Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pilot Recap Week 7: What's STEM got to do with it?

One of the first reasons for implementing the MLCS course was the desire to tailor the traditional developmental math curriculum and move away from the one-size-fits-all approach.  There is a large sector of the community college population who are not STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) bound.  Many students want an Associates in Arts degree of which typically has a statistics or general education math requirement.  I believe, as do many other faculty members, that intermediate algebra is overkill on certain topics for these students but that it is light on topics they will need.  So MLCS has been a great option (so far) for this population. 

However, an interesting discovery was made this week.  Heather has a strong background in science with a degree in chemistry in addition to mathematics as well as a specialty in physcial chemistry.  Watch her teach and you'll see it's clearly a love.  I respect and value science but favored pure mathematics when I was a graduate student.  We wanted to blend these loves into the MLCS course by inserting mathematical theory when it made sense but in an accessible way.  So far, that's been fun.  We've shown students why we need negative numbers, zero, fraction, percents, decimals, irrational numbers, and even complex numbers.  We've gotten at ideas of proof, again in unexpected ways.  That's just a sample of the math side.  For the science side, we are embedding lessons and problems throughout that have a scientific focus.  This week we worked on ions and atoms, finding the numbers of protons and electrons based on the charge.  Next week, we'll be balancing chemical equations and in the next unit, the majority of lessons have a science flair.

The discovery was for us more than our students.  We realized how much science we are bringing in which is so valuable to students regardless of their future paths.  Those who will major in non-STEM areas need to know more about STEM fields and have scientific literacy as well as math literacy.  For our students who will head towards STEM fields, which is a fair number, they are getting their feet wet in situations that aren't contrived but are very real.  They're also getting a preview of topics to come in their science courses with time to understand the math behind those topics.  By the end of this course, students will have seen a wide variety of topics from biology, chemistry, and physics. 

Additionally, we are doing some STEM recruitment as well. We have a lesson that will allow students to study STEM fields in terms of their earning potential, unemployment rates, and skills necessary (both math/science related and not). These fields are so valuable to the U.S., so we want students to have a chance to see what they entail, that they are interesting, and that they have strong salaries to boot.

Just something unexpected in this process. I'm not sure why I'm still surprised by things like this but I am. This process has been so organic and non-linear. The act of discovery and problem solving, like we use in mathematics, is a very satisfying thing. Not easy, but incredibly fun.

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