Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Upcoming AMATYC webinar on transitional math

Hello!

As usual, it's been a while since I've posted. The position I have now directing the statewide rollout of transitional math in Illinois keeps me hopping. If you'd like to learn more about this approach to college readiness and placement that's being used around the country, not just in Illinois, please join me for an AMATYC webinar I'll be doing next week. The information is below. I hope to see you there!

AMATYC Webinar

Transitional Math: The Next Frontier in Developmental Math Pathways 

Speaker:  Kathleen Almy

Sponsoring Network:  Mathematics for Liberal Arts

Date:  Wednesday, August 15th

Time:  12:00 pm EDT / 11:00 am CDT / 10:00 am MDT / 9:00 am PDT

Description:  Transitional math courses, which are high school courses that provide seniors the preparation and placement for college level math, are taking off around the country. Illinois is scaling them using the approach and content of pathways courses like Math Literacy. Transitional math courses complement corequisite remediation and developmental math pathways to form a successful approach to developmental education. Attendees will learn about the course content and approach as well as the implementation model being used in Illinois, a local control state with significant numbers of community colleges and high schools.

Click here to register.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Making changes big and small

Happy New Year!

There have been many changes in my work in the last several months that I'd like to share. The biggest is that I'm no longer a full-time math professor at Rock Valley College. After a lot of thought, I've changed positions to being a mathematics research associate at Northern Illinois University. This change has happened slowly over time. For years, I've been involved at the state level on developmental math initiatives through committee and task force work. In 2016, Illinois signed into legislation the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act (PWR Act). This law has major impacts on high school to college transitions, one of which is transitional math. These are high school courses for seniors that upon successful completion guarantee the student placement into certain college-level math courses at any IL community college and some IL universities. That placement comes without a placement test. Without question, this is a huge change.

The State is committed to putting this legislation into place correctly and at scale. With 48 community colleges and almost 800 high schools, this is undoubtedly a huge project. I had been leading one of the statewide subcommittees related to the PWR Act in the first half of 2017, which evolved into me leading the work as part of a new position through NIU. I began full time at NIU in September. While I am adjunct math faculty at Rock Valley College, for the time being, my focus in not in the classroom, but instead on policy and practices that support the classroom. I still write for Pearson and soon I will begin working on my doctorate. So while my position has changed, the level of busyness continues. As my husband will tell you, I wouldn't have it any other way.

I'm very passionate about the transitional math project, its purpose, and its philosophy. It aligns with my work and goals completely. For years, I've been working to create ways for students to get to their college-level math courses more quickly but without compromising rigor or program integrity. That work has involved a lot of content and policy creation, with an emphasis on contextualized learning, often done actively in the classroom. Developmental math pathways and Math Lit were my major focus for years in that respect. But that work evolved after years of leading dev math reform of the traditional math courses in my department and then helping schools around the state and country do so as well. I've been consulting with colleges and universities for years as well as speaking and leading workshops on how to make effective changes. Doing so led to the creation of my business, Almy Educational Consulting, a few years ago. This work I'm involved in now marries all my previous experience in and out of the classroom into one position where I can support the goals of the State but also of colleges, administrators, and faculty alike. In short, it's work I love and believe in.

The approach Illinois is taking is unlike some other states' approaches. It's not a one-size-fits-all solution, but instead offers three transitional math courses, each of which is aligned to a meta major (STEM, quantitative literacy & statistics, or technical math). Non-STEM dev math pathways courses like math literacy are in that QL/stats transitional math frame in that their goal is college readiness with an emphasis on contextualized learning related to a student's outcome courses and fields. The STEM and technical math transitional math courses will also have that contextualized approach and align with college and careers. None of the transitional math courses is a re-purposed high school or traditional dev math college course like beginning or intermediate algebra. They all embody the goals of dev math pathways with active learning through problem solving as well as embedded emphasis on college knowledge. It's not about skill acquisition, but the ability to understand and use all the skills students learn.

While the largest component of my position is leading the transitional math work, I also work with co-requisite remediation efforts in IL. This is another approach that the State is committed to scaling. The efforts work together. In short, this is the approach IL wants to get to:

1.  Transitional math courses for high school students who would be candidates for dev math
2.  Co-requisite remediation for most college students, if appropriate
3.  Dev math pathways and other accelerated options for students who are not best served by co-req courses

The idea is to have students in as few semesters of dev math when they come to colleges in IL as possible. To make this happen, a lot of policy, professional development, and support have to happen. Asking schools to make this happen without that is not feasible. The State is committed to scaling all these efforts in a way that works. I'm working on this daily but I'm not alone. There are many people throughout my state at agencies, colleges and universities, and in policy-making groups supporting the work. It's exciting to see so many people work together for a common goal that will make real change in a positive way. Will it be perfect and without issues? No. But everyone working on this knows that and is committed to hearing where there are issues and addressing them as well as respecting existing work, since there is so much good work already going on.

For more information on the transitional math work, please check out this article I was interviewed for as well as our public commenting website. It contains documents, webinars, and more on the project. Additionally, here is my new contact information:

Kathleen Almy
Research Associate, Mathematics
Illinois Director for Transitional Math
Northern Illinois University
Center for P-20 Engagement  |  Division of Outreach, Engagement, and Regional Development
Rockford Campus  |  8500 E State Street Rockford, IL  61108
815-753-8803  |  kalmy@niu.edu

Here's to an exciting and hopeful 2018!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

AMATYC 2017 Presentation

Heather and I spoke at this year's AMATYC conference on teaching Math Lit online. I'm in my second semester of teaching it and have seen huge improvement in student and my satisfaction with the course. We're both experiences online teachers and have taught Math Lit face to face for 7 years, so it was important to us to take this pathways course to more course delivery models. Here are the slides.



Sunday, July 9, 2017

Teaching Math Lit online: Part 2

Earlier this year, I wrote about teaching the content in an online Math Lit course. In this post, I'll talk about homework, focus problems, tests, communication, making the content cohesive, challenges, and some thoughts about going forward with this course.

Homework

I had students do all of their homework in MML and not part in MML and part in the book the way I do with the face-to-face version of the course. I did this for simplicity and so that I could see all of their homework without needing more pages to be scanned and emailed to me. They could get feedback on all their homework problems immediately as well.

MML has plenty of skill-type problems to learn the skills. It also has the textbook homework's Skills problems (#1 and 2 of each book homework assignment). In the book, those are done to see if students can do a few of the skill-type problems without help aids. So in MML, those two problems don't have help aids. In the second edition of Math Lit, there were book Concepts and Applications problems added to MML for each section. Not all of those book problems are in MML yet. If there was a particular problem I really wanted students to do that wasn't in MML, I would make it into a custom question and hand grade them.

Students did the homework and scores were very good. Having frequent deadlines got students to work on the content each day. However, they didn't have as challenging homework as the
F2F students because they didn't have as many book homework problems. I figure that the online students had more of a challenge learning the content, giving them plenty of problem solving practice. In the end, I felt it evened out.


Focus Problems

I created a video to introduce the cycle and focus problem. It also included tips on the focus problem and information on how I wanted them to work on the problem with their groups. We used the groups feature of Canvas. Students could choose their own groups of 3 to 4 students. Each group had its own discussion board and way of talking to each other that only they and I could see (not the rest of the class). I encouraged them to use Collaborate (within Canvas) or Google Hangouts to meet synchronously at least once during the cycle. Within Canvas, I posted information every week about a work session they should do on the problem with their group. In class, I have multiple work sessions and have students try to make progress on the focus problem. I tried to do the same online but posting instructions relies on the students to read them and do those parts on their own.

Solving these problems in groups on top of all the other work they had became to be too much. Students didn't use the discussion boards as much as I hoped and most didn't use an online means of meeting. However, some did meet physically to work, which is just as good. The same F2F problems of someone slacking and groups waiting too long to start still occurred. One positive is that students got to know each other much more so through this part of the course than any other.

Tests

The course's assessments included focus problems (one per cycle - group grade), daily MML homework, discussions for the Explores, book pages to submit to show how they're working on the content, quizzes in MML, and tests in MML.

In MML, I provided them a practice test and the real test (which was taken proctored to ensure test integrity). The test included a skill problem and concepts & applications problem from each section of the cycle we covered. There was also a free response custom question on the focus problem to promote individual accountability. Tests were online so students could review their results easily. I added partial credit to their problems when possible since there wasn't a lot of partial credit in MML.

The outcome is that the tests may have been somewhat easier than a paper test my F2F students took. Although the tests were a little easier, other parts of the course were much more challenging than the F2F version. Again, in the end, I figured it evened out.


Communication

There was a tremendous amount of communication. I emailed and posted announcements almost daily to keep them on track and aware of what they should be doing. I also made short videos to explain how to do some tough Explores or challenging problems. There were videos to close the focus problems too so that students could have a debriefing experience like the F2F class has.

Making the content cohesive

Making a cohesive experience was a big challenge. I made videos to open each cycle to explain how the content they were going to learn fit together. I also regularly posted information explaining what the goal of content was that they were working on. In the future, I think having a short video for every section covered would help me make the points I need to so that they see how things fit together. 


Challenges

There were a lot of challenges, many of which I've mentioned. The biggest is that the course had a lot going on, a lot to do, and a lot to keep track of. Keeping things manageable for students was a constant challenge. As I mentioned, some things were easier in the online version than the F2F version while others were harder. I figure it balances out. The offerings don't have to be identical, but I feel they should be equivalent.

I lost a few students to withdrawals sooner than I do in the F2F version but once we got to our core group (which was most of the students who started), they all stayed till the end. And almost all of them passed. 


Going forward

I have lists of changes to make to simplify and streamline the course for me and students. One big suggestion I received was to have a synchronous session once a week, perhaps on each Monday night. There are online platforms that allow you to put students in online rooms where they can talk live to each other and the instructor can monitor the groups (just like in a F2F class). Sessions can count for attendance or participation points. If I use this approach, I'll have students do the Explores in the synchronous session and I'll talk about the goals of the week's content to make it more cohesive. I could also show how to do some troublesome problems. I think this step alone would make the course much better for everyone.

Using this approach, I would change the discussions to be on the Connects and not the Explores. Instead of fighting them on using the content of the section to solve the Explore problems, they could do that (which they're supposed to anyway) with the Connect problems. Also, I wouldn't do every Connect as a discussion. Just 1 or 2 a week would be enough.

If I don't use a synchronous session approach in the future, I'll make short videos for each section to build that cohesiveness in the content and guide them with the Explores. Again, they could do the Connects for the discussions.

The other main change I will make is to have them solve the focus problems on their own. It's so difficult doing those in groups in an online course on top of all the other components of the course. Doing them alone would ease a lot of stress on students. I might have an open discussion board where they could talk as a class on different points of the problem and get hints from each other.

Ultimately, it was a challenging but incredibly rewarding online class. I felt really connected to my students and they were connected to each other. That's something I rarely feel in an online algebra class. Yes, there are many tweaks to make but the main thing I learned is that the course can absolutely be offered successfully in an online environment.










Monday, March 13, 2017

Webinar recording now available

Recently I gave a webinar for Pearson about where we've come in the five years of teaching Math Lit. Please check out the recording if you'd like to see the webinar.

Math Lit and Pathways: 5 Years Later

After you enter some basic info, you'll have access to the recording.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Upcoming webinar: Pathways after 5 years

At the 2016 AMATYC conference, Heather and I gave a talk about where pathways and specifically the math lit course have gotten to in 5 years. We weren't able to get through all of our slides due to the discussion that occurred, which is a good problem to have. The attendees had lots of good questions and anecdotes to share. So if you attended our session and wanted to hear the rest of story or weren't able to attend and would like to see this talk, please go to this link to register for a webinar.

Webinar info:

Thursday February 23
2 - 3 pm CST

Math Lit & Pathways: 5 Years Later
Pathways courses in developmental math have evolved in the 5 years since their inception. In this webinar, lessons learned, problems, solutions, and data will be shared about Rock Valley College’s Math Lit course. Additionally, updates on how pathways are changing developmental math nationwide will be discussed. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Teaching a section of Math Lit: a video rundown

Since we're at the beginning of the semester, some instructors may be new to teaching a math literacy course. So I've made the following video walking through one specific section that I taught recently. There are tips throughout it. If you'd like to talk more about the video with questions or suggestions, please join the Math Lit instructor forum.

To enlarge the video, press Play and then click on the "full screen" icon in the lower right-hand corner of the screen.




Also, the next part in the series on teaching the course online is coming. I wanted to post this blog post before it because I thought it might be more timely and helpful.