I had the opportunity to attend the IBL workshop at Cal Poly with Nick and David in July 2015. Prior to the workshop I had been using various forms active learning methods in the math classes that I have taught. I started teaching in 2005 after finishing my BS in Mathematics and MS in Secondary Mathematics Education at the University at Albany. Initially opportunities for active learning in my classes, such as think-pair-shares and student presentations were sporadic and informal. Over time, I began incorporating more active learning experiences in my classes. I also began formalizing these experiences culminating with my adoption of Team Based Learning (TBL) after attending a training held by the Institute of Teaching Learning and Academic Leadership (ITLAL) at the University at Albany in 2013 (directly after completing my PhD and before embarking on my first university faculty position).
In a nutshell, TBL involves dividing your course content into instructional sequences (similar to units). Each instructional sequence includes the following activities:
- Individual Study
- mini lecture
- application tasks
You also divide your students into teams of 5-8 students. I create the teams on the first day of the semester. I have the students line up according to number of siblings, then I ask the students to count off by the number of teams that I want. I try to mix up the more and less dominant personalities and I think that siblings is a pretty good way to accomplish this. Students remain in these teams all semester in an effort to maximize the productivity of their collaborative efforts.
Students take the tRAT together (after the iRATs, or individual Readiness Assurance Tests, similar to a pre-test that they can and should prepare for) and do application tasks together. They also complete mid- and end of the semester peer team evaluations.
In order to administer the RATs, you will need to purchase scratch cards (immediate feedback assessment technique, or IFAT cards). This website also includes a Testmaker that you can use to write your RATs.
Thus far, I have used TBL in Algebra, Geometry, Prob/Stats, Math for Elem Ed, Math for Sec Ed, and Math Technology with great success. To learn more about TBL you can visit the TBL Collaborative website.
After attending the workshop on IBL, I decided that the main feature of IBL that I was missing in my classes was presentations. I chose to add presentations to my instructional sequences between application tasks and tests.
Classes began on August 17th this semester. The main course that I am incorporating IBL into this semester is Number Systems (the first of a three course mathematics sequence for Elementary Education majors). On day one I asked students to interview a neighbor about something that they are good at and how they became good at it. Next I asked students to introduce their neighbors. Then I summarized the key ideas that I had heard from the students. Most shared that they became good by tirelessly practicing and being persistent. No one said that they became good by sitting back and watching someone else do all of the work. I connect this to our class where we want to become good at math and therefore we must practice doing the math ourselves. I learned this student buy-in technique from Stan Yoshinobu at the IBL workshop and it went very well. I also showed a short (2 minute) clip on “Famous Failures” in an effort to foster a community where mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities.
After diving into the material an opportunity for student presentations came up towards the end of the second class meeting. I had three students volunteer for the problem and two presented (because the second student had a different solution strategy). I had every student in the class rate the presentations (3,2,or 1) and give feedback. I typed the feedback and ratings up and my evaluation and gave it to the presenters the next time that we met. I recorded their presentation grades in my excel grade sheet. I will also use this document to make sure everyone has presented x times before anyone presents x + 1 times.
Today was our fourth class meeting. I am absolutely amazed how the culture in the class this semester is different from any other class that I have taught before. Somehow by having students present early on and regularly, the students are not viewing me as the authority on how to do the problems or what the correct answers are. They are engaging in rich discussions within their teams and are eager to share during whole class discussions. Already almost all students (there are only ten in the class) have presented once. I am very happy with how things are going so far and eager to see how things unfold throughout the semester!