Recent research has established the positive impact of active learning teaching methods.  A meta-study titled “Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics” (by Freeman, Eddy, McDonough and their colleagues), encouraged moving beyond comparisons between active learning vs. lecture format and towards exploring the best methods with an active learning classroom.  The group wrote that their results “raise questions about the continued use of traditional lecturing as a control in research studies, and support active learning as the preferred, empirically validated teaching practice in regular classrooms.”

Their meta-analysis of 225 previous studies led them to conclude that “the data indicate that active learning increases student performance across the STEM disciplines” and that an increase in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students could be achieved by “abandoning traditional lecturing in favor of active learning.”

This symposium will address the critical national goal expressed by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in their call for a 33% increase in the number of STEM bachelor’s degrees.  A principal tactic of the symposium will be to “jump start” new implementation and evaluation research on active learning and IBL teaching methods in undergraduate mathematics.  The research results should encourage the creation of new active learning programs.  Since active learning has been found to benefit students by improving communication and critical thinking skills, especially among traditionally underserved groups, the long-term impact of the research symposium will be to increase the number of students pursuing STEM majors and careers.

The symposium provides the logical step of moving new research towards exploring which active learning methods work best, especially for underrepresented groups of students, and to explore ways to overcome current barriers that prevent active learning techniques from being attempted at existing mathematics programs.

This symposium brings together experts in education and economics research methods with active learning mathematics practitioners and departmental leaders to review current active learning evaluation efforts, clarify barriers to implementing new programs, and frame ways to increase national research and evaluation activities.  The symposium will consist of 4 panel presentations by 12 presenters to a group of 50-75 invited and public attendees.  Subsequently, key findings of the symposium will be circulated at national and regional mathematics conferences.  A summary of symposium findings will be compiled and posted online for public use.  Additional products could include the resulting evaluative and research findings and associated research papers.  The symposium will attempt to identify key research issue areas and potential project teams to create new active learning initiatives.  The symposium goal is to increase national mathematics active learning evaluation and associated research activities in order to strengthen mathematics teaching.

The symposium is supported by grants from the Educational Advancement Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Sloan Foundation.  It is being organized by Ronald G. Douglas with the assistance of David Bressoud and Doris Zahner.

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