Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Pathways MOOC Update and Florida Legislation on Remedial Math

Yesterday was the first day of the pathways MOOC that I'm teaching with Heather on Canvas.  Registration is still open if you'd like join.  Follow this link to register.  Here's a picture of the front page of the course:

The course is already active.  I hope to see that activity level continue to grow.  It's fun and informative to talk with other educators and learn from each other. Somewhere we reached a tipping point about developmental math education in the U.S.  It's still a challenge to pilot pathways courses like MLCS in some schools and states but those walls are coming down all the time. It's not that algebra isn't important; it's that it's not the only thing that is important.

Related to pathways, I read an article in the Orlando Sentinel recently about changing legislation on remedial education. It reminded me very much of the changes in Connecticut.  The idea is that we are preventing students from taking college level courses and that with enough support, they can be successful.  Again, if you've taught developmental math and worked with adults who function in terms of reading and math at the 4th grade level, you know that putting them in statistics and just going slower with more tutoring isn't going to make them succeed.  I wish it were so, but it just isn't.  As math teachers, we've all seen students take a course repeatedly and fail it repeatedly.  We know that if they just went back and took the prerequisite course, they would save time and money in the course they're struggling with. You can sit me in a thermodynamics class and go really, really slow and I'm still not likely to pass it because I do not have the foundation skills and knowledge needed for that course.  That is a fundamental truth about some developmental students that has to be addressed and not ignored.  But that's not true for all students.  That is why we need a variety of options for developmental students because one size does not fit all.

One part of the article was encouraging, though:

"Those who take do remedial courses starting in 2014 will be given more options for getting help getting on track, including remedial classes with accelerated schedules. Colleges must submit plans for restructuring their programs to the state by March and make those changes by fall 2014."

Pathways courses like MLCS qualify as a  class with an accelerated schedule.  Most students nationwide who place into developmental math, place into beginning algebra.  That allows them to take MLCS.  And the course is one and done.  Meaning it's one semester. And after it, students can take the commonly required college level math courses like statistics and quantitative literacy.

I believe there are workarounds for other students in developmental math.  For students who don't place into beginning algebra, they could be put in bridge programs using products like MyFoundationsLab.  Not to learn the entire math sequence as an emporium model does, but instead to get the knowledge needed to take a course like MLCS.  Bridge programs do not count as courses, but do fall under placement, something the legislators want to improve as well.

For students headed to the STEM track but who still need intermediate algebra, that content could be integrated with college algebra and possibly make both courses better by making one, strong college level course.  Right now, we go so deep into some skills in intermediate algebra that really don't necessitate that for success in college algebra.  We could cut out some of the overly complicated problems for favor of getting the big idea and being able to use it (a philosophy we use in MLCS) and then move into the college algebra topics where the skill is actually used.  Let students learn the content at an appropriate level and then show them why we taught it.  We could also dramatically reduce the overlap between intermediate algebra and college algebra.  This is related to an idea we use in our college's traditional algebra redesign:  cut out overlap and spend more time on each topic, encouraging mastery and understanding.

All is not lost, but some creative thinking is needed to make things work for all developmental math students.

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