Sunday, February 27, 2011

Algebra for all?

Part of the premise in creating the new Mathematical Literacy for College Students course is that intermediate algebra is not the only way to sufficiently prepare students for college level math.  And I would conjecture that intermediate algebra is not working.  But instead of reading my thoughts on this subject, please read an article from the president of NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics).  He is eloquent and articulate.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What's Happening? (part 2 of 2)

I've written in the past that I'm working with a colleague, Heather Foes, to create New Life's first course Mathematical Literacy for College Students (MLCS). This course is a part of the Mathway (now called Quantway) initiative that the Carnegie Foundtion is funding.  Carnegie is also funding a larger initiative known as Statway. 

Since that family tree is somewhat confusing, here's a primer to clarify:

Mathway or Quantway is the idea of having a path to certain college level non-STEM classes.  A course in that path is called MLCS.  Carnegie is developing materials for the 8 grant schools in Quantway.  We are developing the course as well but are not funded by Carnegie nor a grant institution.  Heather and I have been working on the development of this course for our school and state since Februrary 2010 and I've been a part of the New Life/Mathway initiative since July 2009. Our progress continues and I'm excited to share more.

Our plan, just like our school's redesign, is best described in one word: comprehensive.  Meaning, we're looking at every facet of making this course work from materials, implementation, articulation, faculty training, and assessment.  No stone is being left unturned.  This course has such potential that it's my main goal to make it successful.  We are not assuming that only the strongest or most experienced faculty will teach it but instead strive to make it work anywhere with any faculty.

Materials are still being written. We'll have very rough drafts ready for our 2-section pilot in fall 2011. Anyone interested in reviewing materials can email me for more information. I've had requests from schools to pilot with us and logistically, we haven't been able to make that happen for fall 2011.  However, testing lessons with us is an option during fall 2011 and beyond so again, email if you're interested.  In fall 2011, it may just be a few lessons that another school could try.  As time passes, it's our goal to have more available that others could try out.

To assist the pilot and materials, we are using MyMathLab for skill development and a course management system.  This is not a skill based course and the materials make that clear.  However, there are points where a student learns a skill in a larger context and needs an efficient and effective way to practice and improve that skill.  MML is superb at that task.  Faculty sometimes have concerns that MML is too skill based and does not have enough conceptual development.  We develop concepts throughout the course and have many paper and pencil assignments to facilitate that development.  So we've teamed tools together and used them for their best features. 

The master course syllabus is complete and approved by our school's curriculum committee. We're testing it as a 6 credit course. Stay with me here. Our materials are written with flexibility so that schools, if interested in them, could have a 4 or 5 credit course. 6 credits will not be necessary everywhere.  However, we erred on the side of more time initially and will reduce credit hours as needed. The reasoning for that number has to do with being in Illinois. We're a state that has an intermediate algebra prerequisite. So our course outline has some additional topics for state requirement reasons.  5 credit hours will most likely suffice to develop that content well.  If you are in a state that doesn't require intermediate algebra for statistics or general education math, you could create a 4 credit course and use 4 of the 5 units being written.

What's the content like?

We're creating an integrated curriculum that's built on solving problems through a mathematical lens.  Instead of "here's a skill and several variations to practice that are like it", Heather and I have been researching and noting problems our students will encounter everywhere and building them into a lesson format. It's not prescriptive nor built as a stack of skills. We start with an interesting situation or question that they could face and work them through solving it. As things come up that they don't know how to do, we develop the theory necessary to continue. We've spent over a year now just determining the structure, sequence, and pedagogy so that the progession of content is interesting, natural, and understandable. Our initial idea for materials had several workbooks that jumped around from activities to theory to student success to skills. That didn't work. There's assessment for you. So we changed our format to be linear even though the content isn't. The materials are in order in the way they would be used with all content in one place, no jumping around required. 

I've written a course outline for this course (5-6 credit hours) for the state of Illinois.  IMACC's Curriculum Committee will be reviewing the course this year.  If approved, it will go to a vote of ISMAA-IMACC at some later date.  We will be assessing both students and the course this fall and then track outgoing students in their follow-up courses.  That data will be presented to IMACC and ISMAA as well. 

Without question, the course is rigorous, just as much as a combined beginning and intermediate algebra course.  However, the content is different.  Just as statistics and college algebra can have similar rigor, their content is wildly different.  It stands to reason that their preparation could also differ.  This new course is more appropriate for a student who's placed into beginning algebra but is not sure what math to start in or knows when they start that they are working on a non-STEM program or degree.  We have a plan in place if students change their major and decide to go for the STEM route.  They would only need one additional course after MLCS so that change of mind has minimal consequences in terms of time. 

In the next month I'll be working on the advising and advertising piece at our school since fall semester registration starts in April.  We'll also advise within the course to ensure students know their options after the course and the difference in the course approach over traditional beginning and intermediate algebra.

Our first presentation is next month at the IMACC conference in Monticello, IL. Heather and I will present the course, implementation plan, and a sample lesson.  It is my goal to be able to present to faculty (IL and elsewhere) this fall or early next spring a successful implementation plan using the steps we're taking now as a model.

As this year and project continues, I'll be adding more to this blog about the project.

What's Happening? (part 1 of 2)

While my blogging has been slow to non-existant, the world of developmental math and reform has not.  Here's a look at current goings-on and more about my projects.

1.  After the Boston AMATYC conference, I assumed the role of chair of the Developmental Math Committee for AMATYC.  I'm really excited about this opportunity to work with faculty around the country on a subject so important.  We have a new website with a Google groups discussion board.  Anyone can look at either and is free to join one or both.  We have several projects underway such as a position paper project on the role of intermediate algebra, a webinar series in the design phase, the New Life project, and a commitment to building a redesign resource bank.  Check us out at:

It's not perfect or extensive yet but it will improve and grow throughout this year.  As I mention on the site, I welcome additions so feel free to send me something for it.  I'll add it and credit you.

2.  My work with other colleges continues.  This blog has several resource documents that I provide to schools embarking on redesign of their developmental courses.  I recently gave a webinar on our redesign that was similar to the talk I gave at AMATYC in November.  Click here for a link to info about my session.  That link will soon be updated with a recording of the talk.  The PowerPoints are available at the left called  Best Practices:  Lessons Learned on the Road to Redesign. 

Additionally, I work with schools on a one-on-one basis to assist them getting started in redesign or answer their questions along the way.  It's not that our school cornered the market or "fixed" developmental math.  But we worked our way through our program, looking at every facet, and fixing what was broken.  Our model is an example of what Hunter Boylan describes in his book What Works: Research-Based Best Practices in Developmental Education.  It's not necessarily fast or glamorous but it is effective if you're looking to improve the traditional developmental path.  It also serves as an example of improvement that doesn't rely on having all students working self paced in a lab setting.  Those models exist and are effective for some but not all schools have the resources or interest in pursuing them.

Some schools want something altogether different than making the traditional courses work better.  If that's you, check back for part 2 of this update which will chronicle the new course being developed Mathematical Literacy for College Students.