Tuesday, February 14, 2017

They’re in My Office - Now What? 3 Tips for Productive Office Hours

By Jessica DeshlerContributing Editor, West Virginia University


For students, office hours can be an opportunity to catch up or gain additional insight to coursework that challenges them. Recently, we posted about “5 Successful Ways to Get Students to Office Hours,” but what do we do when they come? How do we make the most out of that time so that it’s productive for faculty and students? Here are a few tips you can try to help your students during office hours:
  1. Tell them your expectations. Let students know early in the semester what your expectations are for office hours. Do you expect them to bring their attempts at working out problems with them to see you? Do they have to keep and bring a journal? What type of pre-meeting preparation do you require of them? Ideally, these expectations should be outlined in the syllabus and during your first class. Be specific and repeat your expectations throughout the semester.
  2. Once you have expectations set, stick to them. Reserve the right to reschedule a meeting if a student shows up completely unprepared to engage in a productive conversation. This is fair to students who have put in the expected effort ahead of time and come to your office with specific questions. Specifically, if students have not done the readings or assignments, or have missed class, give them an additional “assignment” of reviewing another student’s class notes before coming back to you to ask for clarification (and bringing those notes with them so you know they did it - it was an assignment after all).
  3. Let them do the work. Much like class time, the time spent in office hours is most effective if your students spend it working through the mathematics instead of watching you do problems on the board. Your goal as an instructor is not to show them how to solve questions, but to teach them how to go about solving questions and how to think while problem solving. Leading students through the work is incredibly valuable. Questions like “How would you get started on this one?” and “What have you tried so far?” are ways to help students talk to you about their troubles in working through problems.  
Recommended tools: Check out these two tools to help you schedule office hours: youcanbook.me and a cool little setting in Google calendar. Both of these allow you to set aside specific blocks of time in your calendar for students, and allows them to book just part of that time. They’ll get reminders (always helpful for students) and you’ll know that they’re actually going to show up!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

5 Successful Ways to Get Students to Office Hours

By Rejoice Mudzimiri, Contributing Editor, University of Washington Bothell


Are you tired of sitting alone during your office hours waiting for students to show up? I used to feel the same way, until this past fall quarter when my students came to office hours in better numbers than ever. What changed?

Studies show that office hour visits are positively correlated to academic performance (Guerrero & Rod, 2013). More so, they are an important opportunity for faculty-student communication and interaction. So how can you get students to attend your office hours?
  1. Timing. When it comes to office hours, timing is everything. The best ways to schedule office hours include:

    • Avoiding conflicts with other classes. If office hours are scheduled during times that most students have classes, chances are very few students will be able to find time to attend your office hours. As part of scheduling your office hours, you should find out peak times when most of your students are available.

    • Eliciting student input. One of my colleagues who has had success with getting students to come for office hours administers a survey the first day of class to elicit student input on the times that work best for them. She then schedules her office hours depending on the times that most of the students are available. Using Poll Everywhere provides a quick way to survey students on their preferred times.

  2. Location. Some students are not comfortable with meeting in their instructor’s office. Alternative office hour locations include:

    • Public Places. Holding office hours in public areas such as a student lounge or conference room may be more relaxing for students. A colleague of mine holds her office hours in our “foyer” because her office is very far away from the building where she teaches and this makes it convenient for students to attend her office hours. I hold my office hours in the conference room right next to my office - with big white boards - that provide a lot of working space for a number of students. This allows me to accommodate more students at the same time. Students worked either individually or in groups during my office hours.

    • Virtual Office Hours. Holding some of your office hours online gives your students flexibility. One study on undergraduate millennial students’ perceptions of office hours suggests that they preferred virtual communication with their professor over face-to-face. Another colleague holds evening virtual office hours using the app Canvas Conference. In addition to audio, video and screen sharing options, this conference feature allows students to upload PDF files of their work so that the instructor can give feedback while talking with them. My colleague allows his students to schedule one-on-one appointments with him for these virtual sessions.

      Interestingly, some students reach out for help during these virtual sessions who never attend traditional office hours. The main advantage of virtual office hours is that office hours can be scheduled at flexible times such as the evenings or weekends. To avoid back and forth emails on availability and double booking, an instructor can use free online resources such as https://appoint.ly or https://youcanbook.me/. Both of these add the appointments directly to your calendar.

  3. Make Homework Assignments Due During Office Hours. Two of my colleagues who have had a good office hour turnout have their students turn in their written homework during office hours. They do this strategically so that students must attend office hours and can get help with their homework.

  4. Educating Students about the Benefits of Office Hours. Some students don’t attend office hours because they do not know what the purpose of this time. In addition to having office hours listed on the course syllabus and announcing them regularly in class, instructors need to educate students about them. Let students know what office hours are for and the kind of things they can expect or benefit from taking advantage of them.

    As an international graduate student, I did not know anything about office hours since I grew up in a school system where lectures were accompanied by one-hour tutorials. When I struggled with my math class, one of my friends suggested that I visit my professor during office hours and that was the end of all my struggles! My professor had assumed that as graduate students, we would know about this already.

  5. Make Office Hour Visits an Assignment. Gooblar suggests actually making office hour visits one of the course assignments, because giving students feedback face-to-face is easier than written comments. Gooblar believes that “if you make them [students] come in once, they may start dropping by on their own.” I usually encourage students who did not do well on an exam to make an appointment with me to go over the exam. As they go over the exam with me, I sometimes give them points back as they explain to me their thinking. In addition, we talk about what they could do differently next time and how I could be of help to them. A fellow editor, Jessica Deshler, sometimes makes visiting the tutoring center a course assignment so that students become more comfortable with seeking help and talking about homework problems.

Related Links

Edwards, J. T. (2009). Undergraduate Millennial Students’ Perceptions of Virtual Office Hours. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. 6(4) Retrieved from http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Apr_09/article05.htm

Gooblar, D. (2015). "Make your Office Hours a Requirement." Retrieved from https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1167-make-your-office-hours-a-requirement

Griffin, W., Cohen, S. D., Berndtson, R., Burson, K.M., Camper, M., Chen, Y ,Margaret Austin Smith, M. A. (2014). 62 Starting the Conversation: An Exploratory Study of Factors That Influence Student Office Hour Use. College Teaching. 62(3), 94-99

Guerro, M. & Rod, A. B. (2013). Engaging in Office Hours: A Study of Student-Faculty Interaction and Academic Performance. Journal of Political Science Education. 9(4), 403-416.

Weimer, M (2015). Office Hour Redux. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/office-hours-redux/





Tuesday, January 17, 2017

5 Free Apps to Use in the Classroom

By Julie Phelps, Contributing Editor, Valencia College


Students have smartphones and want to use them all the time! My solution: well, if you can’t beat them, join them. With that in mind, I began looking for apps that can help facilitate learning. I want my students to use electronic devices for learning ‘good’ and not as the ‘evil’ learning detractors that we educators often perceive them to be. Here are some of my favorites to use in the classroom, plus one to keep an eye out for on your algebra students’ screens.
  1. Kahoot! is a game-based classroom response system that uses quizzing to present content and generate discussion. The game can be displayed on a shared screen. Students can join the game on their own smart device/computer as long as they have a browser and a good internet connection.

  2. Quizizz is game-based tool similar to Kahoot!. With Quizizz you can randomize the questions to allow students to go at their own pace. The game also displays the correct answer when they make the wrong choice.

  3. Socrative allows the educator to initiate formative assessments for students. The educator can ask open-ended questions and vote on the results in addition to the multiple choice and true/false questions. The drawback is that the tool is only free up to 50 users.

  4. Evernote is a tool for both educators and students to capture and share notes across technology platforms. The notes are searchable and can be text, images, video, audio and/or handwritten. There are other apps that do the same thing, but many of those do not communicate across platforms and they are not free.

  5. Desmos Graphing Calculator is a web-app interactive, easy to use calculator. A slider tool animates the graph to demonstrate transformations and supports the founders belief that people learn by doing. The embedded tools are intuitive. Zooming and points of interest can be found by just touching the screen.
Bonus links!

Beta (testing version): Classkick is a new web-based free app. The educator can create a class assignment for everyone to access either to work on individually or in small groups. The app can monitor student progress as they work through the question in real-time and can give feedback to each student individually.

And one to watch out for in algebra-related courses: Photomath, a camera calculator that is also a free app that does exactly what it sounds like. Just point your camera toward an algebraic math problem (type or hand-written) and Photomath will tell you the result with detailed step-by-step instructions.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Taming the Test

By Lew Ludwig (Editor-in-Chief), Denison University



I usually give three to four tests during the semester, and I was puzzled why the first test always had the lowest average test score. After all, this should have been the “easier” material. After some reflection, I found that students were not accustomed to taking my tests.

Often, they were not aware of the format; I frequently use true/false questions that require a short argument. They were also not accustomed to the pace; like most college classes, in 14 weeks, we cover what most high school courses cover in 36 weeks.

To overcome this learning curve, I use an exercise I call “Test Tuesday” to encourage student success on tests in my classes. Every Tuesday when students arrive in class, I give them three or four questions from an old test and 10 minutes to complete so that they become familiar with the test format of my class in a low stakes environment. After the ten minutes are up, students share their work with a neighbor and I circulate to listen to these discussions. After about five minutes of paired discussion, we consider the questions as a class, focusing on the questions that caused the most difficulty.

The entire “Test Tuesday” process only takes about 20 minutes of class time. Even though the actual test questions are different than the “Test Tuesday” questions, I noticed that the average score on the first test increased by half a letter grade since enacting this exercise. Students speak highly of this activity on course evaluations as it gives them formative feedback in a supportive, low stakes environment. Moreover, recent research shows that a good way to retain information is to be tested on the material frequently. Not surprisingly, I have seen a small uptick in cumulative final exam grades since employing the “Test Tuesday” technique.

Related Links
Roediger, H. L., III, & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 181–210.

















Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Who generates the examples?

By Dana ErnstContributing Editor, Northern Arizona University

Have you ever had a student who could recite a definition or theorem word for word, but didn’t really know what it meant? Students often memorized a snippet of mathematical content without understanding where and how it applies.

According to Bloom's Taxonomy, these students have only reached the the first level in the taxonomy--recalling facts and basic concepts. Ideally, we want our students to reach higher levels in the taxonomy such as using information in new situations or producing new original work. In today’s world we need individuals that are capable of asking and exploring questions in contexts that do not yet exist and to be able to tackle problems they have never encountered.

The question is, can we, the instructors, work toward this?


There is a small change we can make to ensure students are progressing on Bloom’s scale and developing the habits of mind of a mathematician: encourage our students to generate examples and counterexamples. Requiring students to construct examples and counterexamples places them in situations where they must wrestle with definitions, concepts, and notation, which provides them with the opportunity to synthesize and analyze mathematical ideas. Below are a few examples from calculus, and additional examples can be found here.



Implementing these types of questions can be done in a number of different ways, but it is important to make it a regular thing. As a starting place, I encourage asking at least one question that requires each student to produce an example or a counterexample each day in class and on every homework assignment and exam. There is likely a limit, but in general, the more often students are asked these types of questions, the better.

Questions that ask students to generate examples are excellent for think-pair-share and small or large group discussions. My experience has been that the discussion surrounding student-generated examples is fruitful for the students and insightful for the teacher. Especially in the classroom, I encourage fellow instructors to allow the students a little room for making mistakes and to foster an environment where it’s okay to experiment in the hope that everyone can learn something from the conversation that follows.

It’s also important to vary the difficulty of the problems. Try not to give away which ones you think are “easy” versus “hard.”

As I've increased the number of opportunities for students to generate examples and counterexamples, I've witnessed an increase in student understanding of mathematical concepts and their interdependence. In particular, students seem to have a much deeper appreciation for the intricacies of key definitions and theorems.

I've included potential questions/problems in the context of calculus to give you a flavor of what such questions might look like, but we certainly we can employ the same strategy in other subject areas. Do you have a favorite question/problem that asks students to generate an example or counterexample? If so, share it in the comments.


Related Links
Dahlberg, R.P., Housman, D.L. Facilitating learning events through example generation. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 33(3), 283-299, 1997.

Hazzan, O., Zazkis, R. A perspective on ‘give an example’ tasks as opportunities to construct links among mathematical concepts. Focus on Learning Problems in Mathematics, 21(4), 1-14, 1999.

Katz, B., Thoren, E. Call for Papers for PRIMUS Special Issue on Teaching Inquiry. PRIMUS, 2014.

Watson, A., Mason, J. Student‐generated examples in the learning of mathematics. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education 2(2), 2002.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Did They Catch That? The Need for Exit Tickets

By Rejoice MudzimiriContributing Editor, University of Washington Bothell

Last week Teaching Tidbits covered the Mid-Semester Evaluation, so now it is time to examine another tool that helps teachers assess class comprehension. We give you: the exit ticket.



What are Exit Tickets?
An exit ticket is an ungraded, short form of assessment administered at the end of class as students are “exiting” the classroom. Exit tickets help “to consolidate information and bring closure to the big ideas or concepts presented” during a lesson, according to the book Captivate, Activate, and Invigorate the Student Brain in Science and Math, Grades 6-12.

Using Exit Ticket Data 
Data from exit tickets can be analyzed for evidence of students’ mastery of the content objectives, helping instructors have a good sense of how well the lesson went. You can then use this information to adapt instruction to meet the needs of your students. In addition to the content specific questions such as, “What questions do you have about today’s lesson?” or “What would help make today’s lesson more effective?” gives students the opportunity to ask questions they might have not been able to ask during class. Although student names do not have to be on the exit ticket to make them a useful resource for the instructors, I have found that having students' names help me respond to individual questions when needed.

Designing Exit Tickets Questions for a Math Class 
  • To avoid the need for mathematical work, choose exit ticket questions that are multiple choice, true or false, short answer, or a couple of sentences in response to a question. 
  •  Since exit tickets should be completed within the last five minutes of class, it is important to keep the questions short. 
  • An average of 2 to 3 questions is advisable.

Examples of Lesson Objectives and Corresponding True/False Statements 
A good exit ticket should be aligned with the lesson objectives. The following are examples of objectives and corresponding true/false statements
  1. Objective: Find relative extrema of a continuous funciton using the first derivative test
    Examples of True/False Exit Ticket Statements
    • Every continuous function has at least one critical value.
    • If a continuous function y=f(x) has extrema, they will occur where f’(x)=0

  2. Objective: Classify the relative extrema of a function using the second derivative test.
    Examples of True/False Exit Ticket Statements
    • If f’(c)=0 and f”(c)>0, then f(c) is a relative minimum.
    • If f’(c) = 0 and f”(c)=0, then f(c) cannot be a relative minimum.
Administering Exit Tickets 
Exit tickets are typically administered the last five minutes of class. They can be printed or electronic versions that students can complete on their smartphones, tablet or laptop. For electronic version:
  • You can provide a link to the exit ticket on a class website.
  •  You can show your students the url to the exit ticket on board. 
  •  You can send an email to your students inviting them to complete the exit ticket.
Creating and Exit Tickets Using Google Forms
I find Google Forms an easy way to administer my exit tickets. If you are new to Google forms, there are several YouTube videos that offer tutorials on how to use Google forms. You can also use the Exit Ticket template available on Google forms or create your own.


Related Links:
Wiliam, D., Leahy, S. (2015). Embedded Formative Assessment. Practical Techniques for K-12 Classrooms. Learning Sciences International. West Palm Beach, FL

Almorade, J., Miller, A. M. (2013). Captivate, Activate and Invigorate the Student Brain in Science and Math: Grade 6 -12. Corwin, Thousand Oaks, CA

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It's Time to Adjust: the Mid-Semester Evaluation

By Lew Ludwig, Editor-in-chief, Denison University


As a student, I was frustrated by course evaluations. Course evaluations are supposed to allow students the opportunity to provide feedback to improve the course. However, my comments were never received in time to improve my course.

As an instructor, I am frustrated by course evaluations. I do not get a chance to discuss them with my students – to understand their concerns and needs better or to explain my pedagogical choices.

To address these frustrations, I have turned to mid-semester course evaluations. While many such evaluations exist, I use the following in my classroom:

  1. What is going well for your learning in this course? Be specific as you can. 
  2. What is not going well for your learning in this course? Be specific as you can. 
  3. Based on your answer to question 2, what can I (the instructor) do differently? 
  4. Based on your answer to question 2, what can you (the student) do differently? Other comments?

I email these questions to the students as a text document that they type responses to, print, and return in the next class. To ensure honest feedback, it is important that student responses are anonymous. (One could also use a Google Form to anonymously collect this information.)

I use 20 minutes of the following class to share and discuss the results. It is very important to respond to the evaluations in a timely manner. The sooner you respond to these questionnaires, the sooner your students feel heard and the closer you are to having a meaningful dialogue about what could be done differently on both sides of the classroom.

The short article Taking Stock: Evaluations from Students from the Teaching Resource Center at the University of Virginia newsletter gives some tips on how to interpret and respond to this type of qualitative data.

This particular questionnaire works well for a number of reasons. First, it gives you an opportunity to address student misconceptions or learning difficulties. I am often surprised at my students’ honesty with question 4 and their willingness to take ownership in their learning. Secondly, it gives you a chance to make small changes to the course schedule, assignments, or other activities. This process also helps give students perspective. If one student does not like working in pairs, but the rest of the class benefits from this practice, this is useful feedback. Lastly and most importantly, it communicates to the students that you care about their perspectives on the course, their engagement and learning, and your teaching.

I find that students respond well to the process and enjoy the opportunity to have a constructive hand in their education. As an instructor, I enjoy the chance to openly engage with my students about their learning process.

Related Links

Yuankun, Y. and Grady, L. M., (2005), How Do Faculty Make Formative Use of Student Evaluation Feedback?: A Multiple Case Study, Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, Volume 18, Number 2 / May, 2005.