Thursday, December 20, 2012

Alternative Pathways vs Common Core State Standards

A primary goal of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is to provide a curriculum to ensure that all high school graduates are college and career ready. The CCSS  math topics through grade 11 include not only all of the topics of the traditional U.S. Algebra 1-Geometry-Algebra 2 sequence, but also topics typically taught in courses named trigonometry and statistics.

Alternative pathways provide a means for non-STEM (i.e., non- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) students to transfer from a two-year college to a four-year institution and earn a bachelor's degree without needing to show mastery of traditional intermediate algebra topics. The promotion of alternative pathways challenges the premise that the CCSS for math are needed for all students to be college ready.

The common goal of both alternative pathways and the CCSS is to improve U.S. education.

 "Core Principles for Transforming Remedial Education: A Joint Statement" from the Charles A. Dana Center, Complete College America, Inc., Education Commission of the States, and Jobs for the Future, calls for revamping the two-year college remediation structure.  The paper lists seven Core Principals for a "fundamentally new approach for ensuring that all students are ready for and can successfully complete college-level work that leads to a postsecondary credential of value.

"...Principle 2. The content in required gateway courses should align with a student’s academic program of study — particularly in math.

"Gateway courses provide a foundation for a program of study, and students should expect that the skills they develop in gateway courses are relevant to their chosen program. On many campuses, remedial education is constructed as single curricular pathways into gateway math or English courses.

"The curricular pathways often include content that is not essential for students to be successful in their chosen program of study. Consequently, many students are tripped up in their pursuit of a credential while studying content that they do not need. Institutions need to focus on getting students into the right math and the right English.

"This issue is of particular concern in mathematics, which is generally considered the most significant barrier to college success for remedial education students. At many campuses, remedial math is geared toward student preparation for college algebra. However for many programs of study, college algebra should not be a required gateway course when a course in statistics or quantitative literacy would be more appropriate….

"...One final note: Postsecondary leaders must work closely with K–12, adult basic education, and other training systems to reduce the need for remediation before students enroll in their institutions.  Postsecondary institutions should leverage the Common Core State Standards by working with K–12 schools to improve the skills of their students before they graduate from high school. Early assessment of students in high school, using existing placement exams and eventually the Common Core college and career readiness assessments, which lead to customized academic skill development during the senior year, should be a priority for states. Similar strategies should be employed in adult basic education and English as a second language programs."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Common Core State Standards Algebra

One issue of concern for the California K-12 educators is that California currently requires students to pass Algebra 1 in order to earn a high school diploma. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) version of Algebra 1 includes topics not traditionally associated with Algebra 1, for instance, exponential functions and some statistics.

Unless new legislation addresses this change in content, the adoption of the CCSS automatically raises the California high school graduation requirement.

A related issue more directly linked to California Community Colleges (CCCs) is that the CCSS has created a higher level Algebra 2. If community college intermediate algebra is to align with high school Algebra 2, then we will be raising our math requirement for the AA degree and for the prerequisite for transfer level math.

And the California Community College Student Success Task Force calls for better alignment:
"Aligning K-12 and community colleges standards for college and career readiness is a long-term goal that will require a significant investment of time and energy that the Task Force believes will pay off by streamlining student transition to college and reducing the academic deficiencies of entering students...

"Recommendation 1.1
"Community Colleges will collaborate with K-12 education to jointly develop new common standards for college and career readiness that are aligned with high school exit standards.

"The Task Force recommends that the community college system closely collaborate with the SBE and Superintendent of Public Instruction to define standards for college and career readiness as California implements the K-12 Common Core State Standards and engages with the national SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium to determine the appropriate means for measuring these standards. Doing so would reduce the number of students needing remediation, help ensure that students who graduate from high school meeting 12th grade-level standards are ready for college-level work, and encourage more students to achieve those standards by clearly defining college and career expectations."
I don't know who speaks for CCCs in the collaboration with the State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction.  But I do think it likely that one strategy to bring better alignment will be to use the Smarter Balanced assessments at grade 11 as placement instruments at the community colleges.  The other consortium creating CCSS assessments, PARCC, already has agreement among its adopting states to use its assessments for college placement.  (See, for example,

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Alternative pathways

It seems that student-success discussion at two-year colleges is shifting from "course redesign" to "alternative pathways" for the math required to transfer.

The topics overlap considerably, because the idea of alternative pathways normally involves modifying course prerequisites in format and/or content.

Some community colleges are exploring alternative pathways via multiple versions of intermediate algebra.  For example, several campuses have a "pre-stats" course which prepares students for the regular statistics course, but the pre-stats course does not cover all of intermediate algebra (and may not have elementary algebra as a prerequisite). 

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Dana Center at UT Austin, and 3CSN (California Community College Success Network) are three groups promoting the development of alternative pathways through dev math for non-STEM majors. The California State University system has agreed to accept Statway™ (Carnegie's two-semester course beginning at the elementary algebra level and ending with a transferable statistics credits) for meeting the Area B4 (math/quantitative  reasoning ) requirement for transfer.

But  last month the CSU emailed California Community College articulation officers the following:

"When the CSU reviews community college courses proposed to satisfy Area B4, we look for a prerequisite of intermediate algebra. We’re aware that many community colleges are experimenting with alternative prerequisites to their approved B4 courses, in an effort to improve student persistence. Some of these alternatives take away topics traditionally included in intermediate algebra; others substitute a different course altogether.

 "Please take this email as a reminder that only courses with a full prerequisite of intermediate algebra, as traditionally understood, will continue to qualify for CSU Area B4.

 "The CSU has made a recent exception for the Statway™ curriculum, under controlled and very limited circumstances, so we can evaluate whether other approaches will satisfactorily develop student proficiency in quantitative reasoning. In the meantime, we count on the articulation community to uphold the current standard."

That email seems to cast doubt on the future of alternative pathways.  But in the meanwhile, the CSU appears to be fine with the strategy proposed by Palomar College.  Palomar is not changing the intermediate algebra prerequisite for statistics, but evidently students who pass the alternative pre-stats course will be allowed to waive the intermediate algebra prerequisite.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Student struggle is a good thing!

NPR recently interviewed UCLA researcher Jim Stigler about the differences between how the US and other cultures view student struggle.

In the US, we typically attribute academic success to intelligence, and often give praise by admiring how smart someone is. In many east Asian cultures, success is attributed to continued effort, and children are praised for their persistence to overcome obstacles.

A possible consequence is that US children who do not have immediate success at a task will abandon the effort--their intelligence was evidently insufficient.  And US education authorities view student struggle as an indicator that something is wrong--the term "struggling student" is used to designate a student who requires some intervention, rather than to describe a student experiencing an essential stage of deep understanding.

Asian cultures often embrace student struggle as a key indicator of future success.  And it actually should be embraced by educators following the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, which has as its first standard of Mathematical Practices:

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

Praising intelligence rather than effort also reinforces a fixed mindset, which can limit a person's successes, whereas praising effort promotes the development of a growth mindset. Carol Dweck has fascinating data on how mindsets affect learning and how mindsets can be changed.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mathematical Practices

The Common Core State Standards list Standards for Mathematical Practice at each grade level.  These practices are

Mathematical Practices
1.     Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
2.     Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
3.     Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
4.     Model with mathematics.
5.     Use appropriate tools strategically.
6.     Attend to precision.
7.     Look for and make use of structure.
8.     Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

These same eight expectations are listed in the descriptions for every grade level and for every advanced (a.k.a. high school) course.  But carrying out the Mathematical Practices will look different at different grade levels.

The practices that may require the most clarification are probably #4 (Model with mathematics), #7 (Look for and make use of structure) and #8 (Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning).

Modeling with mathematics typically involves using and perhaps even creating mathematical objects (such as algebraic expressions, equations, inequalities, graphs, etc.) to capture key aspects of a situation to be explored.  A kindergartner might use 2+3 to represent the number of people involved if two people are joined by 3 more; a sixth grader might describe  a relationship between the numbers of tables to chairs in a room by the ratio 1:4; an Algebra I student might use the expression 10x to represent the value (in cents) of x dimes.

But not all word problems involve mathematical modeling.  It is not mathematical modeling to use a contrived algebraic expression such as a quadratic expression obtained by curve-fitting bi-variate data without any plausible a priori reason for believing that the two variables should be related quadratically.

Mathematical Practice #7, seeking  and using structure, is key to both pure and applied mathematics.  A first-grader begins to recognize that an addition fact such as 2+3=5 carries with it a family of related arithmetic facts, e.g., 3+2=5, 5-2=3, 5-3=2, etc. ; a seventh-grader can see that because a+0.05a = 1.05a, increasing a quantity by 5% is equivalent to scaling the quantity by 1.05; a geometry student recognizes and introduces structure by adding an auxiliary line to a geometric diagram.  Mathematical Practice #7 is definitely not about memorizing or plugging into formulas--both practices,  when applied inappropriately, can allow students to ignore the underlying structure .

I personally need further explanation of Mathematical Practice #8.  Here is how it's first described in the CCSS:
Mathematically proficient students notice if calculations are repeated, and look both for general methods and for shortcuts. Upper elementary students might notice when dividing 25 by 11 that they are repeating the same calculations over and over again, and conclude they have a repeating decimal. By paying attention to the calculation of slope as they repeatedly check whether points are on the line through (1, 2) with slope 3, middle school students might abstract the equation \( \frac {y – 2}{x – 1} = 3\) . Noticing the regularity in the way terms cancel when expanding (x – 1)(x + 1), (x – 1)(x^2 + x + 1), and (x – 1)(x^3 + x^2 + x + 1) might lead them to the general formula for the sum of a geometric series. As they work to solve a problem, mathematically proficient students maintain oversight of the process, while attending to the details. They continually evaluate the reasonableness of their intermediate results.

The phrase "repeated reasoning" presumably refers to the "R" in Guershon Harel's DNR. Some of Harel's work is listed in the mathematics CCSS references, but there do not appear to be any direct attributions cited.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Supporting community college faculty across the disciplines

I recently spent 48 hours in Northfield, MN (home of Malt-O-Meal) to work with educators from different disciplines and different organizations trying to find ways to increase two-year college faculty awareness of and participation in professional development opportunities.

The workshop was hosted by Carleton College and its Science Education Research Council.  SERC ( has amassed an impressive collection of resources across multiple disciplines including geoscience (the first discipline), chemistry, economics, mathematics, physics, psychology,  and more. 

The Pedagogy in Action page ( has links for Teaching Methods, Activities, and Research on Learning. SERC is continually seeking to improve its website to become a one-stop launching point for finding discipline-specific lesson plans, research-based pedagogical strategies, student projects, career information--essentially anything of interest to an educator seeking to improve student learning.

SERC has also been learning how to run effective workshops.  We were given pre-workshop assignments to upload essays into designated spaces on the SERC website that were visible to the other  participants but not to the rest of the world.  And during  the workshop we were constantly moving from whole group to small group activities, mixing tasks from cross-discipline to the discipline-specific. 

Each group would choose a recorder, who wirelessly entered directly into the SERC system.  The others in the small working group could see the notes on their own computers during their discussion, and the notes were available to the whole group during the "share out" session. Working across disciplines allowed us to learn of challenges and strategies that gave us fresh perspectives for our discipline-specific discussions.

The real-time recording of discussions means that our notes won't be accidentally lost among papers or luggage during our journeys home. Eventually the notes from our workshop will be organized, polished, and made publicly accessible on the SERC site.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Simpson's Rule on Cubics

Simpson's rule approximates a definite integral
$\int_{a}^{b} f(x) dx$

by replacing the integrand with the quadratic  function that agrees with f at the endpoints and midpoint of each sub-interval.  (For comparison, the Left- and Right-Hand Riemann sums each replace f with a constant function, the Trapezoid and Midpoint rules replace f with the linear function respectively agreeing with f at the endpoints of the interval or agreeing with both f and f' at the midpoint of the interval.)

It is remarkable that Simpson's rule gives the exact values of definite integrals not only for any quadratic but also for any cubic polynomial, using only one sub-interval.

This can be algebraically verified by using the change of variable x = a + (b - a)t and verifying that Simpson's rule with one sub- interval gives the exact value for

Here is a more geometric argument.

Let f be a cubic polynomial, and let q be the quadratic function satisfying f(a) = q(a), f(b) = q(b), and f((a+b)/2) = q((a+b)/2).

Then the error in using Simpson's rule for approximating
$\int_{a}^{b} f(x) dx$

$\int_{a}^{b} f(x) dx$

where E is the cubic polynomial defined by E(x) = q(x) - f(x).

Because  E(a) = E(b) = E((a+b)/2) = 0, the inflection point in the graph of E occurs at = (a+b)/2.  Cubic polynomials are symmetric about their inflections points, so the region lying between the curve and the x-axis on one side of the inflection point is congruent to the region between the curve and the x-axis on the others side of the inflection point


That is, the approximation has no error.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

CCSS and Community College Math Programs

We may need a complete redesign of the developmental math program in US two-year colleges.

My campus currently uses a placement test (Mathematics Diagnostic Test Project) to determine if students are ready for transfer level courses (math for elementary school teachers, stats, trig, precalculus, calculus)  or what remedial course (arithmetic, prealgebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra) they should take.

But the Common Core State Standards for mathematics will have high school students studying mathematics organized in a fashion that does not align with our existing math courses.

California is one of the 45 states that have formally adopted the CCSS for mathematics, and I am on a recently appointed state committee whose charge is to align California’s math standards (a.k.a. the California Framework) with the CCSS.

One of the main reasons that I applied to be on the Mathematics Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee (MCFCC) was to better familiarize myself with what is to be taught in California's K-12 schools.  (Another reason was to lose myself in abbreviations:  SBE for State Board of Education, CDE for California Department of Education, IQC for Instructional Quality Commission, the body that forwarded my name to the SBE for approval to serve on the MFCC to align the CF with the CCSS.)

The CCSS specify a consensus of what math is required for students to be college or career ready.  The standards are grouped into six conceptual categories:  Number and Quantity, Algebra, Functions, Modeling, Geometry, and Statistics and Probability.  (There are separately eight standards for mathematical practice that go across all grade levels.)

The CCSS differ significantly from what is typically required for graduation in most American high schools today.  For example, the treatment of statistics and probability includes not only descriptive statistics but also conditional probability, inference, decisions based on probability, and rules of  probability. 

The CCSS include not only right-triangle trigonometry but also trig functions of a real variable, to be used in modeling periodic behavior.  Thus trig spans the geometry, algebra, and function categories.

The CCSS gives math standards for high school without specifying courses or order of topics.  But evidently the introduction of functions includes an emphasis on (linear and) exponential functions with domains restricted to a subset of the integers--sequences are explicitly studied as functions.

California community colleges do not require a high school diploma for admission.  A student who masters the first CCSS high school math course will already have compared exponential functions with linear functions and solved equations both algebraically and graphically. The student will have had explicit instruction on descriptive statistics.  The student may have worked with constructions and transformations in the plane and proved simple geometric theorems algebraically but not yet worked with polynomials (and specifically not with quadratic functions or quadratic equations).

How will our placement system advise this student?

One of the recommendations  of California's Student SuccessTask Force is for better alignment between high school and college curricula.  With the CCSS adopted across states, it looks as if most community colleges will need to make adjustments to their way of placing and educating their math students.

Monday, August 6, 2012

MathFest 2012 and Common Core State Standards in Math

Andrew Hacker’s article "Is Algebra Necessary?" in the New York Times was a hot topic last week and mentioned by several presenters at the 2012 MathFest session "What Mathematics Should Every Citizen Know?".  The panelists, Bil lMcCallum, Lynn Steen, Hyman Bass, Joseph Malkevitch, and co-organizer Sol Garfunkel, were actually reacting to the Core Curriculum State Standards in mathematics.

Mathematicians and math educators agree that we are not  currently doing the best job of teaching algebra.  But unlike Hacker, the math community believes the appropriate strategy is to improve algebra instruction, not to abandon it to all but an elite few pupils.

On the other hand, the speakers on the panel, although quite civil with each other, clearly had disagreements about the best strategy to improve math education in the US.

McCallum, who was the lead mathematician in the development of the CCSS, emphasized the benefits of having commonality across states.  Having a set of standards that could be adopted by 45 of the 50 states (so far) required compromises, but the benefits accrue not only to pupils and teachers in our mobile society, but to all who do business with textbook publishers who currently provide materials for the multitude of different curricula.

Steen gave some numbers showing the dismal success of preparing US students for STEM, but argued that we should improve rather than remove algebra from the curriculum.  He favors a modeling-based approach and avoidance of common assessments.  When asked how to accomplish his recommendations, he cheerfully remarked that he doesn't need to worry about that now that he's retired.

Bass focused on pedagogy rather than curriculum as the key to improving math education.  Student learning is increased when the instructor employs appropriate classroom strategies.

Malkevitch promotes widening the curriculum.  He argued that we need to show many ways that mathematics impinges on daily lives.  He gave combinatorial graphs and fair choice algorithms as examples of mathematical topics that are new and accessible to very young children.

Garfunkel believes that the entire K-12 mathematics curriculum should be centered on modeling. He echoed Malkevitch's suggestions that the US curriculum needs to be widened, and said that Bill Schmidt had paid an advertising agency to create the phrase "a mile wide and an inch deep" that is used to characterize the US K-12 curriculum following the disappointing ranking of the US high school students in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Reviewing Grant Proposals

I recently served on a panel reading NSF grant proposals.  We were admonished not only to respect the confidentiality of the proposal contents but also not to divulge the dates we did the reviews nor the title or nature of the grant types being solicited.

I've reviewed NSF grant proposals on about a half dozen occasions, and I've enjoyed each of my experiences.   There are typically 4 or 5 members to a committee, a few dozen committees representing the different STEM disciplines, and each committee is assigned about a dozen proposals to review.  NSF tries to create panels with a diversity of geographical regions and of institution type  (research universities, state universities, liberal arts colleges, and sometimes even two-year colleges). NSF brings in both faculty and administrators.

Panelists register online using the NSF program FastLane long before they see any of the proposals. FastLane facilitates many aspects of the review process, such as tracking panelist coordinates and other information for  travel arrangements, giving access to proposals, recording panelist reviews, and arranging letters to home institutions acknowledging service.

Panelists upload to Fastlane their personal evaluations of each proposal before going to DC and physically meeting as a panel.  Project descriptions are restricted to 15 pages, but with all the additional documentation of references, biographical sketches, budget, etc., the entire proposal usually exceeds 50 pages.  So it is also common that when the panels finally meet in DC on the first morning, not all the panelists have successfully prepared reviews of all the proposals.

The panels meet essentially all of the first day discussing each proposal.  Panelists are logged on the FastLane program during discussion.  This allows each panelist the ability to see the reviews of all the panelists for each proposal.

NSF assigns each panelist to be "scribe" for two or three proposals, and the scribe's task is to record the discussion about the proposal.  NSF does not require consensus, but it is common that the discussions persuade some panelists to change their initial evaluations.  Most panelists work into the night preparing the summaries required by their duties as scribe and resubmitting their personal proposal reviews.

The second morning is spent largely in approving the scribe summaries.  Again the panelists are logged on FastLane, and they are not allowed to leave until each summary has been approved.  NSF reconvenes the panels by discipline late in the morning for a debriefing before sending the panelists back home.

The debriefing is one of the highlights of the whole experience, because each panel typically describes its two favorite proposals.  So we hear the highlights, and it's exciting to learn of innovative ideas that are being pursued.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

MS Input Panel and Equation Writer

Microsoft's Equation Writer converts handwritten mathematical expressions to typeset expressions which can be inserted into MSWord documents.  I played with the Equation Writer in January 2010 and found it amusing but not usable.

Now Microsoft's Math Input Panel, which I found under Accessories in Windows 7, is definitely an improvement.

I first tried writing the same equation that had given the Equation Writer so much trouble.
Although my handwriting has not improved, the Math Input Panel recognizes my writing much better than the Equation Writer had, provides a more pleasingly formatted result, and is easy to edit.
The "Select and Correct" allows you to lasso a part of your expression and gives you a list of likely interpretations.  Sadly, the program's best guesses for my cursive "dx"were "m," omega,"max," "cos," "log," "def," or the infinity symbol.  But it was easy to erase my connected "dx" and replace it with two separate letters, which were properly interpreted.

To get the expression into a Word document, I needed to have both the Word document and  the Input Panel visible, I clicked on the point of insertion in the Word document, then clicked on "Insert" in the Input Panel.

What might make this worthwhile is that once you insert the expression into a MSWord document, you can use the Equation Tools.

For example, suppose you've input "sin x" using either the Math Input Panel or typed directly into the Equation editor (by first simultaneously pressing the Alt and = keys).  Now when you right click on the expression, you get a menu of possible actions.

If you click on Integrate on x:

It's interesting that the constant of integration is included in the result.  What's also interesting is that if you type a 1 immediately after the C, right-click to get the menu of options, then select Graph -> Plot in 2D, you get an insertable graph that can first be reformatted and/or display an animation based on varying the constant of integration.

You can also go back and right click on your antiderivative, integrate on x, and type a 2 immediately after your new constant of integration.  Now when you ask for a 2D graph, you can run an animation based on either of the two constants.

And yes, you can draw 3D graphs in your Word document. Press the Alt key and the = key simultaneously, type in an expression in two variables (such as sin x + cos y), right click and select Graph -> Plot in 3D.

You can drag the image to a preferred orientation before inserting it into your Word document.

You can also use the "Calculate" option to solve some simple equations or to evaluate/simplify algebraic expressions.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Math Pathways: Designing for Success

On Friday April 27, 2012, Los Angeles Pierce College hosted a conference to share ideas about curricular and institutional redesign efforts for mathematics at two-year colleges.  A central theme was to improve the rate that  students are able to achieve degrees, certificates, and transfers to four-year institutions--essentially the "to and through" goal embraced by the Statway and Quantway projects of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and by the New Mathways projects of the Charles A. Dana Center.

A substantial majority of community college students who take a placement exam place into remedial education courses.  And perhaps only one in five of those who place in remedial math ever succeed in passing a college level math course.

Julie Phelps of Valencia Community College FL was the keynote speaker. She provided a national perspective on the the scope of the problem of students languishing in developmental math classes and discussed some of the initiatives throughout the U.S. that are trying to address the issue.

The break-out sessions at the conference were grouped into three themes:  Before Algebra, STEM Pathways, and Non-STEM Pathways.  At each break-out, math faculty panelists from local community colleges (Pasadena City College, College of the Canyons, and Pierce) discussed strategies being implemented at their campuses.

The conference was sponsored by the California Community Colleges Success Network (3CSN) under the leadership of Deborah Harrington and organized by dean Crystal Kiekel of Pierce College. The website will host slideshows for not only the keynote presentation from Julie Phelps, but also from the break-out presenters Linda Hintzman, Charlie Hogue, and Roger Yang  of Pasadena City College; Kathy Kubo and Matt Teachout of College of the Canyons; Bob Martinez, Jenni Martinez, Ben Smith, Kathie Yoder, and Kathy Yoshiwara of Los Angeles Pierce College.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

ICTCM 2012

The 24th International Conference on Technology in Collegiate Mathematics (March 23-24, 2012) in Orlando, FL, had about 1000 participants.  Keynoter Conrad  Wolfram ("Stop Teaching Calculating, Start Teaching Math") told the audience that the way to fix math education is to adopt computer-based math.

This is the message in his TED video.  

Wolfram likened the teaching of paper-and-pencil computations to ancient Greek.  It's great that some people want to study such things, but these topics should not be part of a core education.  Because people (other than math teachers) in the real world who need mathematics do their computations with computers, we should not be teaching computations but teaching instead how to ask the correct questions, how to translate the questions into mathematical syntax, and how to interpret the results of computer calculations into a solution in the real world.

He also gave the analogy that composition is to English as programming is to mathematics.  We should be teaching programming in our math classes, but using a higher level language such as (coincidentally) Mathematica.

I was personally involved in two ICTCM sessions.  I co-presented with Julie Phelps and Andre Freeman on a talk about the Statway and Quantway projects of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  Andre did the lion's share, describing the homework (a.k.a "out of classroom experience") system MyStatway (based on Carnegie Mellon's OLI statistics course) and spreadsheet simulations that are part of the Statway package of resources.

I also gave a solo session: "Knowledge Exchange Networks and MathDL".

The sessions highlighting NCAT Emporium models for course redesign continue not to impress me.  At least one two-year college campus can claim that the students show great success (not only in developmental math courses but also) in the transfer math courses following an Emporium model developmental math course.  But the (unstated) caveat is that all the classes are taught in the Emporium model, which means that the student assessments in the transfer math course are all graded by the computer, specifically by MyMathLab.  (I do not believe that MyMathLab or any other current computer-graded system can reasonably score questions that ask for interpretations or explanations in complete sentences, but I  believe that we should expect our college students to be able to answer such questions.)

I liked Valencia Community College's idea of a "Math 24/7 Tutorial Website" (Jody DeVoe, Cathy Ferrer, and Jennifer Lawhon).  25 VCC math faculty created hundreds of videos (via Smartpens, flip cameras, Jing, etc.) and then created a webpage of links.

I'll also want to think more about Sarah Mabrouk's one-way use of Twitter--students follow her (class-specific Twitter account), she does not follow any students--to increase student engagement.

But I never made it to any of the theme parks.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Joint Mathematics Meetings 2012

About 7000 mathematicians gathered in Boston for the 2012 Joint Mathematics Meeting January 4-7, 2012.

My first event was the Mathematics Digital Library advisory board meeting.  One of MathDL director Lang Moore's items was that the MathDL's  Course Communities  now include Developmental Math. These resources are from the Knowledge Exchange Networks spearheaded by Tom Carey of U. Toronto, San Diego State U., and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Haynes Miller (MIT) reported on  MIT's online resource for faculty collaboration.   First developed as an in-house tool to help facilitate writing across the curriculum, the resource is now being opened up for faculty collaborations throughout the US.

The CRAFTY (Curriculum Renewal Across the First Two Years) committee sponsored a contributed papers session on preparing students for calculus, and the College Board/MAA Committee on Mutual Concerns sponsored a panel session  on promoting student success in calculus.  Alison Ahlgren of U. Illinois and Marilyn Carlson of Arizona State University painted vastly different pictures.

Alison believes the UI has found a working solution using ALEKS (Assessent and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces) as both an assessment and placement tool.  All UI students receive ALEKS assessment, and ALEKS placement scores are strictly enforced--even students who pass the UI precalculus course must earn the appropriate ALEKS score to be eligible to enroll in calculus.

Alison has data from many thousands of students on what ALEKS tests.  Analysis of what topics were or were not mastered by successful vs unsuccessful students informs UI about what precalculus topics should receive greater of less emphasis.  For example, UI students all appear to have mastered polynomials, but the great majority of pre-calculus students have little mastery of exponential functions and logarithms.

In contrast, Marilyn argues that ALEKS and other currently popular assessment systems do not measure conceptual understanding, and hence student success with ALEKS does not necessarily facilitate mastery of what we really want our students to learn.  Marilyn led the development of ASU's Precalculus Concept Assessment.

The Committee for Two-Year Colleges sponsored a panel session on math for non-STEM students.  Panelists Bernadine Chuck Fong and Jane Muhich of the Carnegie Foundation spoke about the philosophical and research-based underpinnings of the Statway™ and Quantway™ projects, while Larry Gray of U. Minnesota spoke on his reaction to the actual Statway™ lessons which he has reviewed.  The audience included Mary Parker of Austin Community College and Katherine Yoshiwara of Los Angeles Pierce College, both faculty teaching  Statway™ this year, and both speaking in favor of the project but indicating that there is still much work to be done.