Monday, May 11, 2009

Teaching Undergraduate Mathematics...

... another conference at MSRI. I didn't ever manage to adequately describe the Great Circles conference held there last month. Don't know if I can do any better with this one.

I missed the morning sessions, because I was teaching. It's our last week of classes at my college, and I wasn't going to cancel too much. The first afternoon session was Maria Terrell talking about the Good Questions Project at Cornell. They asked all instructors of their basic Calc I course to participate, and provided them daily questions to ask, which were broken into 3 groups: Quick Checks, Probing, and Deep. Instructors had the freedom to use what they wanted of the projects' materials.

After the Fall 2003 semester was over, the instructors seemed to fall into 4 groups. The ones who mainly asked the deep questions and used peer discussion with the questions, those who used the questions heavily and included peer discussion, those who used the questions heavily but didn't use peer discussion, and those who didn't participate much. The two groups that used the peer discussion did much better on the common finals. The ones who used the questions heavily but didn't use peer discussion did worse than the ones who didn't participate much.

There was a break, and then there was a shared talk where each presenter got 15 minutes. Jerry Eptstein talked about how our students learn next to nothing from hearing us talk. He talked about a project to get them more engaged. There's a lot of research on good ways to teach physics, and something called a force concepts inventory has seemed to have excellent results. (See Mazur here.) So he's been working on a Calculus Concepts Inventory. He's also worked on something called the Integrated Lab Program, which he thinks can make huge differences. I think he's got some good ideas, but his talk wasn't as well-organized as Maria's.

Tomorrow there will be a talk on the Algebra Project. I'm excited about that.

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