So, I’ve been thinking about “replacing them all” (a recent post here), and wondering what types of reactions that idea would receive. Do the old courses have something valuable? Would we harm students by getting rid of them? #NewLifeMath #SaveMath
Not all implementations of arithmetic, pre-algebra, beginning algebra and intermediate algebra are equivalent to other implementations of those courses. Certainly, some instructors (and perhaps some institutions) deliver a course that is qualitatively different from the accepted norms for those courses.
However, the norms for those 4 courses essentially define the courses as:
The student will use n procedures to get correct answers in the topics ________.
The courses are designed to maximize the value of n, often while maximizing the list of topics. Our textbooks reflect these priorities; in fact, many of our courses are set up so that there is no textbook — just the class and the online homework.
Part of this set of norms is a fact that the New Life Project has focused on since the beginning.
Most commonly, developmental mathematics is taught by adjunct instructors.
The problem here is not the employment status of adjuncts. The biggest problems deal with support for adjuncts and expectations — adjunct faculty do not receive the same level of support as full-time, and adjuncts are expected (in general) to follow the normal expectations. For us to make any significant improvements, this pattern needs to be broken.
As long as we offer the traditional courses, there will be a very strong trend towards doing exactly what we’ve been doing — focus on skills, measure by correct answers, and avoid reasoning. The traditional dev math courses produce completers who are the same as the starters, except for a finite number of specific skills which tend to be forgotten before they can be used again.
The reform dev math courses (all similar to the New Life courses at this basic level) focus on student abilities (reasoning in particular) along with a focus on strategically chosen skills. The courses are qualitatively different in several ways.
Adjunct faculty can certainly teach Math Literacy and Algebraic Literacy. However, in most cases, this will require an increase in institutional support in professional development. Our hope is that this will become “the new normal”, which will tend to integrate adjunct faculty more completely into the math department.
We’ve approached “readiness” as a check-list of skills … frequently including far too many ‘skill’s … with no emphasis on reasoning abilities. Skills can be quickly reviewed, as needed — IF the student has the reasoning to support it. Reasoning is the ability that can not be ‘reviewed’.
The traditional dev math courses, with their focus on skills, provide such a limited benefit to students that we can safely replace them. This is especially true if their replacements are engineered to develop a healthy combination of reasoning and skills, which the New Life courses do.
This change from ‘old’ to ‘new’ is more of a problem for us, than our students. Are we ready to offer math courses which focus on central ideas and reasoning? Can we give up the ‘easy’ path of doing the same old stuff? This change issue is true for all college mathematics in the first two years; external forces are causing us to start with developmental courses, though pre-calculus and calculus courses will go through similar changes.
We are not changing “for changes sake”. We are changing for the sake of our students … we are are changing to save mathematics.
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