Thursday, September 05, 2013

Not a private inquiry

My MATH 365 (Linear Algebra I) course this term has been designated "Inquiry ARC," the "ARC" standing for "Apply, Reflect, Communicate." "Inquiry ARC" is the theme of the university's Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), a component of our reaffirmation of accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Alphabet soup.

Briefly, every ten years, as a condition of keeping our accreditation, we're asked, as a campus, to formulate a plan for enhancing student learning. This time around we came up with "developing critical thinking," roughly, manifested in the Inquiry ARC program. For the past few semesters we've begun running Inquiry ARC courses, courses which focus intentionally on developing skills relating to one or more steps in the Inquiry ARC process. Last spring, once I knew what I'd be teaching this year, I thought, "what the hell, I'll apply for Inquiry ARC status for Linear I, since the way I teach the course, it's already an Inquiry ARC course." (Not-so-dirty little secret: as any teacher worth her or his salt will tell, you every class should be an Inquiry ARC's just good teaching, folks.)

So far, so good. Communication is always front and center in my courses, given my focus on writing, and I've always been big on reflection. As I've written at length in this blog, I teach this course primarily through applications...and the inquiry? I'm really just going to be able to leave that up to the students.

On Wednesday we spent about 15 minutes on an example I'd meant to take 5, simply because the students kept asking fantastic questions about the example. "What if we changed the number in the last column?" "What would have to happen for us to have a unique solution?" "How does Mathematica know that it's an augmented matrix with three variables and not a matrix with four variables?" and so forth. Not I-have-no-idea-what-I'm-doing-so-I'm-asking-simple-questions-trying-to-get-a-grip-on-this-shit questions, but I've-got-the-basic-operations-down-so-now-I'm-trying-to-take-it-apart-to-see-why-this-shit-works questions. Good stuff!

If they keep it up for the rest of the semester, I'm gonna be a happy man.

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