Teaching 2013-2014

I taught the following courses during this academic year:

All of the course websites can be reached by clicking on the course titles above.

Overview of Pedagogical Growth this Year:

After attending the Project New Experiences in Teaching (Project NExT) workshops over the course of the past two years, I was motivated to try a flipped-classroom approach in all of my classes in the Fall of 2013 and Spring of 2014. That means the students are expected to read the course text before class so that we can spend the bulk of our class time discussing the material in depth and working on homework problems in groups. In most of these courses, I used a rolling-trio of homework assignments to get the students to view and review the material over a much longer period of time than they would in a traditional lecture-style class.

Here is how the rolling trio of assignments works:

Before we cover a topic in class, the students are assigned a reading assignment and a few short essay questions on the Part A assignment that is turned in before class on Canvas. We then discuss the results of the Part A assignment at the beginning of class, and then the students spend the rest of the class time discussing and working on a Part B assignment that is turned in at the end of class using a scanner app on their phone. Finally, before the following class meeting, the students turn in a Part C assignment that is a more formal write-up of a few of the problems from the Part B assignment.

Here is a breakdown of which assignments are due on each class period:

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5

1A 1B 1C

2A 2B 2C

3A 3B 3C

4A 4B …

So on Day 3 for instance, the students turn in Assignments 3A and 1C before class, and then they turn in 3B after working on it in class.

Both the Part A and Part B assignments are completion grade only, while the Part C assignment is graded on the quality of the solution and the accompanying explanation.

This was a considerable undertaking with a lot of time spent on preparing course related materials and planning classroom activities. However, I feel that the students responded positively to this pedagogical approach in Discrete Mathematics, Linear Algebra, and Modern Algebra I and II. I tried a slightly different method of flipping the classroom in Elementary Calculus using Webassign, and it did not go as smoothly. This was in part due to Webassign crashing on an hourly basis throughout the first part of the fall semester.

This year I also attended the Just in Time Teaching (JiTT) and the How the Brain Learns book clubs sponsored by Teaching Learning and Assessment Initiative here on campus. I learned a lot from the faculty discussions at these book club meetings, and I have employed many (JiTT) activities in my flipped classes in the past 6 months, usually in the form of a Part A assignment.

For instance, I would assign a few short questions on a Part A assignment over a preassigned reading on Canvas that were due a few hours before our class meets. This pre-class (Part A) assignment was graded on completion, and then I would often compile a few noteworthy/interesting responses before class. The first 10-20 minutes of class would then be spent discussing the question, the possible solution techniques, and the interesting student responses. By assessing the students' understanding of the material right before class, I was able to assess when the students were slightly confused by sections of the reading or when they really understood the material, and I was able to begin each class by covering a few short examples that they had already pondered for a while. Furthermore, the students were able to assess each other's responses, and I think it was edifying for some of the students to see when their peers were struggling with a new concept as well.

Here is a copy of the certificate I received after completing the book clubs.


Additional teaching activities related directly to these courses included the following:

    • The use of WebAssign for online homework in MAC 2233.
    • The creation and maintenance class webpages for all courses, using regular HTML code.
    • The use of online homework submissions and grading on CANVAS for Modern Algebra I, II, Discrete Mathematics, Linear Algebra, and Graduate Research Seminar.

Here are some reflections and comments about each course I taught this year. Focusing on what worked well, and what I would like to change the next time I teach it.

Summer 2013:

MAC 2233: This was the first time I have taught a summer course at FGCU. I used a regular lecture style for this course, and I used the Webassign online homework system. The class went very smoothly, and Webassign worked really well. It did not crash all summer.

Fall 2013:

MAC 2233: This was the only class last fall that I did not use the rolling trio of homework system in. I thought that since Webassign worked well during the summer class, that I could use it to flip the classroom in the fall. So I assigned the students pre-class assignments consisting of a few short and easy problems. I then gave a mini-lecture at the beginning of each class, and then let the students work on a longer homework assignment in class while I walked around answering questions and facilitating discussion. This might have worked well, but Webassign was a nightmare! The website kept crashing every fifteen minutes, and some of the students relied on the watch it feature to complete their assignments. They would watch the video showing them how to do the problem, figure out which numbers needed to be changed to answer their homework question correctly, and punch those numbers into their calculator. Hence they did not internalize the material as I had intended.

That said, the students who put the time in and completed the assignments without the watch it feature did really well in the class, and we covered way more material than I have ever covered in Elementary Calculus. We finished the semester with integration by parts!

I only wish that I would have read Just in Time Teaching before designing this course because in the Just in Time Teaching book club last fall, I read about instructors who had similar issues when they were trying to use an online software package to flip their classrooms. Their studies showed that when the students were given short answer questions with the emphasis was placed on obtaining a correct answer the class averages were much lower than when they asked open-ended essay questions focusing on explaining the problem-solving process in the students' own words.

I am participating in the STEM Professional Academy to Reinvigorate the Culture of Teaching this summer so that I can redesign this course using a rolling-trio of homework structure implemented on CANVAS. I am confident that by making all of the students buy a hard copy of the book, and answer open-ended questions about the material covered in the class, the students will do even better in the course next time.

MAD 3107: I feel that Discrete Mathematics was a huge success this year. The students responded positively to the rolling trio of homework system, and their test scores were several points higher than last year's class. (I gave the same exams as last year, but the students did not know that until after the course was over.) I made the students switch groups often throughout the beginning of class, and I think that this made them much more comfortable speaking in front of their peers by the end of the semester. I found that the students were quite content working on their assignments in small groups.

MAS 5311: This was my first time teaching Modern Algebra I. I think the flipped classroom worked ok, but it would have been much better if the students had a more equal background level. Unfortunately, that was not the case this fall. Several of the students had very strong backgrounds in undergraduate mathematics, but a few of the students should probably have taken a full year of the undergraduate Abstract Algebra sequence before enrolling in this graduate course. However, the students that have stuck with it and are taking MAS 5312 have since adjusted, and one of them told me that he feels that he is understanding the material 100 times more effectively than he did last semester (despite the fact that the material we are covering now is more abstract).

I will definitely try the flipped classroom approach again next year, but I will not let anyone enroll in the class who has not taken abstract algebra in the past 5 years!

MAS 3105: I think that the flipped classroom approach with a rolling trio of assignments has been a great success so far in Linear Algebra as well. The test scores are up at least 5% from last year's course, and the students seem to have a fuller understanding of the material this time around. (I gave the same midterm exams to both classes.)

My only complaint so far, is that this class is much quieter during the group work sessions than Discrete Mathematics was last fall. This might be because I am giving longer mini-lectures at the beginning of class, because I think linear algebra exercises require more background knowledge than discrete mathematics problems do. Or it could just be that this is a less-social class.

MAS 5312: I incorporated longer mini-lectures at the beginning of each class, and I also tweaked the Part A assignments so that the students turn in copies of their scanned notes from their reading. I think this is really helping the students that struggled with the "level of abstraction" last semester. All of these assignments amount to a lot of work for the students, but I think they are gaining a good understanding of the subject. I am pretty sure that those who finish this sequence will have no trouble passing their qualifying exams in August.

MAC 6930: This is my first time teaching Graduate Research Seminar. There are only 4 students enrolled in the course. They design a professional website, read two research papers and present them to the class, present a poster on their project for research day, and turn in a final paper. So far, every student's website looks great, and their presentations were all pretty good. However, the ones who started their projects last year or this fall had a huge leg up on those who waited until January to begin. I think in the future we should find the graduate students who are planning on taking Graduate Research Seminar in the fall and stipulate that they start working on their projects ahead of time.

Here are syllabi and SAI reports from each class this year.