Peterson champions restructuring of Math 111
Published: Thursday, November 29, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 29, 2012 01:11
Math 111 has been plagued by poor failure rates and large class sizes. Oregon State University math professor Scott Peterson held a reconstruction seminar to improve the course.
Peterson initiated his redesign idea this fall in one Math 111 section that has a total of 110 students. Peterson presented the results of his redesigned Math 111 to other math professors and identified what needed to change, including learning outcomes and structure.
Peterson started off the seminar with the general history and background of Math 111, pulling directly from the Mathematical Association of America Reports of 2007, edited by Victor J. Katz. According to that report, 700,000 students enroll in a college algebra course every year in the United States.
“For every 10 students, only one will ask for help, and if multiplied by classes of over 100, it becomes impossible to keep up,” said Steve Roberts, OSU Center for Teaching and Learning.
It is noted that most of those courses are procedural based, meaning the instructors focus on teaching the process of solving equations, but no practical application,which causes 50 percent of the 700,000 students to fail.
“After failing it once or twice, it makes the student reluctant to come back to school, and even if they do pass, they often do poorly in the next math class,” Peterson said.
The basic structure of Math 111 at OSU has been the same since 1990: it’s a four credit course in which students attend one recitation and three lectures a week. The recitations involve answering questions, group activities and a short quiz.
Because sections are so large, instructors prefer short quizzes rather than collecting large amounts of homework.
The failure rate at OSU has been right at 40 percent, 10 percent above the national average failure rate. The highest failure rate per OSU Math 111 section was 50 percent, and even the students who did pass often did not perform well in higher division classes.
From what Peterson has researched, there are several key problems: fundamental experiences in problem solving and practical applications; formulating, evaluating and analyzing and solving real world problems.
After establishing the background, Peterson went on to describe the redesign structure and experience, as well as his results.
Stage one of the redesign would maintain the class’s four credits, but would include only one lecture and two recitations. Each session would last 80 minutes instead of the current 50 minutes. A two-hour computer lab session would be added to explore the materials.
“Adding something in like a lab motivated us to maybe considering making it five credits,” Peterson said.
The second stage covered content and activities. The computer lab activities were discussed in detail, and new ideas were proposed for recitation activities. It was stressed that lectures should emphasize interactive engagement between the students and the instructor, and should emphasize analyzing applications and modeling in order to achieve conceptual understanding.
To prove his point, Peterson handed out an old activity used in one of his recitations: ‘The Rope Activity.’ It required the students to work together, but he also challenged the teachers to point out what wasn’t obvious about this exercise, testing their concept understanding. Many of the instructors responded that it made the students interact with each other, and required that the student analyze the problem.
Peterson then went on to explain how experimenting with the design of Math 111 had worked. In his weekly structure, students were supposed to prepare for their first recitation by doing the homework and work through the computer lab activities.
The computer lab activities included videos about mathematical procedural knowledge.
In teaching the redesigned course for the first time, Peterson learned several things about OSU students in Math 111. Students felt that tests and activities were completely different, including the number of problems they could complete in 80 minutes. Some activities were too long..
However, this did not sway Peterson or his colleagues; they plan to implement this system fully in 2013. Three principles have been established for future planning, and Peterson is confident of its success.
The course will revolve around overlying concepts, not a list of topics. With each new concept, the old one will be implemented or reviewed so that the overlying concept can be practiced.
“Students need to learn how to learn,” Peterson said.
The changes Peterson and his colleagues plan to make to the redesigned MTH 111 include: making the first recitation a group activity and the second recitation centered around group discussion and concept tests. The instructor will lead the second recitation along with the TA. Two recitations will be combined with the lab session into a total of three recitations, and two teacher’s assistants will be available per recitation.
The lectures will start off with learning functions as review, then progress to concepts of rated changes, followed by concepts of linear functions. Then they will cover quadratic equations, which eventually leads to inequalities and absolute value. There will be three to four modeling projects.
These changes will not affect the material covered in each of the exams.
Peterson would be happy to talk to any student or faculty with concerns or questions about the new program.
Amanda Antell, news reporter