Thursday, September 24, 2015

IBL Conference: A New Kid’s Perspective

A guest post by Katie Wanek, University of Nebraska at Omaha

The UNO group after the panel presentation.
This past June, I was given the opportunity to attend the 18th Annual Legacy of R.L. Moore Inquiry-Based Learning Conference in Austin, Texas, along with three of my fellow undergraduates from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). I was one of only 6 attendees who were still working towards their undergraduate degree, as a majority of the conference attendees were teachers and professors at the collegiate level. Needless to say, I felt very much like the new kid in school where everyone else is already on chapter 8 and I am only on chapter 2. However, although I was much younger than most of the people I interacted with, and much less experienced, everyone I met was not just willing, but seemed excited to share their knowledge. I felt welcomed to share my own ideas and thoughts in sessions, and I was encouraged to actively participate. As it was my second time attending the conference (I attended the conference in Denver last year), I made a lot of comparisons between the two conferences while I was there. I found that there were three main characteristics that stayed constant between the two:
  1. Inspiring
  2. Enlightening, and 
  3. Empowering
Inspiring. I left the conference each time inspired by both the session topics and the people I met. Whether it was an idea for a Math Teachers’ Circle, a lesson idea for my future classroom, a method to engage and encourage students, or an activity to try for outreach events, the sessions were always informative, entertaining, and thought-provoking.

The people I met at the conference also inspired me. One of my favorite activities at both conferences was the Round-Table Discussion at which I sat with a table of other people passionate about secondary math education. We discussed roadblocks to implementing IBL in a secondary classroom and ways to work around them. People freely shared resources they found to be helpful and we all exchanged e-mails. Within the first week after this past conference, there were multiple emails sent from the other table members with links to sites and Google documents. These people inspired me to be not just an average teacher, but a great teacher who actively searches for ways to help her students and make her classroom and teaching better.

Enlightening. I learned a lot about inquiry-based learning and the various techniques that people use to implement it in their classrooms at both conferences. Every year, I learn more and more about inquiry-based learning and what it actually means. I’ve learned that there are tons of different ways to use IBL in classrooms – flipped classrooms, projects, in-class activities, etc.

There are also multiple ways to encourage IBL in outreach activities such as with puzzle competitions. One of my favorite sessions at the 2015 Conference was the “IBL and Mathematical Puzzlehunt Competitions” by Steven Clontz and PJ Couch. They talked about puzzlehunt competitions that they have adopted at their respective universities and how puzzles are a great way to spark interest in math.

I learned so much at the conferences that my brain was exhausted by the time I got back to Omaha. There was so much to soak in and in a short amount of time.

Empowering. Both conferences were empowering. I was empowered with knowledge to implement IBL in my future classrooms. I was empowered with new networks of people to turn to for ideas, techniques, and encouragement. I was empowered with ways to sell IBL to students, parents, and administrators and the data to back-up my claims. Most of all, I was empowered with a can-do attitude and the thought that this is something that is possible and will help students.

Although the two conferences had a lot in common, especially with the three main themes I detailed, there were some differences as well. It felt like the 2014 conference had more parallel sessions and there seemed to be a larger focus on hands-on sessions and ready-made ideas to take back to the classroom. The 2015 conference focused more on how to help students be confident in their mathematical ability and how to encourage them to not give up and to keep going. Both of these differences tied back to their respective themes. The 2014 conference theme was “Engaging with Inquiry-Based Learning” and the 2015 conference theme was “Empowering with Inquiry-Based Learning”. When connecting the differences to the themes, the differences make sense. Regardless, both conferences had a lot to offer and I was left with a stronger desire to implement inquiry-based learning into my future classroom after both conferences.

Altogether, the conference was an incredible experience and I highly encourage everyone to attend the conference, especially pre-service secondary math teachers who are interested in the idea of inquiry-based learning. For the pre-service teachers and other undergraduates planning on attending a future IBL Conference, my suggestion would be to go in with an open mind, talk to as many people as you can, and participate as actively as you can. It is a wonderful conference that is not only inspiring, enlightening, and empowering, it also focuses on student learning and how to help students deeply understand material. And, whether we are pre-service teachers, new teachers, or teachers who have been in the field for years, anything that will assist student learning is something that we can all get behind.

About the author: Katie Wanek is a senior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha where she is a double degree student in Math and Education. She has been the Math Club president for the past three years and also works as Dr. Angie Hodge’s undergraduate assistant. Katie will graduate in May 2016 after which she aims to find a position teaching middle school math where she hopes to incorporate active learning into her classroom.

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