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Author: George Woodbury

MyLab Monday – Quizzes

MyLab Monday – Quizzes

Since the beginning of MyMathLab, I have incorporated quizzes into my courses. Creating a quiz is identical to creating a homework assignment, and many MyLab Math texts come with quizzes already loaded to copy into your course.

Quizzes do differ in a couple of ways from homework assignments.

Learning Aids

Learning aids are automatically turned off. Students who over rely on “Help Me Solve This” or “View An Example” will hopefully realize this while taking the quiz. (I like to bring a copy of an old pencil-and-paper exam to class during the second week of classes and ask a student to push Help Me Solve This, and another to push View An Example. It’s a great way to point out that they eventually need to be able to solve these problems without help.)

Now this does not mean that your students will not be using their notes or getting help from a tutor, just that they cannot use Pearson’s built in aids. So, it is important to let students know that the purpose of the quiz is a self-assessment, used to identify areas that require further study. In my experience you cannot assume that students view these quizzes as learning tools. Their default position is that quizzes are for earning points.

No Feedback Until Entire Quiz Is Submitted

Another difference from the homework assignments is that students will not find out whether a problem is correct or not until they submit the entire quiz. That also means that they do not get three attempts at each problem, and they cannot request a similar exercise. This helps students get into the frame of mind they need to be in when taking an exam.


I started by giving quizzes at the end of each chapter as a means of getting students to review for exams. These quizzes contained anywhere from 15 to 20 problems. I then moved on to add a quiz at the midpoint of each chapter as a way to get students to begin preparing for the exam a little sooner.

I later switched to using short (5 question) quizzes in each section, with the idea that students would assess themselves at the end of each section before moving on. I now use these quizzes to load a personalized homework assignment – more about that next Monday!

I used to allow students two attempts at each quiz. This gives students a chance to recover from typos, but it also encourages students to go back and try the quiz a second time. MyLab Math, by default, puts only the highest score into the gradebook, so students can try again without fear of lowering their grade. I now allow unlimited attempts, because it seems that 2 attempts is essentially the same as an infinite number of attempts – rarely will a student take a quiz more than twice, although I have seen a student try a quiz 25 times.

I hope these ideas have stimulated some thoughts of your own about incorporating quizzes into your MyLab course. If you’d like to share how you use these quizzes, or if you have any questions, please leave a comment below.

Thanks – George

Statistics Blog – Week 1

Statistics Blog – Week 1

My first week of day-by-day blogging is complete. If you’d like to see where I go in week 2, including an introduction to inferential statistics through simulation and randomization, check out the blog here:

I created the blog to discuss the power of Interactive Statistics, Interactive Reading Assignments (read a little, watch a little, do a little), Learning Catalytics, StatCrunch, and the Flipped Classroom. I promise you will find tips and tools that will increase student learning.

Flipped Friday – Using MyMathLab for Pre-Class Assignments

Flipped Friday – Using MyMathLab for Pre-Class Assignments

Flipped FridayThis semester I will be posting about my experiences with the Flipped Classroom. I am using this approach in my Statistics class, and you can read about my day-by-day progress here. I am also using this approach in my Intermediate Algebra class, as well as some of my materials in an online Elementary Algebra class. If you have questions, comments, or topics you’d like me to cover, please leave a comment or reach out to me on Twitter.

Pre-Class Assignments

In a flipped classroom, direct instruction is moved outside the classroom into the individual space. Before flipping my classroom, my direct instruction involved conceptual explanations and introductions to new topics, followed by examples and an opportunity for student practice. I wanted my flipped pre-class assignments to incorporate those elements in guided practice, and MyMathLab (recently renamed MyLab Math) allows me to do this.

I build media assignments containing conceptual videos and example videos in addition to homework exercises. It’s quite easy to edit a traditional homework assignment to fit this strategy. In the assignment builder I click on Media, then I can add any of the media elements that the publisher includes. In my combined algebra textbook there are over 3000 short videos to choose from. You can also add videos from YouTube or other web sites.

Example – Intermediate Algebra

My Intermediate Algebra class meets for 2 hours on Monday and Wednesday. On Wednesday my goal was to review solving linear inequalities, then move on to solving absolute value inequalities. My MyLab assignment had conceptual videos and example videos related to solving linear inequalities, complex linear inequalities, displaying solutions on a number line and using interval notation. There were also about a half-dozen problems for students to work through. I then followed up with a handful of videos relating to the topic of solving absolute value inequalities, as well as 4 example videos.

This allowed me to begin the class with a group problem solving session for linear inequalities (20 minutes). After a debriefing where we discussed common issues and trouble spots, I started to talk about absolute value inequalities using a number line and the definition of absolute value involving distance. We were able to work backwards from a solution to the absolute value inequality that led to it. We also discussed the differences between “less than” absolute value inequalities and “greater than” absolute value inequalities, and then summarized the procedures we developed.

The class worked through a handful of examples before we finally discussed how to proceed when an absolute value is being compared to a negative number. We shared strategies for how to determine when there are no solutions and when every real number is a solution.


The videos and problems put students in a spot where they understood linear inequalities. (Students who had never seen interval notation got their introduction before class began.) The problems build into the assignment gave them a chance to assess how well they understood. Watching the absolute value inequality videos was the perfect introduction – students were familiar with the type of problem we would be working on and were able to follow my conceptual explanations because they knew where we were going.


Technology Thursday – Instagram

Technology Thursday – Instagram

I have dedicated a significant amount of time over many years to helping students with math questions when I am not on campus. I have used a Smart Pen, Jing, YouTube, … Last semester I started helping my students using Instagram, and it has been an effective tool.

I give my students my Instagram username (which is in the Social Media links on this blog), and when they are having difficulty with a problem they simply take a photo and post it to Instagram. I ask them to tag me in the photo or mention me in the comments. I reply with a photo that will help them make progress by either pointing out an error or providing the next step. I type my reasoning or questions in the comments.

I also use the Instagram account in class when we have a review for an exam. I take a photo of my solution and post it to the account in real time. That way students can focus more on the reasoning and logic than worrying about copying the solution without understanding.

So, do any of you use Instagram with your classes? If so, how do you use it and what advice would you give to a newcomer trying it for the first time? Please leave a comment if you could.


Wildcard Wednesday – Sending the Right Messages

Wildcard Wednesday – Sending the Right Messages

In all of my classes I have been focusing on sending the right messages to my students. I have become more aware of the importance of this through Jo Boaler (Mathematical Mindsets) and Carol Dweck (Mindsets). Here are the messages I have been stressing.

  • Speed is not important.
    Math takes time, and you want to work at a pace that leads to your understanding.
  • Praise effort, not ability.
    For example, I told my statistics class how proud I was of how well they worked together and that I found their communication inspiring. I did not praise them on their scores.
  • It’s OK to make mistakes.
    Our brains grow when we make mistakes, and our level of understanding can be higher after we make a mistake and figure out why it was a mistake. I told my students in my statistics class that it was OK if they made a mistake in the individual round of our Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique (IF-AT) today. What was important was that the team discussion helped to clear up the misconception.
  • You must be active, not passive. You must think, not be a spectator.
    I hope it speaks for itself. It’s hard for your brain to grow if you are not exercising it.

What messages do you try to send? What messages do you avoid? Please leave a comment.

Do you have a topic you’d like me to discuss in a Wildcard Wednesday post? Leave me a message or reach out to me on Twitter.


TeachBetterTuesday (TBT) – Involving Students in Discovery

TeachBetterTuesday (TBT) – Involving Students in Discovery

Yesterday was the first day for my intermediate algebra class, which meets for a 2-hour block. Students spent the first hour solving linear equations (a review topic) with no instruction. We followed up with a class discussion regarding which problems they struggled with, and got students to offer their advice for those problems. It was a great start – students being responsible, communication, positive classroom atmosphere. I also had opportunities to sneak in some growth mindset ideas: speed is not important, mistakes make our brains grow, it is important to think and actively participate rather than be passive and watch.

My favorite part of the class came at the end of the first hour. I walked to the board and wrote the equation |x + 4| – 6 = 3. Then I told the class “This is an absolute value equation and I can tell you how to solve it, but it will be more beneficial if you try to find a solution without me telling you how first.” So I asked them to find a number that worked as a solution. After a couple moments I could see that several students had found a value, and when I asked for it one student gave me x = 5. I asked her how she found it and she told me that she knew that 9 – 6 = 3, so she knew that |x + 4| had to be 9. She followed up by saying that she knew that 5 + 4 = 9, so 5 was a solution.

Perfect! The reasoning was outstanding, and she explained her thought process so well. Then I told my class that there was a second solution, and I wanted them to find it. After a couple more moments I saw that several students thought they had it, and were explaining their reasoning to the students around them. I asked for a solution, as well as an explanation. One students told me that his solution was x = -13, and he knew that -9 also has an absolute value of 9 so he just had to figure out what made x + 4 = -9.

So, my students were able to come up with the reasoning for the procedure to solve an absolute value equation (isolate the absolute value, rewrite as two equations, …) BEFORE I showed them to procedure. That level of understanding will help them when it comes time to using the procedure.

I’m afraid that many of us are so worried about covering all the material that we are not allowing our students the time and space to think. And that robs them of chances to develop deeper conceptual (or visual) understanding. Part of my plan to improve my teaching is making a conscious effort to allow my students to discover more by letting them think and experiment.

MyLab Monday – Media Assignments

MyLab Monday – Media Assignments

MyLab MondayLast night I put the finishing touches on some of the assignments for my intermediate algebra course, and I wanted to write a little bit about media assignments. In the assignments I created I added some short conceptual and example videos from the textbook. (The goal was to provide some direct instruction and review into the assignment.) I was able to do this by creating a media assignment in MyLab.

Creating a media assignment is just like creating a standard homework assignment. As you add exercises, you can click on the media tab and have access to any video (or other media tool) provided with the textbook. For example, I added a conceptual video about absolute value equations and a few example videos to the standard homework problems. By the way, you can also add in videos from web sites like YouTube or links to other web sites.

When working with the assignment’s settings you can set it up so students have to watch all media before working on exercises, but I like my students to be able to try a problem right after the related video.

Have any questions on media assignments? Post them in the comment section. Would you like a video on how to create a media assignment? Let me know.


Technology Thursday – Rocketbook Smart Notebook

Technology Thursday – Rocketbook Smart Notebook

TechThur RocketbookEach Thursday this semester I will be blogging about a technology related topic. If there is a technology question, or if there is a technology post you’d like to make (guest bloggers always welcome!) please leave a comment on the blog.

One of our favorite TV shows to watch as a family is ABC’s Shark Tank. (My family always asks how I calculate the valuation so quickly, and that gives me an opportunity to remind them all that speed is not important in math.) This spring we saw an episode featuring the creators of the Rocketbook Wave smart notebook. This was a smart notebook that could be connected to Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, OneNote, and email. Pretty cool, huh? Wait – there’s more!

The Rocketbook Wave is reusable. You erase the pages by putting the notebook in the microwave. That’s right. The microwave! That’s the wow factor! When I went to the web site, I saw that each page could only be erased so many times before losing effectiveness. They had another style of notebook (Rocketbook Everlast) whose pages are erasable by wiping with a damp cloth, and these pages can be used/cleaned without limit. I had to have it! Check out their video below.

You have to use Frixion erasable pens with the notebook. My smart phone has a Rocketbook app that captures the page and transmits it to the desired location(s) depending on which icons I check at the bottom of the page.

I plan to use the notebook to help students with homework questions. I can also use it for sharing classroom notes with the class.

  1. Do you have a Rocketbook smart notebook? How has your experience been? What do you use it for?
  2. What potential do you see for this to be used in our teaching?

Please leave your answers in the comments.

Thanks – George


Two Books To Help Get Ready

Two Books To Help Get Ready

Wildcard Wednesday

I have decided that each Wednesday on the blog this semester will be “Wildcard Wednesday”. In other words, there will be no theme. Instead I will write about whatever happens to be on my mind. I’ll begin by sharing two books that apply to all math instructors.

The Fall 2017 semester starts next week for us at College of the Sequoias. One of my favorite summer pastimes is to read books on instructional strategies and books that inspire my teaching philosophy. Today, on #BookLoversDay, I will be discussing two of the books I read this summer.

Successful Beginnings for College Teaching by Angela Proverita McGlynn

Before any semester, I always start by rereading one of my favorite books: Successful Beginnings for College Teaching by Angela Provitera McGlynn. This book is aimed at new college instructors, particularly at commuter schools and community colleges. A listing of the chapters tells you all about the book.

  1. Classroom and Course Management
  2. A Positive Start: First Day Classroom Activities and Icebreakers
  3. Creating a Welcoming Classroom Environment
  4. Promoting Student Participation and Motivation
  5. Dealing with Incivility in the College Classroom
  6. Keeping the Ball Rolling to a Fruitful Conclusion

One thing that the author states that I completely agree with is that instructors have to help new students to “learn how to learn”. Students often do not arrive in our classrooms with the skills necessary for success, and we must incorporate these skills into our daily lectures. Well, not really “lectures”, because the classroom needs to be much more interactive than that.

This book, although aimed at new instructors, will help any instructor regardless of the amount of experience the instructor has. I suppose the instructor that figures he or she has it all mastered and cannot improve may be the worst type of instructor a student can have.

I give this book my strongest possible recommendation. If you have already read it, please share your opinion of it with a comment.

Flipped Learning: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty by Robert Talbert

You may already be familiar with Robert Talbert through his old Chronicle blog (Casting Out Nines) or his new blog at Besides his pioneering work on flipped learning, he has shared many helpful thoughts on productivity on his blog and on the Teaching in Higher Ed podcasts. (This is a great podcast. Add it to your subscriptions!)

This book does a great job of defining what flipped learning is. One of my pet peeves is that people think that you can flip your classroom by having students watch videos at home and do homework in class – it is not! Flipped learning involves structured direct instruction outside of class, so that class time can be devoted to tasks with a higher cognitive load and benefit from the guidance of the instructor. Robert does a great job of explaining what flipped learning is and is not, and gives many useful examples from various disciplines.

In the middle of the book Robert walks the reader through how to apply the flipped approach to a given topic. Begin by making a list of the learning objectives for the lesson, then put them in order of complexity. At that point you can identify the line that separates which objectives can be addressed in the individual space (before class) and which can be addressed in the group space (in class). He then moves on to designing the group space activities, the individual space activities (guided practice), and post-class activities.

If you are thinking of flipping your class, this is an ideal book to begin with. (By the way, it is also available in a Kindle format as well.) Since I have flipped my statistics class (as well as my elementary algebra class) my classes are definitely more interactive and engaging, my success rates have risen, and my students have a deeper level of understanding. My students are enjoying class much more, and I am as well. I will continue to discuss flipped learning as the semester progresses. By the way, I will be blogging about my flipped statistics class on a day-by-day basis this semester so you can follow along if you are thinking of giving this a try. You can check out the blog at

What Did You Read?

What reading did you do this summer? Are there any major changes you plan to make this semester that resulted from your reading? If so, please leave a comment.


TeachBetterTuesday (TBT) – First Day of Class

TeachBetterTuesday (TBT) – First Day of Class

This semester on the blog Tuesday will be “TeachBetterTuesday” or TBT. I will be posting articles focused on getting the most out of your teaching by focusing on new approaches and student-centered instruction, as well as looking for areas to improve my own teaching. I’ll begin this series by sharing my approach to the most important day of the semester: the first day of class.


On the first day of class, especially in a developmental math class, our students are full of fear and anxiety. They feel that math is their worst subject and it’s beyond their reach. They know few, if any, of their classmates. This is not the time to start lecturing. This is the time to start building a community of learners!

My First Day of Class

I do not lecture on the first day of class. (As a rule, I teach classes that meet 4 times a week for 50 minutes at a time.) I start in a pretty traditional way – I take roll, read through the syllabus, and make sure that everyone understands how the class will go. Then I give my students a survey that allows me to collect information about them. Most of the questions are designed to help the students understand their strengths and weaknesses, and alert them to future potential problems such as working full-time while taking 18 units and taking care of 3 children. (If you would like a copy of my survey, just let me know.) I also ask my students to tell me something that is special or unique about them – it’s a great way to show your students that you are truly interested in them (and their success).

Once the surveys are complete I form groups of 4, giving each group a folder. I ask each group to share their stories with each other, including their response to the special/unique prompt. I then ask them to put their names on the front of the folder and to come up with a group name. It may sound a little juvenile, but it really encourages students to talk to each other. Some groups will sit there and stare at each other, but when I let them know that I will name their group and that they will most definitely not like the name I choose they start talking.

I use these folders to take roll during the semester and find that it really helps me to learn my students’ names quickly. I also refer to their surveys as I take roll, so I get to know them.

The goal here is to get students to be comfortable with at least 3 other students in the class. As I figure it, connection to classmates leads to a connection with the class as a whole, which hopefully leads to a connection with me and the material.

Developing a Growth Mindset

I think there is no better time for starting students on the path to developing a growth mindset than the first day. I mention that there is no such thing as a math person or a non-math person, that there is more than one way to solve most math problems, that speed is not important, that making mistakes grows our brains, … I give students a 4-question assignment to work on the first night and bring back with them that shows how a growth mindset is powerful for math students. If you’d like a copy of my questions, just let me know in the comments.

Once students are in my course management system (I typically use MyLab from Pearson) I send links to some of Jo Boaler’s TED talks as well as Carol Dweck’s TED talk.

Other First Day of Class Activities

At the developmental level, it should be no surprise that many of the students have feelings of anxiety related to math. Here are two activities that I have used on the first day of class to help students deal with these feelings.

“A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words”

One fun activity that I enjoy is asking my students to draw a picture of a mathematician. I see lots of pictures of little bodies and big heads, some glasses, some pocket protectors, and some crazy Einstein hair. (I have an ex-colleague that does this activity, and once he had a couple of students draw wizards – math is so “magical”!) The pictures rarely look like any of the students in the room.

Students feel that anyone who understands math is some sort of super-genius. There is a giant wall in front of them that leaves math inaccessible to them. I explain that any student who is willing to devote the time, effort, and thought to learn mathematics can do it. And I’m here to help them. I tell them that if they want to see what a mathematician looks like then they should check out the mirror when they get home.

Positive outcomes: Students realize that math can be accessible to them.

“Tell Me Your Strengths And Weaknesses”

Near the end of the Day One survey, I ask my students to give me 3 reasons why they will pass this class. Basically, I am asking my students to list their strengths because I want them to acknowledge that they have student and/or personality traits that can help them be successful regardless of the arena.

I also prompt my students to finish the following statement “If somehow I do not pass this class, it will most likely be because …” Here I am asking my students to identify what they feel is their greatest weakness as a math student. The thought is that the best way to overcome a weakness is to begin by identifying that weakness. I read over the surveys that night, and on the second day of class, I go over coping strategies for overcoming these weaknesses. Students at the developmental level have little experience with developing coping strategies, but once this is modeled for them they are more likely to be able to do this for themselves.

Positive Outcomes: Students realize that they have their own strengths, as well as plans to overcome any perceived shortcomings.


What is your Day one like? Do you have something unique that you would like to share? Do you help your students develop a growth mindset? I encourage you to leave a comment on this blog.

Day one is a great opportunity to break down student misconceptions about math and mathematicians, for students to realize that they are not alone in their struggles and that there is a path to success if they choose to take it. Take the opportunity to show your students that this class will be different than their previous math classes. The activities I have shared are great ways to alleviate some of the anxiety our students feel. Give them a try, and let me know how it goes. If you have any activities of your own, please share them with me by leaving a comment.


Finally, if there is a topic you’d like to see addressed in a TeachBetterTuesday post, please let me know through a comment or by reaching out to me on Twitter.