Teaching Inquiry-oriented Mathematics: Establishing Supports (TIMES)

TIMES is a collaborative NSF grant with principle investigators Estrella Johnson at Virginia Tech, Christy Andrews-Larson at Florida State University, and Karen Keene at North Carolina State University. The central goal of this project is to study how we can support undergraduate instructors, as they implement changes in their instruction. We have a three-pronged instructional support model, consisting of:

  1. Curricular support materials – These materials, created by the researchers who developed the three curricular innovations, include: student materials (e.g., task sequences, handouts, problem banks) and instructor support materials (e.g., learning goals and rationales for the tasks, examples of student work, implementation notes).
  2. Summer workshops – The summer workshops last 2-3 days and have three main goals, 1) building familiarity with the curricula materials, including an understanding of the learning trajectories of the lessons; and 2) developing an understanding of the intent of the curricula in particular and inquiry-oriented instruction in general.  
  3. Online instructor work groups – The online instructor work groups have between 4 and 6 participants, each currently implementing the same curricular materials. Each group meets for one hour a week and works on selected lessons from the curricular materials. For each of the focal lessons, we will discuss the mathematics and plan for implementation. Then, after instructors have taught the lesson, the group watches video clips of instruction with a focus on student thinking. The goal is to help instructors develop their ability to interpret and respond to student thinking in ways that support student learning. Every meeting also has time dedicated to address specific and immediate needs of the participants (e.g., difficulty with managing small group work, a particularly challenging task, strategies for getting students to share ideas). 


Inquiry-oriented instructional approach

The curricula we utilize in the project are each examples of inquiry-oriented instructional materials. Inquiry-oriented instruction is a specific type of student-centered instruction. Not surprisingly, different communities characterize inquiry in slightly different ways. In the inquiry-oriented approach we describe here, we adopt Rasmussen and Kwon’s (2007) characterization of inquiry, which applies to both student activity and to instructor activity. In this approach, students learn new mathematics by: engaging in cognitively demanding tasks that prompt exploration of important mathematical relationships and concepts; engaging in mathematical discussions; developing and testing conjectures; and explaining and justifying their thinking. Student inquiry serves two primary functions: (1) it enables students to learn new mathematics through engagement in genuine exploration and argumentation, and (2) it serves to empower learners to see themselves as capable of reinventing important mathematical ideas.

The goal of instructor inquiry into student thinking goes beyond merely assessing student’s answers as correct or incorrect. Instead, instructor inquiry seeks to reveal students’ intuitive and informal ways of reasoning, especially those that can serve as building blocks for more formal ways of reasoning. In order to support students, instructors routinely inquire into how their students are thinking about the concepts and procedures being developed. As instructors inquire into students’ emerging ideas, they facilitate and support the growth of students’ self-generated mathematical ideas and representations toward more formal or conventional ones. The instructor’s role is to guide and direct the mathematical activity of the students as they work on tasks by listening to students and using their reasoning to support the development of new conceptions. Additionally, instructors provide connections between students’ informal reasoning and more formal mathematics.

With an inquiry-oriented instructional approach, instructors use mathematically rich task sequences, small group work, and whole class discussions in order to:

  1. Generate student ways of reasoning
  2. Build on student thinking
  3. Develop a shared understanding
  4. Connect to standard mathematical language and notation


The Curriculum Materials

The TIMES project is organized around three sets of post-calculus, research-based, inquiry-oriented curricular materials:

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Inquiry-Oriented Abstract Algebra (IOAA)



Inquiry-Oriented Linear Algebra (IOLA)


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Inquiry-Oriented Differential Equations (IODE)


For each of these three curricular innovations, the student materials have been developed through iterative stages of research and design supported by grants from the NSF. In the early stages, the developers carried out small-scale teaching experiments focused on uncovering students’ ways of reasoning and developing tasks that evoke and leverage productive ways of reasoning. Instructional tasks then went through additional cycles of implementing, testing, and refining over a series of whole class teaching experiments. In the last stages of research and design, instructors who were not involved in the development implemented the materials and provided feedback.

Over the course of the last 10+ years, these extensive and ongoing research projects have produced many results, including: instructional sequences comprised of rich problem-solving tasks, instructor support materials, research showing positive conceptual learning gains (e.g., Kwon, Rasmussen, & Allen, 2005; Larsen, Johnson, & Bartlo, 2013), insights into how students think about these concepts (e.g., Larsen, 2009; Wawro, 2014; Keene, 2007) and the identification of specific challenges that instructors face as they implemented these materials. Some of the difficulties experienced by instructors implementing the materials include: making sense of student thinking, planning for and leading productive whole class discussions, and building on students’ solution strategies and contributions (e.g., Johnson & Larsen, 2012; Speer & Wagner, 2009; Wagner, Speer, & Rossa, 2007). The TIMES project is designed to help instructors overcome such difficulties.


Grant Activities

Summer 2014: Pilot summer workshop as a mini-course at MathFest

Spring 2015: Pilot online working groups for IOAA and IODE

Summer 2015: Summer workshop after MathFest, DC, August 9th - 11th

Fall 2015: Online working groups for IOAA, IODE, and IOLA

Winter 2016: Minicourse at JMM, Seattle WA, January 6th and 8th.

Summer 2016: Summer workshop, June 22nd – 24th, Raleigh NC.

Fall 2016: Online working groups for IOAA, IODE, and IOLA

Summer 2017: Summer workshop for IODE and IOLA (for highschool teachers), tentatively planned for June 28th - 30th, Arlington VA.

Fall 2017: Online working group for IODE


Becoming a TIMES Fellow

We are currently only planning on accepting TIMES applicants in IODE for the fall of 2017. If you are interested in participating in the summer workshops, implementing the curricula materials, and participating in an online working groups, consider becoming a TIMES Fellow. To apply please complete this application form by April 3, 2017: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfyPqcncYrMTcckGYsDE0Km3qr4BcOUfmQhqsGaTDGa2lsLew/viewform?usp=send_form

If you are interested in learning more about linear algebra and self funding your way to our summer workshop please contact Christy Andrews-Larson. Linear algebra self-funding participants will be accepted on a rolling basis.

If selected as a TIMES Fellow, you will be invited the the summer workshop and be asked to:

(1) Attend a summer workshop

(2) Implement one of the three inquiry-oriented curriculum materials

(3) Participate in a video-taped online workgroup and online discussion boards related to your teaching for one hour per week for a semester

(4) Participate in two interviews during the semester about your institutional setting and your experience participating in the online workgroups and using project-related instructional supported materials (each interview should last about an hour)

(5) Videotape yourself teaching a 2-3 day instructional unit, the focus of which is to be specified by TIMES project personnel (organizing this taping may take up to an hour of your time in addition to your normal instructional time)

(6) Brief video clips of your instruction to be shared for discussion with your online workgroup (this should take 1-2 hours per semester at the most)

(7) A short student assessment to be given to your students and the students of a comparable instructor at your institution.

TIMES Fellows will be compensated for their time with:

(1) An iPad (or comparable tablet), to be used to videotape instruction and participate in online workgroups

(2) Funds to support undergrad assistant to help with data collection (and grading, as funds/time permits

(3) Funds to travel to one TIMES summer workshop


If you are interested in learning more about the project or the curriculum materials, please contact Christy Andrews-Larson for linear algebra, Karen Keene for differential equations, or Estrella Johnson for abstract algebra.

Past TIMES Fellows

David Kung, St. Mary's College of Maryland

Rick Downs, South Seattle College

John Paul Cook, Oklahoma State University

Kathi Crow, Salem State University

Jill Jordan, Houghton College

James Hart, Middle Tennessee State University

Keiko Dow, D'Youville College

Valerie Peterson, University of Portland

Jacob Ogle, Kansas Wesleyan University

Tara Davis, Hawaii Pacific University

Michelle Zandieh, Arizona State University

David Plaxco, Oklahoma State University

Therese Shelton, Southwestern University

Justin Dunmyre, Frostburg State University

Perry Lee, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

Mariah Birgen, Wartburg College

John Asplund, Dalton State College

Bret Benesh, The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University

Lei Cheng, Olivet Nazarene University

Emily Cilli-Turner, University of Washington Tacoma

Jessica Deshler, West Virginia University

Keiko Dow, D'Youville College

Jonathan Dunbar, Spring Hill College

Jess Ellis, Colorado State University

Brian Fisher, Lubbock Christian University

Leah Gold, Cleveland State University

Nicole Infante, West Virginia University

Erica Johnson, St. John Fisher College

Silas Johnson, Northwestern University

Mile Krajcevski, University of South Florida

Yue Lei, University of California - Merced

Joel Louwsma, Niagra University

Alison Lynch, California State Univeristy - Monterey Bay

Sara Malec, Hood College

Catherine Matos, Clayton State University

Jason Siefken, Northwestern University

Lucy Spardy, Skidmore College

Felicia Tabing, Rose-Hulman Insitute of Technology

Gail Tang, Univeristy of La Verne

Thomas Wakefield, Youngstown State University

Robin Wilson, California State Polytechnic University - Pomona