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.