Mark Bottorff

Notable Achievements

Southwestern had a great showing at the Joint Mathematics Meeting, the largest meeting of mathematicians in the world, held Jan. 4–7 in Atlanta, Ga. Six faculty, eight students, and an alumna participated in multiple ways.

  • Associate Professor of Mathematics Alison Marr was very active at this meeting.  As the Secretary/Treasurer of the IBL SIGMAA (Inquiry-Based Learning Special Interest Group of the Mathematical Association of America), she helped organize the MAA Session on Inquiry-Based Teaching and Learning; this topic needed five sessions because of its importance, relevance, and national attention. She also co-organized the MAA Panel “Perspectives on Inquiry-Based Learning: Novice, Experienced, and Master,” and helped run the first IBL SIGMAA business meeting. She also presented “Broadening the Net: Promoting Success in the Sciences for All Students” at the MAA Poster Session on Projects Supported by the NSF Division of Undergraduate Education. Poster co-authors include  Professor of Chemistry Emily D. Niemeyer, Associate Professor of Physics Mark Bottorff, Associate Professor of Computer Science Barbara Anthony, and Director of General Chemistry Labs Willis A. Weigand. She was also a co-author on a paper, “Coprime and prime labelings of ladder graphs and complete bipartite graphs,” presented in the AMS Special Session on RE(UF)search on Graphs and Matrices.
  • Visiting Assistant Professor John Ross and Associate Professor of Mathematics Therese Shelton co-presented “Supermarkets, Highways, and Oil Production: Statistics and Social Justice.” This work began with participation in an ACS workshop, “Mathematics and Social Justice,” May 21–22, 2016 at Rollins College.
  • Ross and Visiting Assistant Professor Linda DiLullo participated in the workshop “Preparing Students for Success in Calculus: Aligning Placement, Curriculum, and Assessment” offered through the MAA under an NSF grant.
  • Shelton co-presented the MAA Minicourse on Teaching Modeling-First Differential Equations—Technology and Complete End Game Effort, attended the MAA Section Officers’ Meeting as Past Chair of the Texas Section, and organized funding and logistics for Southwestern’s student and alum presenters and attendees.
  • Professor of Mathematics Kendall Richards co-organized the AMS Special Session on Complex Analysis and Special Functions.
  • Alumna Julia R. Sykora ’16 presented “3D Mathematical Models For the Blind” in the MAA Session on Methods of Engaging Math Learners with Physical Impairments. This was based on her 2015–16 King Creativity Project with Allison K. Young ’16 supervised by Shelton.
  • Southwestern students also presented at the AMS Contributed Paper Session on Undergraduate Research:
    • William Soller, Class of 2017, and Kristen McCrary, Class of 2018, presented “Existence, Uniqueness, and Cost-Optimizing Results of Mathematical Trusses” based on their 2016 SCOPE work supervised by Ross.
    • Morgan Engle and Penny Phan, both Class of 2018, presented “Green Math: Models of Greenhouse Gasses” from the 2016 SCOPE work supervised by Shelton.
    • Oliver Sale, Class of 2017, presented “Investigation of Central Texas Surface Ozone Concentrations 1980–2015” on work that began in 2016 SCOPE supervised by Part-Time Assistant Professor of Physics Rebecca Edwards. In Fall 2016, Sale continued the work in his mathematics capstone; Edwards continued to primarily oversee the project, and Shelton oversaw the math capstone and prepared Sale for the presentation.
    • Victoria Gore, Class of 2017, presented “Extreme Precipitation: Changes in Rain Frequency from 1895–2015 in Central Texas” from the 2016 SCOPE work supervised by Edwards.
    • Beulah Agyemang-Barimah, Class of 2017, received funding from Southwestern’s Keck Foundation grant to attend sessions on mathematical and computational biology.
    • Emma Kathryn Groves, Class of 2017, also attended the meetings.
MORE

Every year since I arrived at SU I have added learner centered, activity-based elements to the courses I teach. Having students actively engage course material, whether in the classroom, the laboratory, while working outside the class in small groups or when working individually, intensifies their learning experience and gives the student ownership of the learning process. My primary testing ground for this approach has been the Exploring the Universe (PHY53-054) course. Over the years I have progressively replaced many of the lecture elements in the course with activity based learning exercises without adversely effecting student learning or student attitudes toward the course. In the currently configured course only about one in three class meetings involve a formal lecture. The other class meeting periods are devoted to working with collectivized student data obtained using small telescopes at the Fountainwood Observatory, working with professional astronomy data put into digestible form for non-science majors, conducting in-class non-telescope experiments (i.e. measuring the pull of Earth’s gravity using a pendulum), and working with 3D models (i.e. small wood balls to represent the Earth, moon, and a planet and a light to represent the sun) in order to investigate the causes of the seasons, lunar phases, eclipses and the apparent retrograde motion of planets. I have given my approach the acronym SODA which stands for Student Observation Driven Astronomy. Growing confidence in this approach enabled me to write a SODA ACS Mellon Foundation grant coupled with an SU professional development grant about four years ago. Astronomy labs from across the ACS, including some of my own, were collected, edited and otherwise transformed into SODA activities. Two SU students were involved in this work and one wrote her physics capstone based on a SODA star cluster activity. The result of the grant is about 200 pages of astronomy related learning material. Since then I have created an additional 50 or so pages of new SODA activities. Over the last two years I have presented astronomy education posters about implementation of SODA materials at the 217th and 219th meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Recently I have been teaching calculus based Fundamentals of Physics (PHY53-154 and PHY53-164). The sections are large. Each has about 60 to 70 students in it. They are populated by biology, chemistry, kinesiology, psychology, physics and pre-engineering students as well as the occasional mathematics, computer science and economics major. The physics department is hopeful that in the near future it will be able to split both PHY53-154 and PHY53-164 into smaller sections appropriate for different groups of majors (i.e. life science majors vs. physics and pre-engineering students). This will require some negotiations with NSD. In the mean time the challenge is to provide students in the course with as high a quality learning experience as possible. I am more constrained to give lectures in this course sequence than in Exploring the Universe. Nevertheless I have made efforts to foster active learning in the lecture hall. For example I include “Popsicle stick” questions in which voluntarily participating students write their names on a Popsicle. When I have a question for the class I draw a Popsicle out of a can and ask the corresponding student a question. They get some extra credit for participating (and it is a rough indicator of attendance). I allow “lifelines” so if they get stuck a nearby friend can provide an answer. In addition I occasionally put a question up on the board and have the class split into groups of two students each to work out a short problem. The result is then discussed between the two students and then sometimes with the rest of the class in a “think-pair-share” type of exercise. Sometimes I take a vote about which (if any) of several proffered answers is correct. In the process I try to get students to voice their physical reasoning for supporting an answer before a vote. In addition to my efforts to get students to think actively in class I have injected some of my SODA work into PHY53-154. In the Fall 2011 semester I required that every student in the class make at least one moon position observations at the observatory during a two month period. 73 students made one (or more for extra credit) observation. The observing times ranged from sunset to midnight to sunrise (depending on the lunar phase) and I was at every observation. The data was collectivized into an analysis worksheet which enabled them to use their own data to study gravitation and basic orbital mechanics. A short diagnostic was used to analyze student learning gains. An ANOVA test of this pilot project diagnostic data revealed that learning gains were modest but equal across different performance groups. This suggests that low performing students learned proportionately the same as high performing students. To my knowledge an orbital mechanics project using student collected data has never been done before in a Fundamentals of Physics course. In the future I hope to continue my efforts to increase student learning through the further addition of activity based exercises at all levels of instruction.

Education

PhD ,University of Kentucky, 1999

  • Every year since I arrived at SU I have added learner centered, activity-based elements to the courses I teach. Having students actively engage course material, whether in the classroom, the laboratory, while working outside the class in small groups or when working individually, intensifies their learning experience and gives the student ownership of the learning process. My primary testing ground for this approach has been the Exploring the Universe (PHY53-054) course. Over the years I have progressively replaced many of the lecture elements in the course with activity based learning exercises without adversely effecting student learning or student attitudes toward the course. In the currently configured course only about one in three class meetings involve a formal lecture. The other class meeting periods are devoted to working with collectivized student data obtained using small telescopes at the Fountainwood Observatory, working with professional astronomy data put into digestible form for non-science majors, conducting in-class non-telescope experiments (i.e. measuring the pull of Earth’s gravity using a pendulum), and working with 3D models (i.e. small wood balls to represent the Earth, moon, and a planet and a light to represent the sun) in order to investigate the causes of the seasons, lunar phases, eclipses and the apparent retrograde motion of planets. I have given my approach the acronym SODA which stands for Student Observation Driven Astronomy. Growing confidence in this approach enabled me to write a SODA ACS Mellon Foundation grant coupled with an SU professional development grant about four years ago. Astronomy labs from across the ACS, including some of my own, were collected, edited and otherwise transformed into SODA activities. Two SU students were involved in this work and one wrote her physics capstone based on a SODA star cluster activity. The result of the grant is about 200 pages of astronomy related learning material. Since then I have created an additional 50 or so pages of new SODA activities. Over the last two years I have presented astronomy education posters about implementation of SODA materials at the 217th and 219th meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Recently I have been teaching calculus based Fundamentals of Physics (PHY53-154 and PHY53-164). The sections are large. Each has about 60 to 70 students in it. They are populated by biology, chemistry, kinesiology, psychology, physics and pre-engineering students as well as the occasional mathematics, computer science and economics major. The physics department is hopeful that in the near future it will be able to split both PHY53-154 and PHY53-164 into smaller sections appropriate for different groups of majors (i.e. life science majors vs. physics and pre-engineering students). This will require some negotiations with NSD. In the mean time the challenge is to provide students in the course with as high a quality learning experience as possible. I am more constrained to give lectures in this course sequence than in Exploring the Universe. Nevertheless I have made efforts to foster active learning in the lecture hall. For example I include “Popsicle stick” questions in which voluntarily participating students write their names on a Popsicle. When I have a question for the class I draw a Popsicle out of a can and ask the corresponding student a question. They get some extra credit for participating (and it is a rough indicator of attendance). I allow “lifelines” so if they get stuck a nearby friend can provide an answer. In addition I occasionally put a question up on the board and have the class split into groups of two students each to work out a short problem. The result is then discussed between the two students and then sometimes with the rest of the class in a “think-pair-share” type of exercise. Sometimes I take a vote about which (if any) of several proffered answers is correct. In the process I try to get students to voice their physical reasoning for supporting an answer before a vote. In addition to my efforts to get students to think actively in class I have injected some of my SODA work into PHY53-154. In the Fall 2011 semester I required that every student in the class make at least one moon position observations at the observatory during a two month period. 73 students made one (or more for extra credit) observation. The observing times ranged from sunset to midnight to sunrise (depending on the lunar phase) and I was at every observation. The data was collectivized into an analysis worksheet which enabled them to use their own data to study gravitation and basic orbital mechanics. A short diagnostic was used to analyze student learning gains. An ANOVA test of this pilot project diagnostic data revealed that learning gains were modest but equal across different performance groups. This suggests that low performing students learned proportionately the same as high performing students. To my knowledge an orbital mechanics project using student collected data has never been done before in a Fundamentals of Physics course. In the future I hope to continue my efforts to increase student learning through the further addition of activity based exercises at all levels of instruction.

    Education

    PhD ,University of Kentucky, 1999


In the News

  • Dr. Mark Bottorff
    SU Professor Mark Bottorff Traveled to Wyoming to Experience “Sublime, Metaphysical” Total Solar Eclipse

    The recent total solar eclipse generated plenty of excitement across the entire country, but for Bottorff the event was much more than an excuse to wear funny glasses.