Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Quick Start Guide to IBL Teaching

Disclaimer:  This is just a quick start guide, not a manual, and getting started in IBL is hard work. Please visit the IBL community to learn more at www.inquirybasedlearning.org

Step 1: Determine the overarching goals of the course, and use these big goals to help with decisions you have to make.  For example, when teaching Real Analysis 1, one of the big goals of the course is to understand deeply the fundamental concept of convergence. 

Step 2: Find/Adapt a sequence of problems.  Some course materials are available from www.jiblm.org.  Another option is to build your own set of problems, using a textbook as a guide for how to sequence the problems. 

Step 3: Understand your role as an instructor.  IBL instructors select the math problems, make assignments, select presenters, moderate and facilitate discussions, use group work appropriately, mentor, pose sub problems or special cases when the class is stuck, ensure all students are deeply engaged.

Step 4: Marketing what and why IBL to students and colleagues.  Marketing is used in the best sense of the word here.  Students and colleagues need expectations reset, especially if IBL is not commonly used at your institution.  Student buy-in is critical, especially at the beginning of the term.  Because teaching and learning are cultural activities, there exists a set of default, often unconscious assumptions of what math is, what teaching math is, and what students are “supposed” to do in a math class.  Based on the “distance from IBL” your students are, use the appropriate amount of regular, ongoing marketing and sign posting of tasks.

Step 5: Pick a rubric for grading presentations and homework.  Here’s one example.
            4 points = correct
            3 points = mostly correct, except for technical or clarity issues
            2 points = there exists a logical flaw
            1 points = went to the board

Allowing students to pause and return later once is a regularly practiced by IBLers.   Bonus points for productive failure are awarded by some IBL instructors.  A score equal to a 1 is rare.  Other rubrics exist. This is shared as a common choice.

Step 6: Keep a course diary with notes from class and thoughts as you prepare, grade, and reflect on your teaching.

Step 7: Use a spreadsheet with names in the rows and problem numbers across the top.  Use this spreadsheet to keep track of who has presented.   Separately, keep another spreadsheet with the names in the rows and days of the term across the top. This second sheet is used to keep track of participation, and helps you make data-driven decisions regarding who to call on and how to build groups that work effectively.