Posts Tagged ‘239’

Linear Algebra Class Structure

February 21, 2014

I was originally scheduled to teach abstract algebra this semester, but my section was cancelled due to low enrollment. Instead, I am teaching linear algebra, as we had higher-than-expected enrollment there.

The good news is that I can use the same basic course structure for linear algebra that I was planning to use for abstract algebra. The model is this:

  1. The semester is divided into two parts. The first part, from January 15th until March 31st, is where we learn the content. The second part is all review and assessment.
  2. For the first part, we do IBL-type presentations on Mondays and Fridays. Each day, we can do 4–6 presentations in 55 minutes. On Wednesdays, we review what we learned on the previous Monday and Friday. The reason why I chose Wednesday as the review day was so that students could have at least three nights to prepare for each presentation day.
  3. For the second half of the semester, we will alternate between assessment days and review days. Students will be able to choose what they want to review based on what they found most confusing from the first half of the semester AND from the recent assessments.

One advantage of having the Wednesdays saved for review is that I can use it for an emergency presentation day if a Monday or Friday class is cancelled; this has happened twice so far this semester, due to cold and snow (including today).

One problem that I have is that the course notes I wrote for linear algebra have 314 problems in them. Since I am compressing the presentation part into the first part of the semester AND only using Mondays and Fridays for presentations, I only have 20 presentations days for the 314 problems. This means that we need to average 16 problems per presentation day. I accomplish this by designating 6 problems as “Presentation Problems” (which will be presented, naturally), creating video solutions for another (roughly) 6 problems, and then leaving the remaining four-ish problems without solutions (these are mostly computational problems for which the students were given a video “template” on how to do the process).

It took a while to create the videos, but they are pretty much necessary for our course. This course serves as a very gentle “Introduction to Proofs” course, but the level of proof that is expected is of the “figure out how the proof follows directly from the definition” type. Since there are more complicated proofs that need to be done in the course, I would either need to lecture in class, have the students read the proofs from a textbook (which we don’t have), or create video lectures.

Also, given that we only have six Presentation Problems each day, I have developed a method of having the students volunteer for the problems that cuts down on the amount of work that I have assigning students to problems. My usual way of doing this is putting one essay quiz on Moodle that asks “Which problems would you like to present?” I still do this for my capstone course, in which we present 15 problems per day. For linear algebra, though, I put one quiz consisting of one multiple choice question for each problem that is to be presented. The students are given three choices: “I want to present this problem,” “I really want to present this problem,” and “I changed my mind—I no longer wish to present this problem” (a student who does not want to present does not need to complete the quiz for that particular question). I assign each question 10 points, 5 points, and 0 points, respectively. These points do not affect a student’s grade, but a there simply so I can look at the quiz summary to see each student’s preference quickly without much clicking. The drawback to this is that there is a lot more to do on Moodle (6 quizzes per day instead just one). However, I created all of the quizzes at the very beginning of the semester, and it didn’t actually take that long to do once I learned about the “duplicate” feature on Moodle.

We are just over halfway through the presentation days, and the class is going really well. I think that I have a remarkably good class, so I cannot really say how this class structure is working; I think that any class structure would work with this particular group of students. On the other hand, this shows that this class structure can work, given the right set of students.

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Again, a new IBL-Peer Instruction Hybrid Model

December 24, 2013

I am continuing to try to figure out a way to effectively use both IBL and Peer Instruction (“clickers”) in my classes.

First, my main constraint: my favorite grading scheme requires students to be given many chances to get questions correct. Ideally, this means that we would finish with new content for the course 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through the semester.

Here is the approach I have been using up until now:

  1. First part of the semester: Students get the content from reading the textbook.
  2. First part of the semester: Students assimilate the content through Peer Instruction.
  3. Second part of the semester: Students do something that resembles (but isn’t actually) IBL.
  4. Second part of semester: Assess the students a lot.

Below is the same model I discussed last summer for my abstract algebra class. That abstract algebra class was closed due to low enrollment, and I was assigned linear algebra instead. I am keeping the same model, although I have a lot more exercises/theorems/conjectures in my linear algebra notes than I do for my abstract algebra notes.

Here is the new approach:

  1. Mondays and Fridays during first part of the semester: Use IBL and student presentations to introduce the content.
  2. Wednesdays during first part of the semester: use Peer Instruction to review and solidify ideas learned on the previous Friday and Monday.
  3. Second part of the semester: We review the most difficult material through Peer Instruction and in-class practice.
  4. Second part of semester: Assess the students a lot.

Here is the main problem that I am facing: I have 312 exercises in my IBL notes; I basically wrote the notes that I wanted—including many examples to build intuition—and I am now trying to figure out how to shoehorn all of the content into 1/2 to 2/3 of a semester. This works out to an average of about 7 exercises per day if we did IBL work every day of the entire semester, 10 exercises per day if we did IBL work on Mondays and Fridays (and review on Wednesdays) every day of the semester, and 20 exercises per day if we did IBL work on Mondays and Fridays (and review on Wednesdays) every day for half the semester. So I want to see if I can do between 10 to 20 exercises per class IBL class period, which is too much to do without some modifications. Here are the options I can think of to make this happen:

  1. Cut some of the content. I don’t want to do this.
  2. Provide screencasts of some of the exercises. I want to do this anyway, since part of the goal of our linear algebra class is to introduce students to proofs, and I believe that it is very useful for students to see worked examples. But I don’t want to have to provide 10–15 screencasts each class period.
  3. Simply do not cover many of the intuition-building exercises in class; Dana Ernst suggested this to me yesterday, and I think that it is brilliant. There is not reason why I have to do everything in class. Perhaps I could just take questions on any intuition-building exercises after we do the main theorems; I could provide screencasts for some of these if we run out of time.
  4. Other ideas?

Right now, my plan is to have students present and thoroughly discuss roughly 5 problems per IBL day, I would do screencasts for roughly 5 problems per day, leaving roughly 10 intuition problems to leave for the students to do.

Do any of you have ideas about how to improve this?