Making Twitter Useful at Work

Following the FTI last May, I focused my Twitter account on feeds relevant to my professional life. I am still trying to figure out exactly what “professional” in this context means — right now, basically it means, “Stuff I like reading on Twitter while I’m at work.” Here are some “people” I follow:

But the most useful part of Twitter has been connecting with other math professors and math educators. I’ve found out about really fantastic resources from them, and I have no idea how I’d ever learn about things without them.

Great things I learned about via Twitter:

  1. The open-source graphing plotter “Graph”:
  2. This open-source, free, activity-based calculus book:
  3. How to do Origami in Geogebra:
  4. Why we need more women math majors:
  5. The Wolfram|Alpha Chrome extension:
  6. The QAMA Calculator that now sits on my desk:
  7. Everything written in Casting Out 9s is fantastic:
  8. GVSU’s Screencast channel:

IBL Self Check

“Assessing your own teaching is significantly important.  A trait of an effective teacher is one, who is reflective and assessing oneself continuously.”  – Stan Yoshinobu

I found a great list of “IBL Self Check” questions for course and instructor [self-] evaluation here: Now I’ll go through them and see where my courses stand.

1. Are student presenting/sharing ideas in class regularly? Can this be done more often in a way that benefits students?

By the end of the semester, my students will have had lots of practice working in groups. At the start of the semester, I was very focused on having at least one group problem every class. Now that has fallen off quite a bit — partly, I think, because the problems themselves have gotten longer so we haven’t had as much time at the end of class as we used to. Each course will have had eight Lab assignments — weekly, group-based problems. I need to get better about grading them and returning them faster. (Turn around time has been ~1 week.)

2. What percent of time is devoted to student-centered activities?

My classes meet for a total of 225 minutes. About 90 of these have been for labs and end-of-class group problems. So 40%. Not bad!

3. Are students deeply engaged in the tasks you have given them?  Can your problems/tasks be improved?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. In December, I want to go back and make up a “Top Ten” list of topics students struggle with — maybe using final exam data — and see if I can change the Labs to more closely reflect those topics.

4. How many times per class period are you being supportive by giving encouragement, positive feedback, coaching, adjusting tasks to meet the needs of your students? and 5. Can you give more positive feedback?

This is tough. With a full classroom of 40 students, I don’t know how to “check in” with twelve or thirteen groups of students, especially in a very short (~8 minute) window.

6. Can you improve the problems/tasks given to students?  Are the problems too procedural in nature? Are there good concept questions?  Are the problems too difficult?

I need to look at this in December.


My Courses and the Levels of IBL

I have six days of teaching left this year. I have finished the last round of midterm exam grading. Committees are meeting to talk about writing the common final examinations. At this point in the semester, I always take a look at grade data and try to figure out, “How can I do better next semester?” I’m hoping to write a few blog posts trying to figure this out. Here goes the first!

Current courses: Calculus 1 (using Stewart’s Early Transcendetal calculus book) and Precalculus. [Our Precalculus course has College Algebra as its prerequsite.]

Current course structure: Four in-class exams (75 minutes each). Two online homework assignments per week. Three lectures per week (40 minutes each) and one “Lab” day per week (75 minutes). On lecture days, end class with 5-10 minutes of “group problems” to have students think, discuss, and digest the day’s topic.

Bret Benesh (or @bretbenesh) provided a great link to Stan Yoshinobu’s post about “the Levels of IBL.” It seems my class fits into Level 2:

The instructor lectures for most of the time, but intersperses some interactive engagement, where students are asked questions and given mathematical tasks that require thinking and making sense, such as “Think Pair Share”.  Interactive engagement may take up a few minutes to anywhere up to approximately a third of class time, which may vary day-to-day or be based on weeks (e.g. lecture MW, problems on F). A key feature is that lectures remain a significant component of the teaching system.  The instructor is the primary mathematical authority and validator of correctness.

Overall, I’m relatively comfortable with this level. It’s hard for me to picture how I could move to “Level 3” and lecture only 1/3 to 1/2 of the class time. My major concern is the time investment it would take. Maybe eventually I could move in this direction, but probably not before next semester.

Conclusion: I’ll plan to stay at “Level 2” for the time being, until I can iron out some issues and have more time to create (or find) more content for my students.

Faculty Technology Institute Homework

Last May, I participated in the “Faculty Technology Institute” run by the Teaching, Learning, and Technology (TLT) department. We spent a week during summer learning about the “Hows and Whys” of using technology in teaching and research. Along with a stipend, the FTI supplied each participant with an iPad-3. By participating in the FTI, we were required to make a “1-1-1 Committment”:

The 1-1-1 Commitment:
Faculty agree to employ at least one (1) tool and/or strategy introduced in the 2011 Summer FTI into at least one (1) courses or research within one (1) year of completion of the FTI.

Faculty can report on the results in the form of a scholarly paper, series of blog posts, or a self-contained digital presentation, such as a video or a slideshow with voice-over.  The projects will be posted on the TLT blog and shared with the campus community.

I plan to write several more blog postings about my course changes since the FTI, and I’ll try to keep a running list here along with permalinks.