Student quotes about IBL

May 22, 2014 — 4 Comments

High Five A few weeks ago, Stan Yoshinobu asked me to round up a few student quotes about their experience with inquiry-based learning (IBL). The intention is to use some of the material he gets for pamphlets and flyers for the Academy of Inquiry-Based Learning. I contacted a few of the students from the abstract algebra course that I taught in the fall and here is what they had to say.

“I’m a very shy person. Presenting math problems in front of an audience of math students was at first excruciating, but by the end of the course I realized I had gained an enormous amount of confidence. I truly feel that the IBL process has given me access to internal resources I didn’t realize I had available.”

“IBL created an environment for me where I felt comfortable enough to try proofs without the pressure of needing to be 100% right on the first try. So now in later upper division courses I am more comfortable with trying more complex problems, which ultimately lead me to do undergraduate research. And in all honesty, the classroom culture created by the IBL setup is what sold me on pure mathematics and has made me a better independent learner.”

“IBL helps prepare the student for the real world by teaching them how to create intuition. When you get to the real world or higher level mathematics courses, you will not always have someone there to tell you how to solve the problem.”

“By far, and without a doubt, inquiry-based learning is the best way to learn mathematics. Most methods for teaching math involve an instructor showing how to “do” various problems often involving computations and formulas, and then the students mimic the process for similar problems. IBL, however, asks the students to use what they know (or assume) to be true in order to create their own ways to solve problems or form logical arguments to validate other ideas. And logical arguments, not computations, not formulas, are the basis of all mathematics. Being able to form logical arguments is not something that can be mimicked, it must be discovered on one’s own, which is exactly how IBL works. Hence, when it comes to math, real math, and not just computations, IBL is the way to go.”

It would be a crime if I didn’t mention my all-time favorite student quote about IBL that was written on a course evaluation at the end of my introduction to proof course from the spring 2013 semester.

“Try, fail, understand, win.”

I believe that this last quote perfectly captures the essence of an effective IBL experience for a student. If you want to know about IBL, check out my post, What the Heck is IBL?, over on Math Ed Matters.

Dana Ernst

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Father of two boys, husband, mathematician, cyclist, trail runner, rock climber, and coffee drinker. Columnist for MAA blog Math Ed Matters.
  • We recently had a panel of alumnae from our department come talk with students about the job opportunities one has with a degree in math, other than enter academia. When asked what their favorite or most formative class was during their time at Smith, almost all of them answered analysis, which for several years has been taught via modified Moore method from a set of notes developed by David Cohen. They said the class showed them they could solve problems and gave them experience presenting material they had developed; all of these were important skills for them professionally, even though they’re not full-time mathematicians. We should perhaps garner some specific quotes like these.

  • A participant in my IBL workshop on Tuesday said “IBL is great, but first they need to know a lot, so this would only work at the advanced levels.” Funny, because that’s really the classical model of education that IBL seeks to turn on its head. I told him that I think this is the fundamental debate in teaching methods, and that IBL is fundamentally the idea of experiencing first instead of packing full of facts first. Both deal with facts, but IBL values the exercise of searching for solutions more than the solutions themselves.