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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Teaching Math Lit online: Part 1

As I start the new spring semester, I've been thinking about my fall semester in which I taught Math Lit online for the first time. I've taught online for years and I've taught Math Lit for years, but online Math Lit seemed like a daunting task. I had talked to some instructors around the country to get ideas, but it was really a step off a cliff. And unlike other online courses I've taught for the first time, I didn't get everything figured out before we started. It made for a lot of challenges until we got into a routine. This post is provided to prevent you from having to be a guinea pig and instead benefit from my mistakes.

My goals were to incorporate the special traits of the face-to-face experience but in an online environment. What I found was that every single thing I was used to doing face-to-face had to be adapted. This was by far the most challenging online course I've ever made or taught, but it was also the most rewarding one. I really knew all my students and they knew each other. I felt very connected to them and their work and the best news is that the pass rate was phenomenal at 83%.

In this series of posts I want to share what I tried, what worked, and what needs work. My method is by no means the only way to go about this type of offering. I welcome any suggestions and ideas. Please check out the Math Lit instructor forum and join it so that we can discuss this course offering more.

Let's look at each component of the course one at a time. In this post, I'll look at the aspects of a section (Explore, Discover, Connect, Reflect). In the next post, I'll talk about doing homework, using the focus problems, and some other miscellaneous issues.

1. Explore

Each section of Math Lit starts with an Explore that has a problem that students have to try without necessarily having very much machinery to do so. It motivates the content for the section and helps students improve their problem solving skills, especially because it's a problem and not an exercise.

In the classroom, I always have students get in groups, read the Explore, and then start working on it together. We discuss the results and how it will set a framework for what we're going to work on.

The challenge was making these problems accessible to online developmental students, which I've found to be a set of students that tend to not interact as much in online math classes. They tend to keep to themselves. My solution was to use the Discussions feature of MyMathLab. It was great to have a use for a discussion that was not contrived, as they sometimes are in my other online math classes. Each Explore had its own discussion thread where students could work on the problem together until they reached an answer. Some instructors use wikis such as Google docs to do this and have students work in groups to add to the wiki with their work on the problem. I was struggling to keep my students in as few online platforms as possible, so I used the discussion feature. I used the "post first" feature so that one person didn't post the answer and everyone go, "yep, that's it" or "yep, that's what I got too." Students had to post a reply before they could see anyone else's response. I went through them and replied to each student on what they needed to adjust or try, sometimes suggesting they look at another student's response for ideas. After the due date, I posted a complete solution or referred them to look at a particular student's solution if it was correct and complete.

The problem was that it was basically an individual interaction between me and each student, not a group collaboration. What I'm going to try the next time I teach it online, this fall, is that students have to respond a certain number of times to each other. Keeping track of that and keeping it manageable is another challenge. Because it takes time to do these problems and get feedback to students and them work more on the problems, I made each week's Explores all due on Sunday nights. That gave them a week to work through them.

An additional problem we had is that students would wait until learning the content of the section to do the Explore. In that case, they would use what they had learned from the section, making each Explore basically like the Connect instead of its own exploration. I'm still pondering ways to improve that issue but give them enough time to finish them.

Since our course is large at 6 credits, we cover 4 to 5 sections each week. To make the workload more manageable, I made a few Explore discussions extra credit each cycle. This reduced the number of required weekly discussions to a more reasonable amount.

2. Discover

The main part of each section is the Discover in which skills and concepts are developed and practiced. In the classroom, I do some of the Discover as whole class and some in groups. While I wanted to students to work with each other to learn the content, it just wasn't feasible for time reasons. All these students were logging on at different times and trying to get the content done. There was no synchronous component to the course. Having to wait for other students to discuss each problem would take forever. We already had that challenge with the Explores.

So my solution was to have students work on the problems in the Discover on their own. I made a video showing them what I wanted them to do. They were supposed to open the ebook while they worked in the textbook. They were to read any exposition or examples, work any numbered problems, and watch any videos that accompanied the ebook. I tried to think what I would want if I was a student and one thing was the answers, to know that I was on the right track. So for each cycle, I made a document that had all the answers to the Discover problems that were numbered. They were supposed to work problems in the book and then check them, but I'm sure some students just worked backwards from the answers. Not ideal, but it's not something that can be controlled. Ultimately I concluded they were adults and would go through the learning process in a way that worked for them.

But, doing those pages in the book was essential. In some of my other online classes, students have seen the content and will just skim the book and do the homework. But this course is problem-based, not skill based, so the process of understanding the goals of the problems and sitting with them cannot be skipped. I kept telling students throughout the first week to do the book pages first, but they weren't. I received tons of questions on homework and there was confusion.

So my solution was to collect pages from each week of work. I thought this would be really time-consuming, but it was one of the best components of the course. It was so positive that I'd like to do it with other courses, online or face-to-face. I had to use our campus LMS, which is Canvas, to have the capability to easily grade their papers. Each Friday, I would post an assignment in Canvas with a list of 5 page numbers I had chosen from the sections they had worked on that week. They were to scan or take a picture of the pages with their phone and upload them as PDFs or JPGs. Canvas has a feature called SpeedGrader that allows me to click on their assignment and see each page they upload. I can comment on the page and explain how I got their score. I scored each page as 2 points (0 points for not turning it in, 1 point for doing anything on it, 2 points for doing everything on it as stated in the page's directions). To get full credit, they could not copy answers from the answer document. They had to show their own work.

I was able to grade their papers quickly and the benefits were immediate. They started doing the book pages as they went, which made the content make sense, and reduced the questions on homework considerably. I could get them some feedback without having to look through every page they did. It made me feel more connected to them and their progress. Everyone's frustration lifted.


3. Connect

In a classroom, I do the Connects like the Explores in groups. I give students time to work while I mill around giving hints and then we go over the answers. Having a whole other set of discussions for the Connects in addition to the Explores would have been too much. So I had students do these on their own after they did the Discover portion and provided them with answers to check (in the same document I mentioned above). It's not ideal, but it was the best I could come up with. Time was really something I was fighting all the time.

4. Reflect

I had students read the Reflect boxes on their own. Like in the face-to-face class, some students always read them and some never do. I tried to post comments on discussions and use announcements that regularly had information on why we were working on certain topics and how they fit together.

In the next post, I'll talk about homework, focus problems, tests, communication, making the content cohesive, and dealing with challenges.



Friday, December 2, 2016

AMATYC Keynote Connects to Pathways

Maria Andersen gave a terrific keynote address at AMATYC's conference this year. The video is available below. Her talk starts at the 44 minute mark.

The presentation resonated with me because the suggestions she gave are what we aim for in pathways courses like Math Lit. She talked about how we need to have real interaction in our classes, that we learn from experience, not just lecture, and how challenge and curiosity matter. She talked about the importance of varied practice, a key component of the content development in Math Lit, which is different from the mass practice concept used so commonly. That explanations are useful when students need them, after they've been working on something and there is confusion. And that students being stuck sometimes is important. All of her assertions are backed by research.

Her style is engaging and her message is timely and meaningful. Please take a look.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

AMATYC Presentation Slides

Here is our presentation from today's AMATYC talk. After the slides are direct links to the articles shown in case any hyperlinks in the slides do not load correctly.



Articles referenced are as follows. Each includes data and information regarding pathways.

CCCSE report

California Acceleration Project report

Colorado Developmental Math report

Florida Developmental Math report

Montana Math Pathways report

New Mexico Math Pathways report






Thursday, November 10, 2016

Going to AMATYC?

Heather and I will be presenting next week at the AMATYC conference in Denver. We will be talking about where pathways are 5 years after their inception. We'll give our latest data, national updates, and many lessons we've learned through teaching the course for 5 years. We'd love to see you there!

Math Lit and Pathways: Five Years Later
Thursday November 17
10:20 - 11:10 am

Sunday, October 23, 2016

What's new?

Long time no blog! I've finally dug out of all the Math Lit 2nd edition items and got my classes to a good place for the fall. I've been doing lots of new things that I'll be blogging about. Using the second edition has been a lot of fun and has opened up the possibility of teaching the course online (which is going outstanding). I'll be blogging about the face-to-face and online versions and how those are going.

One big addition is a new Math Lit forum. There is a link above or to the right. To join, please request permission to join and tell me a little about yourself. I'll approve membership requests of faculty using or planning to use Math Lit to teach their math literacy course. Once approved, you can talk with other users about things that have been working for you, questions you have, and more. I'm excited to have this option to interact with other instructors of math literacy. Sharing ideas can benefit everyone.

In the upcoming weeks and months, I'll blogging on the following topics. I'll also add to the Math Lit forum.
  • Teaching Math Lit online
  • Using Learning Catalytics in course
  • How is the second edition of Math Lit different
  • Testing options
  • Focus problems

and more!


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ready-to-go Course ID Available for MML Homework Use (no text homework)

I've made an additional RTG course if you want to use MML only for homework and not the book in addition to MML. I took the other RTG course I made (see yesterday's blog post for more info) and added in the text homework Skills problems and text homework Concepts and Applications problems that are available. Not all of the C&Apps problems from the text are available but there are some of those problems in MML for every section. I'm thinking of making the ones that aren't in MML now as free response custom questions for my fall online Math Lit class. If that pans out and works well, I'll provide the course ID after the fall semester for those who want to copy that course.

The text Skills problems in the book are meant to test students on the MML problems without the use of help aids. To achieve this while still in MML, I removed Help Me Solve This and View an Example from each of the text Skills problems. You can add them back easily if you want.

To allow students to review for the test only inside of MML, I took the existing Cycle Wrap-Ups and added some Concepts and Applications problems (at least one from each section of the cycle). The vocabulary component is not included, so you may want to have students use the Wrap-Up in the book at the end of each cycle along with the MML assignment.

MML Only (No Book homework) RTG Course ID:  almy53543

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Ready-to-go Course ID Available for MML + Book Homework Use

Since a ready-to-go (RTG) course is not available for the book, I've created one by copying each sample homework and quiz within the course. They only need to be assigned to be used. To see the assignments, choose the Assignment Manager within the Course Tools tab.

The approach I took with this course is that of the way homework was used with the first edition: students start with skill-based exercises in MML and then finish their homework by doing all of the book homework problems for a section.

Each homework assignment in the RTG course has a selection of MML only problems for the section. We worked to make each sample assignment a reasonable length and not have any too long or too short. MML only problems are not in the printed book homework. They contain skill-based exercises for the section. With this approach to homework, students need to do the book homework after the MML homework so that they can work on the concepts and applications component of the section.

The RTG course has this construction for each cycle:

  • Homework for each section in the first half of the cycle with MML only problems
  • Mid-cycle quiz with one MML only problem and one Concepts & Applications problem for each section in the first half
  • Homework for each section in the second half of the cycle with MML only problems
  • Cycle Wrap-Up homework with MML only problems from the entire cycle to accompany the 5 step test review wrap-up in the book

Additionally, a prerequisite quiz (Getting Ready for Math Lit) is included to open the course.

I have not customized the tabs in the left navigation bar. The default is the book homework answers are hidden, but you can reveal that tab for students if you like. You can hide any tabs you don't want to use, organize tabs together, and add additional tabs if desired.

Please use any, all, or none of the homeworks and quizzes. Customize them to work for your needs. For most sections, there are additional MML only problems to choose if you want more practice. If you feel you do not have enough problems, consider adding testbank problems (available on 8/17/16) and/or adding problems from other texts. There are additional problems available in the Getting Ready for Math Lit appendix that can be used for prerequisite topics.

Also, you may want to copy the sample tests to provide students a practice test for studying purposes, even if you give paper tests in class.

MML + Book homework RTG Course ID:  almy04103


I'm also working on a RTG course that does not rely on book homework. It's taking me a little longer to do, so that course ID will be posted on this blog tomorrow.