Tuesday, June 18, 2013

RLM Conference Reflections

The 2013 RLM/IBL Conference was a resounding success. My initial impression is that it was the best ever. Attendees chose their own path through the sessions, and interacted with on another the entire time.

Kudos to Jackie Jensen-Vallin and Angie Hodge as program committee co-chairs. Also hats off to Norma Flores, Albert Lewis and the EAF staff for organizing the logistics at the AT&T center at the University of Texas. Harry Lucas, Jr. also deserves special praise for his steadfast support for education reform.

Jackie Jensen-Vallin

The theme of the conference was "We Are IBL." This theme was represented in the structure of the conference with the many breakout sessions, round table discussions, 5-minute report, and long breaks. Plenty of opportunities for attendees to share ideas and immerse themselves in discussions.

David Bressoud in discussion with fellow attendees

David Pengelley, New Mexico State University, gave the last plenary talk of the conference on Saturday. He talked about how we can avoid the textbook trap and gave examples of how we might achieve this in our classes. One amazing idea he has developed is to use original sources, when possible, to drive the inquiry and explorations that students do.

David Pengelley

Another point Pengelley made was to give students some responsibility to actually read and process information before class. The idea is to create an appropriate reading assignment with some tasks or guiding questions, thereby creating time in class to do more meaningful tasks. Students are not expected to learn everything or even a significant amount on their own. the core notion is getting first contact with a topic and start the work.

One way to look at this idea is another (earlier) version of a flipped class, except using a book or articles instead of a video. That is, using books the way they were meant to be used! The key is to collect something from students. Merely asking students to read isn't a good idea. Good coaching directs students towards clearly stated tasks, within student reach, in ways that encourage some authentic engagement.

Yet Another key point made by Pengelley is the notion that standard textbooks make the pathway too smooth and overly processed for learning. The idea is that if you're in section 7.2, then you'll use 7.2 methods on the problems. Hence students can get by with less than full engagement in the learning process. When it's all laid out for you, there's no mystery or puzzle left to solve.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sandra Laursen: Evaluation of IBL

Once again we are reminded by Sandra that IBL levels the playing field for women.  In her portion of the IBL Centers talk, Sandra reminds us that traditional lectures create a disadvantage for women vs. men, while IBL courses level the playing field (as things should be).

More information is available at:


One of the common themes in the presentations at this year's conference is "flexibility."

IBL instructors need to be flexible in more than one way.  IBL instructors need to be flexible

  1. in the pacing of the course
  2. in the selection, adaptation, and ordering of the problems (sometimes in real time)
  3. in adapting classroom tasks (presentations, groups, pairs, etc.) based on how things are going in class
Flexibility and letting go of some control can be a difficult step. It is doable, of course, and being aware that one should have some options going into class is a good practice.  Have options when students get stuck or take a tangent and go with it!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Strategic Planning Questionnaire

Dear IBL Community.
The strategic planning questionnaire is up!  Follow the link, and let us know what you think!


RLMoore Conference Day 1

The RLM/IBL Conference is always an opportunity for me to rejuvenate.  There's something about getting together with the IBL community, seeing and feeling the energy, just at the end of the school year, that really resets things.

I'll have to break up my thoughts in a bunch of posts.  Ed Parker started us all off with a great plenary talk.  Some thought-provoking points:
  • "The curriculum isn't the most important thing in learning."
  • In IBL instruction, we're listening rather than talking.  This gives us many more opportunities to assess where students are at.
  • You have to be willing to turn negative attitudes about math into a positive through skillful, effective coaching.
  • An IBL instructor should think about what foundation is accessible to my students that they can build on.
  • Every class is an opportunity for students to engage in ever increasing rigor (for them).
We're off an running!

Today is day 2.  Lots going on.  In a few months we'll have videos of all the sessions on the AIBL Youtube Channel.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Starting Today: RLM/IBL Conference Co-Hosted by MAA and EAF

The conference starts today!  Conference goers have arrived at the AT&T Center at the University of Texas.  I'll be blogging about what I see, as I have time.  The theme this year is "We are IBL."  Additionally the format of the conference has changed to include more parallel sessions, as there are several different groups now with different needs.   I'm looking forward to learning new ideas and seeing new and familiar faces.  Stay tuned...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Legacy of RLM/IBL Conference Starts Thursday!

I'm extremely excited to visit Austin (again!) this year for the 2013 Legacy of R. L. Moore/Inquiry Based Learning Conference at the University of Texas AT&T Center.


For those who cannot attend, videos will be posted later this summer on the AIBL Youtube Channel.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Who Does the Verifying?

A quick post...

A common question uttered by instructors is, "Is this right?"  Normally some student says yes or no, and then the instructor agrees and moves on.  (This is a cousin of the questions, "Do you understand?" and "Are there any questions?")  Unfortunately, it's overused now and its usefulness has declined.  It's not that the question isn't earnest.  The issue is that students hear this question all the time, and they sit back and wait for the bright kid to chime in and do the work on behalf of the class.

The goal when we ask, "Is this right?" is to check that students understand what is going on.  Another more effective way to accomplish this is to ask students to discuss in pairs what their thoughts are.  The instructor can say, "Work with your partner to determine if the presented solution is correct."  Then all students are invited to engage in the validation, and the instructor is removed from being The Mathematical Authority.

Perhaps the main point of this is that it is important to develop students' ability to validate arguments.  If the instructor and/or just a handful of students are the only one doing this, then the vast majority of the students are not engaged in validating arguments.  Good teaching techniques can make a big difference, and help every student in the class be a participant in validation.

A quick rundown:
  1. Give a task
  2. Students work on task
  3. Student(s) presents solution
  4. *All students discuss presented solution.  (Rather than ask, "Is it right?" you could state "Discuss the solution with your partner..."
  5. Instructor moderates the discussion