Saturday, February 11, 2012

Considering Statway? Consider MLCS

Statway provides a two-semester integrated approach to statistics, taking a developmental learner to and through stats with developmental content addressed just-in-time.  It's a great idea and can work for students who definitely know they only need statistics for their math requirement and major.  The problem is that many developmental students are undecided in terms of their major, so nailing down the exact math requirements can prove challenging.

So what can be done?

MLCS (Mathematical Literacy for College Students) is like Carnegie's Quantway course.  Instead of two semesters, this one-semester course takes the student who places into beginning algebra and builds their mathematical maturity.  At the end of the course, they are ready for intermediate algebra, liberal arts math, or statistics.  Unlike Statway, there is a considerable number of algebra objectives addressed enabling the student to move into intermediate algebra upon completion.  But they're also able to move into more than one non-STEM course. 

This course design is deliberate in giving students options because it's possible that this student will change their mind and major at some point.  That decision may be as small as needing a liberal arts math class instead of statistics, but it's possible that they move to a field requiring much more math.  If they decide to go into a STEM route and need more algebra, they will only need one additional semester of it after MLCS.  For most students, MLCS reduces their time in developmental math to one semester and gets them into a credit bearing course upon completion.

What I have found that I like best about this course, beyond the fact that it accelerates the developmental sequence, is that it does it differently.  We know that this student has had algebra.  But what most of them do not have is an understanding of algebra, nor numbers for that matter.  They didn't retain the algebra they learned well enough to place out of it or use it.  So instead of repeating that process, we come at the course differently.  Our materials start with interesting problems that this student could encounter and explore them mathematically.  Everything integrates, everything connects.  And more than that, everything has an immediate use.  A topic need not be useful to be valuable, but when it is, motivation is much higher.  Motivation is a key component for success in developmental math so this is a helpful characteristic of the course.  And beyond that, it's fun for both the instructor and student.  Again, a course need not be fun to be successful, but it sure is nice when it is.

But what about statistics? 

One of our goals is that a student can go into a statistics course upon completion and be successful.  To get them ready, our approach is to take some of the key ideas they will learn in statistics and come at them conceptually and physically.  The idea is to take some time with these ideas that will be covered quickly in a statistics course so that students really grasp the intricacies.  For example, we work with means many times from many different perspectives.  That topic will be covered in 1 or 2 class periods in a stats class.  We see means throughout this course, each time differently, to explore them and go deeper with the concept.  We also explore weighted averages, medians, correlation, and variation.

Also, the approach to the course is to build mathematical maturity.  That includes being able to make and a read graphs, being able to read critically, being able to use percentages, and being able to use technology appropriately.  All of these skills factor into a building a strong base for a statistics course and all are present throughout the MLCS course.

Since there are many terrific statistics courses and books that exist, we do not aim to do statistics topics in MLCS as they would be done in a stats course.  They'll experience a college-level approach when they take a statistics course.  Instead, we approach statistics knowing that we have a developmental learner.  They need time to explore, see ideas in a hands-on way, and see them applied in accessible situations.  They won't be bored when they take a stats class.  Instead, they'll feel ready to take it on while being aware of some of the main ideas that will be explored deeply but also quickly.

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