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On Attending a Conference About Inquiry Based Learning (OnACAIBL?)

Posted on July 2, 2012 by Adriana Salerno

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that goes: “I hear, I forget. I see, I remember. I do, I understand.” This proverb has basically become the main mantra of Inquiry Based Learning teachers. As mentioned in a few of my previous blogs, I have taught many classes using an inquiry-based style of teaching. This is not something I came up with on my own, and I still find it quite useful to talk to other IBL users and what they have learned from their own experiences. I also really enjoy seeing scholarship about how this method is working and what could be improved. In this post, I will not write exactly about Inquiry Based Learning, but about my experiences attending the annual IBL conference known as the “Legacy of R.L. Moore Conference” held in Austin, Texas.

I guess I should start with explaining the title of the conference. R.L. Moore was a mathematics professor who taught at the University of Texas from the 1920s to the 1960s. He was a pioneer for inquiry based learning, and had many students who went onto successful careers and who carried on his teaching legacy. Basically, Moore would give his students a set of definitions and theorems, and throughout the semester the students would prove the theorems and present them to the class. They were not allowed to collaborate or look up anything in a book. This is what people sometimes refer to as “the Moore method.” One of Moore’s most famous quotes is “That student is taught the best who is told the least.” For more on the life of R.L. Moore, you should go to the Legacy of R.L. Moore website , and for a very good introduction to the person and the method check out Keith Devlin’s blog, namely these two entries: The best teacher ever, parts Iand II.

“So, Adriana, if it’s called the Moore Method, why do you keep calling it Inquiry Based Learning?”, you may ask. Well, I answer, the main reason is that the literal Moore method worked best for Moore. Many people have modified certain aspects and created offshoots of the method, but the focus has remained to have a student-centered classroom, and to have the students explore questions and come up with original answers (hence inquiry based). There are also certain degrees of “inquiry-based”, depending on the teacher, class, students, etc. In this spirit, this year’s Legacy of R.L. Moore conference revolved around the theme “The Many Faces of IBL.”

The many faces were indeed represented at the conference. Lee Mahavier spoke about using IBL in high school classes, Patrick Bahls spoke about using an IBL approach to research with undergraduates (he is also a blogger, and you can find his blog here), James Epperson spoke about using a problem based approach to help students learn Calculus, Jill Guerra and Catherine Beneteau spoke about POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) which has been successful in Chemistry classes and is now being implemented in Calculus, Karen Rhea spoke about yet another way to teach Calculus using IBL, and Diana White spoke about using IBL to prepare pre-service teachers. And in a very interesting change of perspective, the keynote banquet speaker, Jonathan Hodge, spoke about lecture-based classes  as authoritarian regimes and inquiry-based classes as being more inclusive and democratic. I say this was a change of perspective because it had never occurred to me to think about a teaching method in such political terms, but the simile kind of worked for me.

The conference also included panels, breakout sessions (smaller simultaneous talks), and round tables (which involved discussions among attendees). These were interesting in many different ways, but in particular because they were more interactive. People who want to learn about teaching want to have discussions more than hear people talk about their own experiences. In this sense, I believe that the MAA PREP workshop (this year held in Santa Barbara) might be the best option for novice IBL users. I also recommend looking at the Journal for Inquiry Based Learning in Mathematics (JIBLM), for lecture notes you might consider using,  and the Academy of Inquiry Based Learning (AIBL) for their mentoring grants, and also to find an experienced mentor.

I do have one gripe against the IBL community, and it’s all these acronyms. Really, I have a lot of trouble keeping up with them (hence the snarky blog title).

I now want to end on a disclaimer: even though I do love this method of teaching, and it has worked very well for me, I am not here telling people how to teach. I am merely sharing my experiences during a teaching conference, and some resources for people who are interested in learning more.

Do you have any resources for readers? What are your experiences with teaching conferences in general? Is there another “face of IBL” you think should be included in the list I gave above?

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