Posts published on August 2, 2011
From Gay Clyburn, Carnegie Foundation
THE WORST WAY TO TEACH MATH
David Bressoud writes for the Mathematical Association of America: One of the most personally disturbing pieces of information gleaned from the MAA survey of over 700 calculus instructors was that almost two-thirds agreed with the statement, “Calculus students learn best from lectures, provided they are clear and well-prepared.” Another 20% somewhat disagreed. Only 15% disagreed or strongly disagreed. This belief of most calculus instructors that students learn best from lectures is in direct contradiction to the observation made by Halmos:“A good lecture is usually systematic, complete, precise—and dull; it is a bad teaching instrument.” This common belief is also contradicted by the evidence that we have, the most recent and dramatic of which comes from the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI) at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The CWSEI study compared lecture format with interactive, clicker-based peer instruction in two large (267 and 271 students, respectively) sections of introductory physics for engineering majors. The results were published in Science. What is most impressive is how well controlled the study was—ensuring that the two classes really were comparable—and how strong the outcome was: The clicker-based peer instruction class performed 2.5 standard deviations above the control group.