Saturday, February 4, 2012

MLCS & Presentation Update

Another week of MLCS and it was a good one.  Students remarked that their initial conjectures about the course were wrong.  Some thought group work would be a waste of time, but have found that talking about math and hearing how others think is actually very enlightening.  Some were pleasantly surprised that they could learn so much without a teacher standing at the board the entire time writing notes.  One student remarked that she felt she was learning more with our approach. 

We do have direct instruction, but it doesn't dominate the class period.  I would say the breakdown between it and group work is about 50/50.  That time in groups helps students investigate, practice, and solidify concepts. 

I'm also seeing a trend:  it takes right around 2 weeks to get student buy-in.  But most if not all will buy-in.  I've heard many instructors comment that is a fear, that students won't go for a course that's not in the traditional format.  And we did feel that at first in the fall semester.  But getting the materials and policies of the course into a good place has made a tremendous difference.  If your course structure has some routine, is stable, and is well organized, students will tolerate different approaches to instruction.  They won't if everything feels new, but they will if the new facets are in a tolerable amount and they find them valuable.

One takeaway I've continually had is that students are capable of learning real mathematics.  Yes, we can teach them skills.  But we can teach them more:  how to apply the skills, how to connect concepts, how to understand and solve complex problems.  And it's rewarding for the student and the faculty member to do so.  I find the class flies by, that we're always busy with discussion or problem solving.  Students have remarked the same.

One issue we've had since the course started is with tutoring.  When our students go to a tutor to get help, they sometimes get the reaction, "why are they doing it that way?  It would be so much faster to ...."  For example, why do we teach students to scale a fraction like 12/40 down to 6/20 and then up 30/100 instead of using cross multiplication [12/40 = x/100] or the calculator if we want a percent?  Well, we do use the calculator,when it makes sense.  And we do use algebraic solving methods for proportions when they make sense.  But often, those methods make math seem mysterious and dependent on technology or rules.  Technology and algebra are valuable, so we pull them out of our toolbox when they are needed.  We want students to build numeracy.  To do so, they need to work with numbers all the time in various ways and often, in their head.  It's like a muscle; the more they work at it, the better their agility with numbers will become.

Also, when students learn "tricks" or rules without understanding, they do not retain them nor can they apply them.  This course is about retention and application so our first means of getting there is understanding.  Yes, it sometimes takes longer and requires some thought, but that time and process is valuable.  Students gain confidence that they can work through a tough problem and they learn more about the topic while they're at it.

As we often say, there's a method to our madness.

I'm gearing up for the presentation trail again.  Here's an update:

February 16:  MLCS Workshop at Triton College
February 24:  Redesign presentation in San Antonio
February 25:  Panel discussion on MLCS in IL (Southwestern Illinois College)
February 28:  MLCS Worskhop at Wright College
March 2:  Redesign webinar for Pearson
March 17:  Cherry Blossom Congress keynote
March 24:  MLCS Presentation at ICTCM (Orlando)
March 30:  MLCS Presentation at IMACC (Monticello, IL)

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