As I mentioned in my previous post, I am toying with the idea of teaching my spring Complex Analysis course in an Inquiry Based Learning/Modified Moore Method style. I am not sure exactly what this means yet, although the students would be allowed required to work together. I would also likely allow the students to use outside references to get solutions to problem. But the basic “solve a problem from basic axioms/definitions/theorems and present it to the class”-structure would apply.

Here are my reasons for considering an IBL/Modified Moore Method course:

  1. It is a way of having a very student-centered classroom (which promotes learning).
  2. It gives students valuable experience presenting.
  3. It gives students ownership over their learning.
  4. I have spoken to many people who swear by this method.
  5. The textbook would be inexpensive (copied course notes from The Journal of Inquiry-Based Learning in Mathematics).

Here are reasons why this is a good course to experiment with this teaching method:

  1. It is a terminal course, so people are not expecting me to “get through” a certain amount of material.
  2. It will be mostly juniors and seniors; it is often helpful to experiment with scary teaching situations with a group of students who want to be there and can help you out.
  3. The class size will likely not be too big.

Has anyone tried it? Comments? Persuasions? Hints on how to succeed?

6 Responses to “IBL”

  1. Kate MacInnis Says:

    I haven’t taught Moore-method-style (I’m a big believer in it, just haven’t had the opportunity to teach a proof-based class), but I can give the perspective of a former student in several Moore-style classes (senior-undergrad and master’s level).

    First, be aware that it’s a lot of work– much more work than a direct-teach class (from reading your blog, I suspect you know that, I’m mostly stating that for other readers). The work in MM classes is in the structure and the feedback, and the feedback really is key– moreso than in other class modes. had two different professors who taught with the Moore method: one of these was my favorite profesor ever, and I learned more from him (both about math and about teaching) than from anyone else on the planet. The other was much less satisfying– the feedback just wasn’t there. It wasn’t that the students weren’t willing to work hard, they just didn’t get the same level of feedback, and so tended to get frustrated very easily.

    And honestly, depending on how far you’re planning to modify MM, I really wouldn’t encourage them to see textbook resources. The students in my classes who turned to books to help them prove things tended to do very poorly.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Hi Kate,

      Thanks for the comment. How did your favorite professor provide feedback? After every presentation? Every paper? And what sort of feedback did he give? I am working to improve my feedback in general, and I think that this would be useful in all of my courses.

      And I take your comment about not allowing outside resources very seriously. Thanks for letting me know.

      Have a great day!

      • Kate MacInnis Says:

        Sorry it’s taken me a while to respond.

        The feedback varied quite a bit, but he never just gave you the answer. He mostly pointed out where the errors were (compared to another professor–one I didn’t have– who reportedly would say that there was an error in the proof during a student presentation, and force the whole class to stare at it for an hour until someone came up with something)

        One possibly counterintuitive thing about him was that he never soft-pedaled his criticism, but it was always about the proof, and you learned very quickly not to take it personally. The upside to this is that you knew that everything he said was sincere, and was an effort to help you improve. Which also meant that when he did praise your proof, it really meant something.

        The class would go something like this: The only written materials were lists of theorems he passed out. The theorem list was carefully structured so that things built smoothly and any single theorem’s proof was accessible (but not immediate) from the earlier theorems. There would be two or three homework problems each class (if there were three it usually meant one was fairly trivial) and he would ask who had a proof, and have a few different people write up their proofs at the same time, and then go over them one at a time. Then he’d open it up for the class to comment (we would spend a lot of time here), and then he’d add his comments. He did take up homework from everyone and grade it all (on a 0-5 scale) with feedback and comments.

        It’s been six years, so some of this might be less than fully accurate, but that’s how I remember it. 🙂

      • Bret Benesh Says:

        Hi Kate,

        No problem about the reply time—I am not teaching the course until January!

        Thanks for all of the help. I am hoping to start putting a structure together for the course soon (this is likely folly—I probably won’t be able to do it until winter break), and you have given me a lot to think about.

        Have a great day!

  2. sunilchetty Says:

    Hi Bret,

    As you know I have been teaching in a setting where class sessions are incredibly long… 3 hours of exploratory bliss, if you ask me. I am curious how you will want students to present. In my two classes that were very student-centered and student-driven, I encouraged students to present problems as if they were teaching… this didn’t always happen, and success varied with the presenter.

    So… do you want them to present solutions? partial solutions? write up what they have, sit down, and discuss as a class? I feel that such details are good for students, whether you state them outright or help the class distinguish different forms of presentation as the class progresses.

    Lastly, how much time would they have in class to work on problems? Do you plan to do the walk around and give support-hints?

    This is all exciting, and if I have the chance (and am permitted by you) I will be visiting your class to observe.


    • Bret Benesh Says:

      Hi Sunil,

      You are always welcome to visit my class.

      First, I hadn’t thought about a lot of these things. For one, I want students to present as if they were teaching…only I did not not realize this until you brought it up. It is good that I have this blog.

      Ideally, I would have students present partial solutions. However, I suspect that I might be concerned about time, so I might (non-ideally) ask that students present only complete solutions. I need to get more comfortable with my goals for the class before I decide this.

      I will definitely want to give them in-class time to prepare, but I again do not know the amount yet. This is one of the summer projects I am looking forward to getting into.

      Have a great day!

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