Our department is beginning conversations about a new algebra course, with the immediate goal of making it easier to offer a ‘combo’ class for both beginning and intermediate algebra. We might settle for that outcome, with a savings in credits for many students (from 8 credits down to 6 or 4). However, the possibilities are not very limited … one advantage of developmental mathematics being on the hot-seat is that those in the approval process are more open to new ideas.
So, here is a possible trade. We send two courses away (beginning algebra and intermediate algebra) and replace it with one course, for the same number of credits as one of those courses. We can dream big like this by being willing to consider radical reformulations of developmental mathematics, going in to territory not yet explored by pathways or mathways.
Trade away: Beginning Algebra and Intermediate Algebra (8 credits)
Receive: One developmental algebra course (4 credits?)
This might one way to get there … start with a set of outcomes from Algebraic Literacy, including the STEM-boosting outcomes, and incorporate a little just-in-time remediation work on basic algebra along with some increase in instructional time each week. The new course could omit quite a bit of the procedural work that is not that important, and focus instead on goals that are more accessible to a broader section of our population: reasoning and applying. These ‘higher level’ learning outcomes are more important for further mathematics as well as science. We might be able to put 30% more students in to this new course than we can with the existing intermediate algebra class.
This type of new course offers great promise for our students; of course, there are challenges for us. A core challenge: are we willing to give up existing content in this trade? We get so accustomed to teaching certain skills, these procedures, and those types of puzzle problems; hidden (usually) within this are some good mathematics and valuable learning outcomes. Getting a world-class course involves being willing to trade in old courses, being willing to let go, being willing to subtract content in a class.
In our situation, we want to expand our mathematical literacy course; this course would be appropriate for most of the students who did not place into the new algebra class, both in terms of prerequisites needed prior to the class as well as preparation for further mathematics. The Math Lit class gets students ready for a college statistics class and a college quantitative reasoning class.
I do not know how far we will take our current opportunity. I do know that my vision for a better mathematics program in college starts with Algebraic Literacy. Whether we make a big change, or smaller, we will be taking another step on this journey.
Have you started the journey away from the old algebra courses?
Note: For those going to the AMATYC conference in Nashville, I am doing a session specifically on Algebraic Literacy; this is session S064 (Friday — November 14, 8am).
Join Dev Math Revival on Facebook: