Posts Tagged ‘other weblogs’

Talbert’s _Flipped Learning_

June 29, 2017

I just finished Robert Talbert’s Flipped Learning. Here is a brief review.

I will preface the review with a couple of comments. I have “known” Talbert online for years, although I have never met him in person. I was also mentioned in the acknowledgments, although I did not play much of a role in writing the book (you will see below that I have a lot of work to do with flipped learning). Finally, I did not receive any payment of any sort for anything related to this book, and Robert does not know that I am writing this review (he does not even know that I read it).

This is an excellent book, if only because it actually defines what flipped learning (or flipped classrooms, or inverted classrooms, or whatever) actually is (spoiler: it is not simply showing videos outside of class). Prior to reading this book, I would have said that I have been flipping my class since 2010. I usually have my students read/watch videos/work on problems outside of class to introduce the material and use the in-class time for sense-making. However, this is not sufficient to be flipped learning by Talbert’s definition, and I think that his definition is better than what I had in my head. The issue is that Talbert requires the out-of-class work to be structured, and I often do not do that (basically, the definition is that there has to be a structured introduction to the material prior to class, followed by active learning in the classroom). I have read Talbert write about Guided Practice previously, and I always thought that it seemed like a good idea. The book helped clarify why this is essential, and I am in the process of preparing Guided Practice assignments for next year because of the book. In fact, I found that the book format allowed me to understand a lot of his ideas that I had read about for years, and I found myself wishing that more of my online friends wrote books about how they teach (so please get on that, everyone).

Talbert gives step-by-step instructions on several things that can improve your classroom (designing the course, creating Guided Practice assignments, etc). This really acts as a how-to guide, in many ways. He also spells out what the point is: you do flipped learning to take advantage of the active learning in the in-class.

The last section of his book is helpful to anyone using active techniques. For instance, he talks through what to do when students express dissatisfaction because the professor “isn’t teaching” (or “I have to teach myself everything”). This is worth reading even if you never plan on doing flipped learning.

One thing that is worth noting is how useful I found it that the book was written by a mathematician. He frequently used examples relating to mathematics (three of his six case studies were on mathematics classes), and this helped me digest the material. In contrast, I have been reading a lot about Team-Based Learning this summer, and there have been zero examples of a mathematics classroom (although I found stuff on statistics and math for engineers), and the lack of relevant examples has slowed me down a bit in imagining how my courses might look like if I implemented Team-Based Learning. Of course, some may view the focus on mathematics as a drawback, but I (and likely those reading this post) found it helpful.

It was also enjoyable to read a book on teaching written by a mathematician because Talbert thinks about education in the same way one thinks about mathematics. For instance, he gives two approximations for the definition of flipped learning before settling on the one he uses. Also, he abstracts his ideas on flipped learning as much as possible. I paraphrased his definition above by referring to “in-class” and “out-of-class” time, but he abstracts this to “group space” and “individual space,” respectively, so that he can accommodate blended and online courses.

In summary, I feel like I am a bit of a veteran with the flipped classroom, but I am changing my planning for next year because of this book. It was quite helpful. I will end with my two favorite quotes from the book.

Q: I am having a hard time finding appropriate action verbs to use for my learning objectives…Is there a place I can go for hints?
A: Yes, and it’s called “the internet.”

(Talbert goes on to elaborate his answer above).

In a flipped learning environment, we instructors have to make educated guesses on the “center of mass” of the students’ ZPDs based on their execution of basic learning objectives and design the group space activities accordingly. Getting this guesswork right is part science and part art (possible part magic).


Talbert was right; I was wrong.

January 21, 2015

I was thinking about specifications grading over break, and I came to realize that Robert Talbert was right and I was wrong.

My particular complaint about specifications grading for mathematics classes—that it is unrealistic to expect students to be able to judge that their work is mathematically correct—still holds. But Robert came up with a very slight modification that I was too quick to write off.

Robert’s solution was to move from two possible grades per assignment—PASS or NO PASS— to three: PASS, NO PASS, and PROGRESSING. The idea is that you can create all of the specifications you want—including whether the work is mathematically correct—and grade according to whether students have met the specifications. The one difference is that you split your specifications into two groups. The first group contains the specifications that students can easily check themselves, such as “There are no spelling mistakes” or “All variables are defined prior to use.” Failure to meet any of these specifications leads to a grade of NO PASS.

The second group of specifications are ones that students cannot necessarily judge for themselves, such as determining whether the work is mathematically correct. If a student satisfies all of the specifications in the first group but misses any in this group, the student is assigned a grade of PROGRESSING for the assignment (the student receives a grade of PASS if she meets all of the specifications).

The only difference between NO PASS and PROGRESSING is how easily students can re-do the assignment. If the student receives a NO PASS, the student needs to spend a token to re-do the assignment; a student who receives a PROGRESSING may re-do the assignment without any cost.

I initially did not like this system because I thought it simply added the complex token system on top of allowing unlimited re-dos—I preferred simply letting students do an unlimited number of re-dos. But I have changed my mind. I now think that raising expectations on specifications that students can easily evaluate themselves is a completely reasonable thing to do, and penalizing students for simply not doing it does not seem so unreasonable.

The benefits are that students get in the habit of evaluating as much of their work as they possibly can, I get to grade higher-quality work, and the students get used to creating higher quality work. The costs are implementing the mildly complex token system (although keeping track shouldn’t be too hard) and some potential loss of goodwill after penalizing students. But the higher quality work argument wins in the end for me.

I am rather pleased at Talbert’s plan, because this gives me the grading plan for proof-based classes that I am looking forward to (I think that I am planning on sticking with accumulation grading for the non-proof classes).

So—thanks, Robert. I am sorry I didn’t realize how good your plan was right away.

Mutt vs Gmail Revisited

October 2, 2014

I used to use Gmail; I thought about switching to Mutt last summer. I decided to try Mutt for the summer to see what happened.

Something surprising happened.

But first, I will briefly compare Gmail to Mutt: I like that they are both heavy with keyboard shortcuts. I find that I am get through my email really quickly with both applications.

Gmail (unsurprisingly) has a strong advantage when it comes to searching through old mail. I will eventually install something like Notmuch to make the searches faster.

Mutt has a big advantage in composing emails: vim is really awesome, and I prefer using it whenever I write any text.

Gmail has a slight advantage in convenience, since it is browser-based. However, I have an ssh app for my iPad and Chromebook, and I have a Mac at home, so Mutt is awfully easy for me to get to at home. If I am stranded someplace with only a Windows machine, I might be at a bit of a loss (I don’t know how to get the equivalent of a terminal in Windows without installing something like PuTTY), although I do have access to a website that acts as a terminal. So this is basically even.

Here is the surprise: Mutt indirectly makes me much more productive.

I was not expecting this. Here is the deal: I like staying on top of email, so I have my email open all day. But Gmail is in a browser, so checking email leads to checking Feedly…and Google Plus…and other distracting websites.

When I check my email with Mutt, I just look in the terminal, and when I am done with email, I go back to work.

This was not intentional at all. In fact, it took me a while to notice that I was spending a lot less time on the internet wasting time.

So Mutt is staying.

This has been enough of a positive over the past four months that I am going to try (and likely fail) at Cal Newport’s latest suggestion: don’t web surf during the work day.

I am a person who functions best when rules are black-and-white. I can be good at complete abstinence from things, but I am generally bad at moderation. I think this could work for me, and I am looking forward to the increase in productivity (especially since I keep to a strict work schedule).

The only things I need my browser open for are Google Calendar and Google Tasks. The latter I can take care of using a text file (I did this this summer already, and it worked fine). I can probably get by with looking at my calendar each morning and then immediately closing it. In other words, I think that I do not need to have my browser open at all during most of the work day.

This means that I will have to do all of my Feedly-checking and G+-checking (and, sadly, checking for NBA news) after my wife has gone to bed. I think this could work. But we will see.

Chromebooks, Videos, and Group Quizzes

February 12, 2014

We are four weeks into the semester at this point, and I am hoping to come out of the early semester sprint to prepare for the entire semester. This will happen by the end of the week, and may happen as early as tomorrow. Mainly, I need to finish creating video solutions for the quizzes for the entire semester; I may also write the weekly clicker questions for the remainder of the semester, but I may intentionally decide to do those week-by-week.

Here are some random things that are too short for their own entry:

  • I am starting to schedule research time into my schedule now. This is part of a larger effort to schedule time blocks into my semester. First up: re-write a paper on SBG to resubmit to a journal.
  • I recently got a Chromebook. This has saved me a ton of time already. I bring it to my classes that feature student presentations, and it allows me to put my notes directly into the computer. I underestimated how much time this took, and I appreciate having this time back now (any laptop would have helped here, but my Chromebook is a great combination of affordable and compact).
  • I am doing a new type of group quiz for the first time tomorrow in linear algebra. I am going to give the students four multiple choice questions. First, students answer individually the four questions and submit their answers to me. Then students get in teams of four to answer the questions as a team on our Moodle. Each team my keep answering problems on Moodle as many times as they like, although answering incorrectly counts against you. Students get credit if they get at most one problem wrong in both the individual and team portions (so if a student gets all four correct on the individual portion, they get a second try at a problem if their team gets an answer wrong).
  • There is good stuff on SBG at Kate Owens’s blog and Evelyn Lamb’s post on the Blog on Math Blogs blog (the last bit may include some self-promotion).

Once I am reasonably prepared for the rest of the semester, I think that I will try blogging more regularly again. I just really like having a huge head start on the semester.


September 1, 2011

I am morphing into Joss Ives this semester. Not only have I centered much of my classtime around clicker questions, but I also just purchased a classroom set of whiteboards. I am looking forward to becoming a whiteboarder and doing some whiteboarding with the whiteboards.

To be fair, my introduction to clickers was through Derek Bruff, and a lot of other people do the clicker/whiteboarding combo. However, Joss was my first contact, so he deserves credit.

Frank Noschese also deserves credit for making it really easy (and cheap) for me to get whiteboards. I have also ordered a set of the environmentally-friendly dry erase markers he recommends.

PS: It seems like I will be morphing into Andy Rundquist next semester.

Semester Prep: Internet Control

August 29, 2011

My semester starts on Wednesday, which is coincidentally the due date of my second (also known as “my last”) child. Certainly, this means that things will get very busy very soon for me. My goal is to carve out more time in my day so that I can teach well, do research, and spend as much time with my expanding family as possible.

Looking at my work routine, I feel that one area where I can stand to save some time is my time on the internet. Not being a member of Congress, I am actually going to develop a plan so that I cut back on my internet time. I am going to start with a realistic goal of two one-hour internet sessions each day (once in the morning, once in before I come home). This may seem like a lot, but a huge portion of my day is responding to email from students, colleagues, co-authors, and administrators. If I can limit my email to those two one-hour sessions, I will consider it a win; I also think that it is very do-able.

One of the great boons of my professional career is the blogosphere/Twitterverse. I have learned two metric tons of how to become a better teacher from my internet colleagues. However, this is also a time intensive process. In order to have a chance of fitting all of my internet time into two hours, I needed to cut back. I am now following 25% fewer people on Twitter, and I am now reading 50% fewer blogs. These were difficult cutbacks, but I also feel that I am approaching the asymptote for how much I can learn from my PLN (that being said, I am still planning on learning a lot—I am still following over 30 Twitterers and 50 weblogs).

So please do not be offended if I stopped following you; all it means is that I am choosing my son, daughter, and wife over your internet rantings.

Physics Blogs

April 19, 2011

I am delighted to have started reading a lot of physics blogs recently. In fact, they are beginning to make up the bulk of my PLN, productivity-wise.

One quick note: Mark Hammond recently wrote about intentionally showing (and having students create) mistakes. Some ideas are his, and others he attributes to other people (particularly Jim Doherty), but I am going to give him sole credit for the purposes of this post. He talked about showing two problems side-by-side—one with an error, and one without. The students must figure out which one is correct and where the error is.

This reminds me of the exercise I got from Assessment FOR Learning, described here. I recently repeated this exercise (with the question: “Why is the area of a right triangle \frac{1}{2}bh?”). Again, I had one example that actually answered this question (by combining two right triangles into a rectangle), and two examples that just explained what to do with the formula. The response from the students was intriguing: the first class was evenly split among the three as to which actually answered the question, whereas the second class picked the correct one (by a vote of 18 to 2 to 2).

Still, this is a difficult question for the students. I am having the students write short papers explaining why different algorithms give the correct answer (these algorithms are: standard multiplication algorithm, long division, “multiplying across” for fraction multiplication, “common denominators” for fraction addition and subtraction, “invert and multiply” for measurement fraction division, and “invert and multiply” for partitive fraction division). The students can submit drafts, and I will comment but not grade them. The final draft will be due at the end of the semester.

So far, students are still mostly struggling with answering the question that was given, although some progress is being made.

Okay, if it seems like the whole “physics blog” topic was just a cover for me to talk more about Assessment FOR Learning, that’s because it was. Sorry about that, physicists of the world.

New weblogs

March 24, 2010

Here are some new weblogs that I have been checking:

Jason Lutz is a student of mine. He has not posted a lot, but that is probably because he is in the process of writing his thesis. He is studying group bases: A group G has a basis (a_1,\dots,a_n) if for every g \in G, there exists a unique n-tuple of integers (b_1,\dots,b_n) with 0 \leq b_i < o(a_i) such that g=\prod a_i^{b_i}. He is looking to see when a group has a basis.

Joe Bower is a K-12 teacher who appears to be, like me, a fan of Alfie Kohn’s work. He frequently writes about the affect of grades and homework on students.

From Fish to Infinity

February 1, 2010

Steven Strogatz just stated a series for the New York Times that explains mathematics to the lay-person. His first post, called From Fish to Infinity”>From Fish to Infinity, discusses natural numbers and addition.

Assessing Student Learning

January 14, 2010

Derek Bruff tweeted about a post on The post is about how a student’s concept of what mathematics is is correlated to his/her study habits and success. In it, she suggests pre- and post-testing students on their conceptions to help evaluate the worth of a teaching method.