Inquiry Based Learning (IBL) in mathematics at University of Michigan has a long history, and going all the way back to the teaching of R. L. Wilder, E. Moise and P. Halmos in the 1950s and 60s. Halmos famously summarized the idea of IBL in the phrase: “The best way to learn is to do; the worst way to teach is to talk.” Then in the 1990s, Mort Brown, Pat Shure and later Karen Rhea established our reformed calculus which incorporates ideas from inquiry based learning. Mort Brown also experimented with the IBL format in more advanced classes.
Our Center for Inquiry Based Learning was started in 2004, in large part thanks to the support of Harry Lucas Jr. and the EAF (Educational Advancement Foundation). It was created as one of several centers nationwide, with others at Harvard, UCSB, University of Chicago and University of Texas. Currently there are three active centers, here and at Chicago and Texas:
All centers were tasked to implement IBL in our programs. Our progress was assessed over a three-year period by Sandra Laursen and her team at E&ER at the University of Colorado at Boulder, showing strong results for IBL.
Different centers developed different styles of IBL. At Michigan, we put the emphasis on group work in class. The instructors carefully prepare worksheets. Groups of three, four students work on them. The instructor visits and helps if needed. For us, the instructor is a guide. The worksheets are constantly reviewed and adapted. Besides learning the mathematics, the students also learn to communicate both orally and in writing.
In the early years of the center, we introduced and overhauled a broad swath of courses, from freshmen seminars to math major, honors and math education courses. Even now, these serve as the key components of our program. However, our IBL teaching method has spread to other courses. Most significantly, we teach a linear algebra course serving 400-500 students this way, and we keep expanding our offerings. All of our math content courses for School of Education students are now IBL. Exposing future teachers at all levels to inquiry based methods in their own learning has significant impact on their mastery of the subject and hopefully their future teaching.
Our center has trained a significant number of faculty, postdocs, graduate and undergraduate in IBL teaching methods, via IBL workshops for instructors interested in IBL held in August and intensive teaching mentoring. We have the largest postdoctoral program in the country with over 60 postdocs in residence. The vast majority of them either teach in our reformed calculus or the IBL program.
The center is closely aligned with several outreach activities, especially math circles, math circles for teachers (e.g.,WCMTC), Wolverine Pathways, the Michigan Math and Science Scholars summer program (MMSS) as well as the Laboratory of Geometry at Michigan itself. Most recently, a Michigan wide IBL consortium was started.
Our Center has received significant support from the NSF, EAF/Lucas, the University of Michigan, and many alumni, especially via gifts by the Parekh and van Loo families and Rodolfo deSapio.