwise. Those of us who support and encourage the use of IBL (in whatever flavor) do so, because the evidence from research and our experiences from the classroom compels us to do so. It's a professional choice based on evidence, reason, and the sheer joy of seeing students grow into their potential.

When you're ready to get started with IBL or go to the next step?  Contact us at AIBL. We're here to help!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Dr. Sandra Laursen, UC Boulder, "What Has Ally Learned? Outcomes for Students and Teachers of IBL Mathematics Courses"

This video is of Sandra Laursen's talk from the 2011 Legacy of R. L. Moore Conference in Washington, DC.  If you have wondered about the scientific evidence regarding IBL math vs traditional lecture at the college level, this talk provides strong evidence from a variety of data sources.  I like to describe the work in this video as "all the vectors are pointing in the same direction."  What I mean by this is that they have collected a wide range of data sets, and have found a consistent story that points in the direction that IBL teaching produces better learning outcomes for students.

One of the striking results from the study is that women in IBL courses have some of the biggest gains compared to their peers in non-IBL courses.  IBL courses level the playing field, and could play a role in eliminating the gender gap in STEM! Indeed the gender gap may be perpetuated by traditional instruction.  This is important stuff!!

Dr. Sandra Laursen, University of Colorado, Boulder.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

An Insight from Burger and Starbird

I'm in the process of reading "The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking" by Ed Burger and Mike Starbird. I'll start with a quick insight that can help your teaching right now.

Consider the two ways to approach the usual situation where a teacher tries to see if the class understands what is going on.

"Are there any questions?"


"Talk to your neighbor for sixty seconds and come up with two questions."

Asking "Are there any questions?" is no longer as useful a line of approach or teaching technique as we'd like it to be.  How often have we been met with silence?  The problem with silence is the lack of data about student understanding.  If you want to know you need them to produce something (an answer, an idea, an example, a question,...).  And you should want to know what your students are thinking or not thinking.  Knowing exactly where your students are at is vital to teaching, just as making a proper diagnosis using evidence is necessary to medical doctors.

Another way to look at this is the following.  If a certain teaching strategy doesn't elicit the response you need, then find another approach.  If you do not give your students a chance to opt out of thinking of a question, then they are going to be more engaged.  Moreover, students will learn how to ask questions and also to seek to find new questions.  Thus, setting the stage for questions has benefits far beyond checking for understanding.  Questioning becomes part of the intellectual life.