Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pilot Recap, Week 1: They don't know what they want

This week began the pilot of the MLCS course in the Quantway path at my school.  My colleague and co-author, Heather Foes, and I each teach a section and sit in on each other's class.  We're writing the materials for the course and using MyMathLab for skill homework only. The bulk of homework and all of the assessments are applications or conceptual questions and done on paper.  We are using objectives from Carnegie's Quantway course Mathematical Literacy for College Students but are not funded by the foundation. 

It's been an exhilarating and exhausting week.  The course is something out of everyone's comfort zone for sure.  Heather noted on Monday that it's definitely quicker and easier to lecture the whole time.  You talk, they write, you move through the material.  And based on our student's reactions, that's what they expected and sometimes seem disappointed by.  Where's the lecture?  Funny, when we had some mini-lectures, they didn't look all that elated.

It's been surprising to see so many students wanting the traditional class format.  It makes sense on one level because it's familiar.  But when given that format, as math teachers know, students complain that there's not enough time to work with the concepts, that they're bored, and that there's no point to the content.  So color us surprised to give them relevant and applicable content with time to delve into the concepts and make connections and they're not much happier.  They really don't know what they want.

We had an interesting problem this week where we showed a concept being taught two ways and then studied the approaches.  Nearly every student liked the straightforward, "here's the rule approach" over the conceptual one that ended up with a rule.  But when we did some applications afterwards and asked them how they got the answer, no one said they used the rule.  When pressed to verbalize their thought processes, they would start to explain how they thought through the problem and then arrived at the answer.  When we pointed out that the rules approach is efficient but can be lacking if you don't remember it or know how to apply it, there was definitely an "aha" moment.  Again, what they think they want and what they actually use and need don't mesh.

Reading this you may think it has not be a successful week.  On the contrary, it's been a positive experience so far and I have real hope for something significant to occur this semester.  Students were engaged, talking in groups, and working through the problems well.  They've done a prerequisite skill module in MyMathLab to address any holes in their arithmetic knowledge and they're doing well with all the class expectations.  Heather and I have been pleasantly surprised with that.  They've done what we asked and then some but there has been the occasional, "this isn't what I expected with a math class" comment.  It's just an adjustment on everyone's parts that will ease as we progress in the course.  On the up side, Heather and I have said for over a year that we want to do something truly different in developmental math.  Based on everyone's reactions to date, I believe we are succeeding.

On another positive note, there's a lot to be said for an integrated approach.  By the time we get to theoretical rules and skills, they've had enough time to process what we're doing since the development of content is gradual.  This week alone, they've seen fractions, percents, ratios, rates, spreadsheets, generalizing calculations, and models.  We haven't done every facet of each of those topics but we do some in each unit and continue that approach doing more and going deeper over time.  I'm cautiously optimistic that the comprehension will be better as well as application of concepts and skills since every skill that is developed is applied immediately and repeatedly in different contexts.

I videoed the class yesterday and will post it soon with explanation of a typical class period.  Look for that in the days to come.

Back to planning and writing...

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