Comparing Texts for Mathematical Literacy

The “Mathematical Literacy” course has been taught at colleges for about 5 years now, with hundreds of colleges involved.  For this post, I will look at the alternative textbooks for Math Lit with some quick comparisons.

First, I’ve got to point out that some books are being marketed for “Pathways” with very little change in content.  Math Literacy is not just a name for a modified old course; Math Literacy is the first new course in developmental mathematics with content drawn from modern standards, with an emphasis on reasoning and communication.  This comment applies to books from most major publishers; in particular, Cengage and Hawkes do not have a Math Lit textbook (though they do have books for pathways).

I recognize 3 textbooks available which faithfully implement the Math Literacy learning outcomes (whether as Math Lit, Quantway™, or Foundations of Mathematical Reasoning).  Quantway courses run differently from the others in the sense that colleges join the collaborative, and use shared materials & online system; colleges not in the collaborative do not have access to those same materials.  However, the Quantway materials were the basis for the Foundations of Mathematical Reasoning (FMR) from the Dana Center.

If you want the ‘most different’ materials, you’d choose the FMR materials.  There is not really a ‘textbook’ with FMR; the lessons are a series of contexts and problems with the mathematics tied in to those situations.  The core of FMR is the classroom work (highly group based).  The lessons are presented in ’25-minute’ pieces, and the instructor has a set of supportive materials including suggestions for processes.  A number of colleges (mostly in Texas) are using the FMR materials as part of a larger project; other colleges adopt them as they would any textbook.  (Again, the Quantway materials are very similar to FMR but  only used ‘in the network’.)

The Almy/Foes Math Lit shares some of those properties.  The lessons are highly group based, focused on contexts and problems; instructors have support materials.  The  Almy/Foes structure is not as finely grained as FMR, which I think fits what most faculty prefer (though I have been known to be wrong … on occasion!).  This was the “original” math literacy text, written before most of us thought about offering the course.  Unlike the FMR materials, the Almy/Foes text is definitely geared towards the non-STEM pathway.  If you are pretty sure that you can support a discreet path for non-STEM, this text is a good alternative.

The Sobecki/Mercer “Pathways to Math Literacy” combines some of those properties within a slightly more traditional structure.  The lessons employ significant group work, but also significant whole-class work.  This book includes slightly more mathematical content, and a little less divergent lesson work (where students might create 4 different methods to ‘solve’ a problem).  Instead, the Sobecki/Mercer text tends to keep a goal or outcome in mind.  If your dev math program is highly adjunct-based (as mine is), this text probably is a good choice.  As does FMR, the text does not assume that all students are non-STEM — though the contexts are generally non-STEM.

Each of these sets of materials has advantages, and they all deliver the core learning outcomes of Math Literacy.  All 3 are doing well in the market, from what I can tell.

If you have specific questions about a specific set of materials, I can try to help get an answer.

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  • By schremmer, April 15, 2017 @ 7:16 pm

    Math Lit (Almy/Foes); Pearson: $147.67

    David Sobecki and Brian Mercer: Starting at $147

    For once, no comment.

  • By Jack Rotman, April 16, 2017 @ 8:42 pm

    No comment? I’m shocked!!

  • By Eric, April 17, 2017 @ 12:52 pm

    Is this the first in a series? Please share any info you have on current or forthcoming QL and AL books!

    I have sample copies of all three MLCS texts, and it’s hard for me to envision a student successfully transitioning from the Almy/Foes book to our Martin-Gay Intermediate Algebra book. So to my mind, adopting MLCS with these texts necessitates implementing QL and/or AL as well. I have yet to see any AL materials on the market and the Sobecki/Mercer QL book is really just their old Math for Liberal arts book structured around more group work. It was rather disappointing.

    My large, adjunct-heavy institution is reluctant to create new courses if they cannot be scaled. Having off-the-shelf texts (preferably with online homework systems) is a necessary (though not sufficient) precondition to adopting New Life-style courses.

  • By Jack Rotman, April 17, 2017 @ 1:11 pm

    Thanks for the question. I’ll make a short post, with the little information I have on AL books. [QL books are ‘everywhere’ :)]
    You’ve got a good point about the Sobecki/Mercer text. Many of the problems were imported from other material (not only their QL text). However, we find their Math Lit book a good match for our current curriculum … we connect our Math Literacy course to a “intermediate algebra with review” course (Math109). Math109 is a one-semester, 6 contact hour course which is meant to fill in the gaps of Math Lit especially with respect to procedural skills.

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