A reminder to myself: Sell the process

Here is a short report on the big experiment for this term, and a related note on a realization from today with wider applicability. I expect that this will start well, and then ramble on as I fiddle with some ideas.

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First week through Guided Practice and Peer Instruction

I have completed the first week of classes. I also took a good 36 hours to sleep and play with my children, so I am feeling up to getting back to work. The retooling of my liberal arts mathematics course to handle 70 students involved a lot of work. My usual work pattern involves long stretches of thinking and indecision, followed by a short, intense burst of actual production. I had to repeat this for every class meeting this week, so I was very tired on Friday. Labor Day weekend is well-placed for me this term.

So, how did the big experiment with Guided Practice and Peer Instruction start? More after the jump. Continue reading

A Big Class

Update on that big IBL class:

A little over a week ago, I posted a plea for help on Google+, and a note here. I will soon be running a mathematics for liberal arts students (“math for those who might not wish to be there”) course. In the past I have run the class as an IBL experience, using group work heavily. This was working at an acceptable level for sections of 30-40 students. This semester I have 68 enrolled. And my friend Doug Shaw has two sections of 72 each.
After reading and thinking it through, I will take the combined advice of Bret Benesh, Robert Talbert and Vincent Knight. I can’t quite count on my audience to be as self-directed as Vince’s, but I am happy to stay within the family of student-centered, active, social-constructivist teaching techniques and use a form of peer instruction/guided practice. (Is that your term Robert? Or did you borrow it?)

Poll Everywhere

As a practical matter, I will be using www.polleverywhere.com as a student response system to help run classes. UNI has a site license which will make it possible to use polls with more than 40 respondents. The advantage of PollEverywhere is that it allows the use of any web enabled device or any cell phone with a text messaging plan to post a response. That will bring the number of students who don’t already have a useful piece of technology down near zero. I hope it is zero. I am working on a back-up plan in case the number is not exactly zero.

The downside to Poll Everywhere is that questions are only really allowed to be short strings of text. At least, that is what fits in their web app naturally. I can imagine times I want to ask questions based on a picture or a graph. fortunately, they allow you to embed a poll into any web page by generating a little snippet of javascript. I will be investigating this tomorrow to see if it is useable without destroying all of my prep time.

Other Materials

The other big hiccup is that I was planning on using an IBL script. This isn’t appropriate for my new course structure. But it is far too late to order a textbook as a reference. So it looks like I will be writing a different style of course notes this term. I think I want to keep the “discovery” feel. (I doubt I can get all the way to “inquiry” with this many students.) So, I shall be looking through the materials on the Discovering the Art of Mathematics site for inspiration, but not outright plagiarism.

When I get moving, these materials will start showing up in my github repository for course notes. Feel free to follow along.

At the moment, I still plan to discuss Cantor’s theory of the infinite, something significant about probability and statistics, and something topological. I usually lead a unit on classifying surfaces, but I might switch that up for something about knots or tangles. Frankly, anything past Monday feels so far away, I am unqualified to talk about it.

Here goes nothing.

Troubles with Tech in Class

At MathFest 2013 in Hartford, I got to participate in the Project NExT activities as a presenter and facilitator. This is a professional development program for new faculty in mathematics run through the Mathematical Association of America. I was a Project NExT fellow way back in 2007. That makes me a “Sun Dot,” because fellows all wear an extra colored dot on their badges at the annual meetings. It was fun to meet so many of the “brown 13 dots.”

My first responsibility was to run a quick discussion on using technology in college mathematics courses for a small group of fellows. This is something I have actually been thinking about a little bit lately! Regular readers (Hi, Mom!) know that I have participated in a project called UTMOST, and through that I have tried to incorporate Sage into my linear algebra course.

The first step in our conversation was to take a few minutes to write down some questions about teaching with technology to share with the group. I didn’t get the chance to share mine, but I was proud of them. I just found the note card I wrote them on, and I really should recycle it. Fortunately, I have a blog! Regular readers (Hi, Bret!) know that I just write whatever I damn well choose and I don’t care if they read it or not. (Please, keep reading.) So, here is my chance to shout into the aether and be proud of myself.

  1. How do we use technology to liberate class time for “meaningful work” with depth?
  2. How does technology enable or require new questions and activities?

I think it is important to teach the use of computing technology in a discipline-appropriate way. Otherwise, we are presenting a limited view of mathematical work to our students. But introducing the computer (whatever shape it takes) into a classroom has implications for the kind of work we ask our students to do. What are those implications?