Legacy RLM 2013: Reflections Part 1

I wrote a while back about attending the latest Legacy of RL Moore conference in Austin, Texas. On one of my plane trips after the conference, I did a little reflective writing about the event… on a pad of paper! Now that is just not fair to you, or to history. Really, if what I say wasn’t so important for everyone, would I have been given this blog? So, I will write out that reflection again, and we’ll see if I still believe it.

Ed Parker’s Opening Address

This was a good meeting for me. I needed the chance to reconnect with some basic principles, and get back to thinking about basic issues of how to be an effective IBL instructor. I think I might have gotten a bit lazy, and hence less effective, in the last two years. I finally felt comfortable enough not to think about my instruction every free moment, and I let it go a little too much.

The opening talk was by Ed Parker. Ed ran the first New Users Workshop I attended in summer 2008. He was also kind enough to answer emails when I was getting started. In short, Ed is awesome, and I was very interested in what he might have to say.

The big points that Ed discussed were these:

  • An appropriate level of rigor
  • Assessment Opportunities
  • Possible Social Challenges

The first two stick with me the most.

What does it mean to choose an appropriate level of rigor for a course? Well, Moore Method courses are about making sound arguments and defending them. You have to decide what will count. Ed’s point was that you have to take into account your “input audience.” This doesn’t mean you give up doing mathematics, but it should influence which parts of the subject you use as a playground. And I didn’t take that to mean exclusively which material you work with. Instead, the lesson I take away is that you can be careful about what part of the process of doing mathematics you use as a focus.

As an example, Ed mentioned that at the “intro to argument” phase of development, some of his problems take the form of correctly parsing a definition, and some of them are explicitly about separating semantics from grammar. These are skills that he finds his students lack, and so he asks students to engage with these things directly.

The second point about assessment is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. In fact, Ed provoked me into a thoughtful mood, and I don’t much recall anything about his third point. First, the fact that he framed the discussion by choosing to discuss “assessment opportunities” really sat well with me. That is how I think of my course, too. Each class meeting is full of students taking the opportunity to be assessed. When they don’t take these opportunities, I can’t really help them. I think I will be more explicit about this with my students and use this kind of language when we have “dead air” time in class.

I wrote down two main points from this portion of the talk.

  1. Model correct use of language, and praise any correct, or near-correct, use of language.
  2. Give outlandish rewards for solving problems.

The second scheme is meant to counteract the psychological difficulty students encounter when participating in an IBL course. Ed shared a model for grading, which I will restate in my own terms.

  • C — earned by displaying understanding of the course material.
  • B — for such a display and solving some problems
  • A — for the above and “awesomeness”

I generally like this scheme. I don’t know how I will adopt it, but I like it all the same.


4 thoughts on “Legacy RLM 2013: Reflections Part 1

  1. One of my regrets about not making the last two RLM meetings is that I missed opportunities to talk with Ed, and others like him.

  2. Did Parker basically mean “you get a C if you can regurgitate, a B if you can create, and an A if you create awesome stuff?”

    I am becoming more and more of a fan of models for grading like Parker comes up with (“You get a C if x, a B if y, and an A if z”).

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