MathFest 2013: Hartford

Yeah, Hartford was not that exciting, but I still had a good experience at MathFest 2013. It was a very full week, so I have lots of things to share—way too much to fit in one post. I’ll pick out one thing or another and try to write a little bit for the next few days as I process.

The first thing on my mind is my Math 1100: Math in Decision Making course for the coming fall. I had a few discussions with people about this course during the conference. In particular, David Pengelley encouraged me to make the course more tactile. This seems a good idea. I have no doubts that with some work I can realize this for my unit on topological ideas.

Also, I got to thinking that a major problem isn’t so much what my students know, but rather what they “know” that isn’t true. This is especially acute during the probability and statistics unit. I am reminded of the approach taken by Derek Mueller in his Veritasium series. He points out the importance of confronting misconceptions in order to encourage genuine learning. In fact, watch this TEDx Sydney talk he gave.

So, I want to design some sort of hands on probability & statistics unit that puts common misconceptions front and center. Now I just have to figure out what those are.

I have attempted to teach this course 3 times, and I have had classes with enrollment between 30 and 40. This is large for a “presentation based” IBL style, but I adapted some group work. I figured for this coming semester I would try out a version of Dana Ernst’s felt tip pens structure. But today, I checked my enrollment.

I will have 68 students.

I emailed my comrade Doug Shaw. We have embarked upon this experiment of teaching Math in Decision Making in parallel. (I’d say together, but we don’t talk often enough. Seriously, Doug. We should chat more.) His two sections are 72 students each.

Time for rethinking.

Robert Talbert and Matthew Jones dropped some tips over on Google+. I’m going to investigate some peer instruction ideas, some details about using classroom response technologies, and even more group work flavors of Inquiry Based Learning. I have to design something that will work.

If you have ideas, I am happy to hear them.


Legacy RLM 2013: Reflections Part 2

General Noodling

…continuing from the previous post. Here are some other things I am thinking about.

  1. It is good to have a crowd. That is, it is good to have a group of like-minded people to lean upon. I missed that the last year or so.
  2. I need to refocus on intentionality in my teaching. I have made many sloppy, quick decisions lately. I want to be sure that the choices I make are being made for reasons.
  3. The trouble of finding a decent assessment method is killing me. Until I find some sort of partial resolution to this, I will not make any other progress as an educator.
  4. I want to refocus on mentoring students personally. I have gotten away from this. It has always been the case that students express fear about talking with me. I don’t quite know where this comes from, but it has always been so. In the last few semesters I haven’t done enough to counteract this. Students aren’t coming to visit me and discuss things one-on-one. This hampers my ability to help them.
  5. I need to sell what I am doing. I am not doing that enough.

With these in mind, I wrote some things I might consider saying to a hypothetical student.

Embrace Challenge. I am here to make sure you get stuck 
and help you get past it. This is the only way I know to 
foster true intellectual growth.


Math is hard. I am just laying that bare instead of hiding
that behind slick lectures.


My intention is to give you many opportunities for growth
and learning. I will try to put you in a situation where
success is possible. But I will not put you in situations
where success is guaranteed. There is no growth, no 
learning, no empowerment, in finishing a task you are sure
of completing before you begin.

So you will often feel unsure of how to succeed, at least 
at first, and maybe for a lot longer than you are
accustomed. I am not going to guarantee your success,
not on the small scale of a single task, nor on the larger
scale of this whole course. But I am confident in your
success. I believe deep in my bones that each student can
eventually prosper here. My job is to provide you with
guidance so you can grow and succeed in ways you were not
capable of before.

Travel Day, JMM 2012

Originally Posted 01-02-2012

What got done today? A paltry list.

1) I submitted the final report on my AIBL small grant. (Yeah, that should have been done two or three weeks ago.)

2) I packed.

3) I sat on airplanes.

Let me remark that modern flight is both more wonderful and infinitely worse that imaginable. You get on a giant computer with wings and it takes you to another place relatively quickly. But the user experience is more like a sardine asked to pay an extra $25 for the water in the can.

Joint Meetings Excitement: Workshop Days

I have always wanted to go to a JMM workshop and learn some new math. It just seemed romantic. This year, I am doing it. Tomorrow and Tuesday I will attend the “Discrete and Computational Geometry” workshop, and I am excited.

It is late. This is the New Year’s Day post, and it is really January 2. Well, it is January 2 in Boston. Back home it is still New Year’s Day. So this isn’t behind schedule. Cause that would be a terrible way to start the year.