Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Math Lit FAQ: Is there enough algebra in Math Lit for students to be successful in intermediate algebra?

Answer:  Yes!

Math Lit was designed to have a substantial amount of algebra so that students have multiple options after the course, including intermediate algebra.  Most of our students do not head that way, but those who do are successful.  Math Lit has almost all of the beginning algebra skills except for trinomial factoring and solving/graphing linear inequalities.  Even though most MLCS students take general education math or statistics after the course, they can transition to intermediate algebra if they so desire.  They do not have to go back to beginning algebra.

Because some states have stringent intermediate algebra requirements, more algebra topics were incorporated into our book to allow schools to include the topics they need.  Systems, rational functions, radical functions, quadratic functions, and exponential functions are included.  The approach to all of these topics that are at the intermediate algebra level is one of modeling and application, not symbolic manipulation.  Students who go to a traditional intermediate algebra class after MLCS have seen all of these ideas at a deeper level and just get the additional manipulation skills necessary for STEM courses.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Math Lit FAQ: How is MLCS different than Quantway, Statway, and the New Mathways Project?

Pathways courses:
  • include Math Literacy for College Students (MLCS), Quantway, Statway, and the New Mathways Project.
  • create alternative routes to or through college-level math courses, especially non-STEM courses.
  • look forward to college needs instead of backward to high school deficiencies.
  • emphasize critical thinking and problem solving.
  • integrate college knowledge and student success into the course.
  • use online homework for skill development and paper homework for concept development.
  • use authentic problems and contextualized learning.

Where the differences lie are the execution and philosophy.

Quantway and Statway are part of the Carnegie Foundation's pathways initiative.  The New Mathways Project (NMP) from University of Texas-Austin's Dana Center is a pathways initiative that includes a Foundations course at the developmental level as well as college level courses in both STEM and non-STEM.  Each foundation has its own policies and protocols for member schools.  Membership sometimes has a monetary cost associated with it, which can be substantial for a college.  Other times, a member school is asked to contribute lessons, data, feedback, etc.  Membership requirements for schools depend on the foundation and the level at which a school wants to work with a foundation.  Options are available to provide flexibility for schools.  Additionally, member colleges become part of a network that allows faculty to talk to one another through collaboratories.  Training is also included.

MLCS is part of AMATYC's New Life initiative, which initially worked with both the Carnegie Foundation and the Dana Center.  So the objectives of Quantway, the NMP's Foundations course, and MLCS are very similar.  However, MLCS does not require a school to sign a contract or commit to a timeline.  Instead, they have independence.  But with that independence comes some additional tasks.  They must find their own materials and training, if desired.  They do not become a member of collaboratory.  So they will need to establish a network within their school or with other piloting schools if they wish to have faculty communicating with each other.  Because there are so many schools teaching MLCS, this is not difficult to do as it might have been a year or two ago.

MLCS is highly adaptable, ranging from 3 to 6 credit hours and replacing beginning algebra or beginning and intermediate algebra with the option of geometry as well.  We chose this course because we believed in the concept of pathways but needed to adapt the course to our state's requirements.  To secure a pilot and get state-level approval, we had to be able to modify the objectives and content.  Also, an intermediate algebra requirement exists in many states and can heavily affect articulation.  Since the MLCS objectives and curriculum were built by faculty from various states, its course outline can flex to address that requirement.  Other pathways courses have a defined curriculum and credit hour requirement.

The philosophies are different too.  MLCS is about taking a developmental student to college level throughout a semester.  When it begins, the content is at the low beginning algebra level but progresses as high as a school wants, potentially to the high intermediate algebra difficulty level if desired.  Other pathways courses feel like a college level quantitative literacy or statistics course with just-in-time remediation on algebra topics as needed.  We make algebra a focus in MLCS for a couple of reasons.  Many students in the course haven't seen much algebra.  Those who have taken it often have large holes in their understanding.  But beyond both of those concerns, students need options after the course.  MLCS students have the option of quantitative literacy, liberal arts math, or statistics after the course.  Including a significant amount of algebra allows a student to move to intermediate algebra if they want to bridge over to a STEM track.  Without that algebra, they would have to go back to beginning algebra if they change their mind, as is the case with Quantway and Statway.

Pathways courses usually include student success facets with the content in some way, but the execution varies.  The NMP Foundations course includes student success aspects but is also recommended to be paired with a student success course.  Doing so requires students to take two courses simultaneously.  We integrated the student success component into MLCS content for many reasons but a big one was logistics.  Pairing courses is a logistical challenge, to say the least.  It requires more advising and has more issues with scheduling faculty to teach them and registering students. Keeping all that content within the MLCS course simplifies things considerably.  It also gives the student success content more meaning because the content is not separate.  It's developed along with mathematical content, allowing students to use math to analyze various aspects of college success.

That idea of practical logistics is a key difference with MLCS and other pathways courses.  MLCS was developed by the faculty who were teaching it.  Every lesson we have in our book, Math Lit, has been tested repeatedly by us in our classrooms and with many class testers around the country.  You learn so much when you teach something yourself.  Our materials are the only ones on the market taught by all the authors.  There are many materials packages becoming available now written by very talented people who are not in the classrooms where the material is taught.  Occasionally, an instructor is also an author but it is not the norm.  That makes a big difference.  We know the developmental student because we teach them every day.  We also know issues that colleges have with articulation, scheduling, adjuncts, resources, and the like.  So we wrote materials with those issues in mind.  Additionally, it's not necessary to have a Ph.D. in educational theory to use our materials and teach the course successfully.  Our intent was that major amounts of training and collaboration would not be necessary.  Yes, they are helpful but they are also hard to come by when working with large numbers of adjuncts, something that is typical of most college math departments.

The work and research that foundations do is valuable and necessary for success with this initiative.  But foundations are just one necessary facet of a monumental change like this one.  It also takes the practitioners from all around the country to make a course work outside of an educational lab and inside a college classroom.  It takes the major publishers getting on board to create materials that faculty can use in ways they are accustomed to, such as having MyMathLab for online homework.  To my knowledge, there has yet to be a grant-based or foundation-based initiative that scaled on its own.  The statistics reform movement has had the most success for an initiative scaling but it too was supported by all the major publishers, not just grants or organizations.  Similarly, the Common Core is starting to take off because commercial materials to support its implementation are available.

All of these components (foundations, grants, publishers, and practitioners) are working together to create lift off for the pathways movement.  No one person, organization, or method is enough.  And no one execution will work for all schools or states.  Options are a good thing.  Regardless of the approach, we are working for a common objective.  How we do that differs but ultimately we are all committed to same goal:  meaningful and sustainable change in developmental mathematics education.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

FAQ: Do you offer training for MLCS using Math Lit?

Answer:  Yes!

Heather and I provide numerous ways to train faculty to teach a Math Literacy course using Math Lit.  We wrote the book and supporting materials so that training is not a requirement for using the materials successfully.  Several schools using the book have done so without training.  To see all of the instructor supports available, check out this blog post from August.  At the time of that post, the information was "coming soon," but now all of the supports are available.

Some faculty prefer training to gain a sense of the classroom culture and common issues as well as have a way to have specific questions for their school answered.  To address this request, we tailor professional development to meet your needs and timeline.  We can provide any of the following:

  • List of suggested lessons to cover to meet your course objectives and credit hour goals
  • Calls and webinars before and during piloting to answer questions
  • Face-to-face workshops (1/2 day, full day, or multiple days) for in-depth training
  • Training videos within MML (coming soon)

We offered a MOOC this past summer and learned much from that.  The key takeaway for us is that faculty would like a training course that is more like the Khan academy in that they would watch videos and complete assignments but would not have to interact with other faculty unless they desired to do so.  The MOOC this summer that we taught was an online course about pathways courses as opposed to a training course to teach them.

We are working on more online training for the future to address that request.  In the meantime, we can provide face to face training or webinars if travel is an issue.

Please contact us if you would like to set up training.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Math Lit FAQ: Do I have flexibility using Math Lit?

Answer:  Absolutely!

Since the beginning of the pathways movement, there has been an emphasis on using new pedagogy with developmental math students.  But doing so is unfamiliar to many instructors.  Because of that, we incorporated a lot of instructor support into the Math Lit book at every level:  course, cycle, and lesson.  Throughout the lessons, there are suggestions for teaching with groups or as a whole class, how much time for each part of a lesson, tips for teaching, and questions to consider asking.  We created tests, quizzes, rubrics, project templates and a ready-to-go MyMathLab course based on requests from class testers.  This level of support is provided to address direct requests we received for teaching with a new style.

However, some faculty see that level of support and would prefer to not use all of it all of the time.  Heather and I fall into that category and many faculty will too.  You are in charge of your classroom and you know your students and your style.  So you will have ideas on how you want to proceed and it's not necessarily going to match our suggestions.  That's great and to be expected because the book is not a script.

To give instructors who desire more assistance what they need, we have a lot of stepped out problems on the page.  If someone needs that and it's not there, they don't necessarily want to create it on the fly.  For the person who doesn't want it, we suggest ignoring what you're not interested in using and teaching how you would prefer.  I do this with all the books I teach from.  Because depending on the day, my students, current events, what have you, I will want to adapt and flex my instruction.  Sometimes I do every problem on the page and ask every question and some days I do something completely different.  That's your prerogative as an instructor.

There are many other places where flexibility exists.  You can omit lessons for which you do not need the content.  You can skip the focus problems or use them but skip the focus problem lessons in class.  You can swap out suggested activities for ones you would like to do.  For example, in lesson 3.5, we have an exploration where students measure a cup of flour by volume and then weigh it to see the variation in a 1-cup measurement.  I've done this for several semesters and it's always been fun and informative.  But this semester I wanted something different.  Heather had the idea of setting a timer on the document camera and starting it.  She asked students to put their heads down and close their eyes and look up when they thought a minute had passed.  They were then to see what time had really passed on the timer and write that time down.  We collected the actual times from students and used that as a data set to talk about natural variation instead of the flour weights.

Other options include having students do some of the Explores and/or Connects as homework instead of in class.  You could use the videos we will have in the spring to have students work on skills outside of class and do only the Explores and Connects in class.  This would emulate a flipped classroom approach.  You can teach everything in groups or everything as a whole class instead of the combined approach used in the book.

These are just a few examples.  The key takeaway is that you run your classroom.  The book is there to provide students with relevant problems for explorations, theory and terminology, and key examples for reference.  How you use the content and how much or how little you use the structure of the book and its lessons is up to you, just as it is with any text.  Make it work for you and your students.