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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Math Lit Webinar This Week

This Wed I'll be doing a webinar about pathways and the Math Lit course. It will be recorded and posted to my blog at a later date.

Math Literacy for College Students (MLCS), part of the AMATYC’s New Life and Carnegie’s Quantway initiatives, creates a new experience and alternate pathway in developmental math. It offers an innovative and accelerated way to redesign that uses integrated contextual content and technology to prepare a developmental student for a statistics or liberal arts math class. This session will describe the course, content, and approach, as well as data from Rock Valley College’s four year pilot and implementation. 

When: October 7, 2015, 4pm EST
Registration and Information: Click Here to Learn More and Register


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Do we still need beginning algebra?

After teaching a math literacy (MLCS) course for four years while still teaching traditional beginning algebra courses, I've begun to really question the role of a traditional beginning algebra course for developmental students at the college level. Currently, my college uses the following approach to incorporate our math literacy course:

The advantage to this approach is that it's not too radical. Students and instructors alike can stay with what they know or they have the option to do something different. It invites changes rather than forces it. And for that reason, it's been a very good way to go for us. Our school undertook a massive redesign in 2009 which we mandated. Adding more change with a new course while taking away courses instructors have now become comfortable with would not have gone over well. Anyone who has worked with redesign knows that redesign doesn't happen in a vacuum; it happens because of people who work and support it. So buy-in matters tremendously.

The disadvantage is that this approach maintains the status quo, which is a traditional path that I'm not convinced works anymore, if it ever did. It's easy to think, "I took algebra and I'm a math teacher so it obviously worked." But that's not actually true in the majority of cases. If you're a math professor like me, you probably took algebra in junior high and high school. I've never taken developmental algebra at the college level as an adult. And that difference is massive. I didn't take the course after years of frustration with math classes and possibly a full time job and family. I honestly didn't care that the "two trains" and "coins in the pocket" problems were wholly unrealistic. They were formulaic and therefore often not that challenging. I saw those problems as "types" and learned the algorithm to get through them.

An adult student, whether they are 18 years old or much older, is seeing this content at a pace that's twice as fast than the first time they saw it years prior in high school. And with the adult mindset they have that almost always includes the perspective from the workplace, they question why anyone cares about coins or a myriad other topics we teach. As they start to question the point of the content along with the frustration they have learning the content, they lose motivation quickly. And if it's a bad enough experience, they stop taking math and sometimes stop going to college altogether.

A depressing reality too many of us see all too often.

Although my goal for my beginning algebra students is to gain basic algebraic knowledge AND the ability to use that knowledge, that doesn't often happen. Students who pass the tests are able to do exactly that: pass tests. They know the "how's" but the "when" and "why" are lacking. The reason for that is the curriculum and approaches we use.  We focus on teaching a litany of skills, testing on them, and then lather/rinse/repeat. Students don't see the content as connected and therefore are usually not able to transfer what they learn to a different context or problem.

In the last year or two, I've seen some schools going to this flowchart instead:

Because the math literacy course we teach is chock full of algebra, students get enough algebra with this approach. They can transition to intermediate algebra and continue to gain more algebraic skills. But what they have that is different than the student coming from a beginning algebra class is the ability to think critically, solve problems (not just exercises) that may be closed or open, and apply their knowledge to other areas. In other words, they learn how to learn and how to use everything they learn.

Having all developmental math students who place at the beginning algebra level start with MLCS instead of beginning algebra provides a solid base for students in terms of content and what we expect college students to do with content, that is, use it. Yes, they'll get lots of beginning algebra skills, but it's what they can do with those skills that matters. Do my beginning algebra students see more skills than MLCS students do?  Yes.  But how many of the skills do they actually retain and understand well enough to use in the next course?  I would wager it's far fewer than an MLCS student.

But there's one more reason I see this new flowchart as the better way to go:  motivation. Students starting college at the beginning algebra level are often depressed by the courses they have to repeat and how far they have to go before getting college credit. Starting in MLCS shows them something different that is not high school, v2. They see relevant content and different content. Anything familiar is still done differently. And upon successful completion of the course, they're eligible for a credit bearing course, something most beginning algebra students in the U.S. are not.

Radical approach? Yes.  But ultimately, it can and does work. Isn't that the point of developmental education, to be effective?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Instructor video support in Math Lit

Heather and I offer training to schools and faculty who request it as they implement a math literacy course using Math Lit.  However, there may be times when you want something quick instead of a day long seminar.  Perhaps you're new to the course and want an overview.  Or maybe you have a new adjunct who wants to understand how the course works.

We made a series of 12 brief instructor videos to address these needs.  They are housed within the MyMathLab course in a tab called Instructor Resource Videos.  They are also provided as links within the preface.

The twelve videos are:

A Typical Day
Book Structure
Focus Problems
Lesson Features
Cycle Wrap-Up
Teaching with Excel
Tour of MyMathLab
Top 10 Tips
Instructor Support

Take a look at A Typical Day.

For more information on instructor support available, check out Math Lit's website.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Why pathways?

Pathways like Math Literacy (MLCS) continue to be an option that many colleges and universities are adding to their developmental math programs.  If you’re new to pathways or your college is pursuing them, you may wonder, “what’s all the fuss?”  Here are some reasons pathways are a great option for developmental math students.

1.  Pathways create a new, useful experience in developmental math.

Pathways courses aren’t about high school all over again.  Instead students encounter new content and some old content but done in new ways.  Problems are set in contexts that students will encounter in their lives, jobs, and classes.  The methods are built for adult learners and address their unique needs and issues.

     2.  Pathways are relevant.

I don’t have students asking me “when will I ever use this?”  They know the answer to the question because they see it answered with every section we cover.  Math Literacy doesn’t have content for the sake of history, but instead content that is necessary for problems we will solve.

       3.  Pathways build college readiness.

Pathways courses ask a lot of developmental students.  These students have to read, infer, interpret, apply, and understand the content they learn.  They have to communicate it to other students verbally and in print.  They are expected to write regularly, including explanations.  It’s not enough to be able to do a skill.  They have to understand that skill and know how to use it in new situations they haven’t seen before.

     4.  Pathways work.

We have a lot of data showing that the traditional developmental algebra courses do not work.  They may be comfortable to many faculty, but they don’t work for students.  The pass rates in them and after them aren’t great.  When students move from intermediate algebra to statistics, they are usually surprised and instead feel unprepared.  A course about reasoning and nonstop word problems that aren’t “types” isn’t what they’ve have been doing for years. 

Pathways course, on the other hand, do have data to support that they work.  Students by and large pass them.  And once they pass and enroll in a college-level course, they usually pass it too.  Not only are they passing, but they’re prepared for college-level coursework and expectations. 

To learn more about pathways course like Math Literacy, please check the top of the page for several links to helpful information.  You can also check out this webinar.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

ICTCM - New Math Lit talk

Next month, Heather and I will be presenting at ICTCM in Las Vegas.  We have a new talk about using Excel in pathways courses.  The talk we originally had planned, on using hybrid and online formats with pathways courses, has been put on hold until a later date.  We continue to work on ways to make Math Lit work in alternate formats.  More information will be coming at a later date on that front.  Until then, please come see us at ICTCM if you're coming to the conference.  This is the talk we'll be giving.  It will showcase several new problems and activities.

Beyond Algebra:  Using Excel to Build Understanding in a Pathways Course 

Pathways courses use rich, realistic problems to apply concepts and increase problem solving skills.  Instead of focusing exclusively on algebraic techniques, this session will show ways to use Excel to develop deeper understanding. Sample activities and problems will be shared.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

AMATYC 2014 Presentation: Tips and Tricks for Implementing a Math Literacy Course

Here are the slides from the presentation I did with Dan Petrak at AMATYC last week.  He has used Math Lit at his school for their math literacy course for two years.  He's in his third year of teaching the course.  Their implementation is large scale, across several campuses and with many instructors (full time and adjuncts).

Friday, November 14, 2014

Math Literacy training - AMATYC 2014

Below is the presentation Heather and I gave today at AMATYC as a training session for teaching a math literacy course.  There is information on the philosophy of the course, how lessons are taught, how we use MyMathLab, teaching tips, ideas for groupwork, and ideas for grading.

If you would like more information on the points in the presentation, please check out our ready-to-go MyMathLab course.  In it are 12 instructor videos where we explain many of the topics discussed in the presentation below.  Those videos can be used as a virtual training.

If you are interested in us coming to your school to train your faculty, please email me.