Math Literacy … Focused on Students

After one week of our new “Math Lab” sections of Math Literacy (‘without a teacher at the center’), I am pretty darned pleased with the early results.

My institution replaced beginning algebra with Math Literacy this year, so we have dozens of sections for Math Lit.  Four of them are “Math Lab” classes, where students spend class time interacting with the textbook and material under instructor supervision but without any presentations.  I am teaching two of these four ‘Lab’ classes, so that is the basis for my comments.

The course work is highly structured.  The book work has been organized within each section/lesson so that students work a  couple of pages at a time (checking work against the solutions posted with each assignment); we have a video with guidance attached to each assignment.  A section/lesson has 3 or 4 of these assignments, along with a typical set of online practice problems at ‘the end’.

On the first day, I did a course orientation so students could see how this worked.  I strongly encouraged students to work together on that book work.  On the one hand, I am disappointed by the ‘together’ part — only a couple of students are working together in each class.

However, the students are getting in to the course work and the book work.  A high proportion are getting sections done (1 or 2 per day).  In the old algebra course, the progress was much slower … the change is evidence that the content & approach of Math Literacy has a higher innate motivation for our students.  Not only are students working and making progress, they are asking questions already (not all students, but more than the algebra course).  The material so far is basic numeracy (uses of percents, proportional reasoning, basic data summaries, etc) … the course transitions into algebra over the next weeks (though some algebra is present throughout).

The course design includes a Quiz (taking online) after the first 3 lessons.  That quiz is on the schedule for yesterday for one class; in that class, ten of the 14 students got to the quiz on time (with the lowest score being a 88%).  [The other class schedule is half a week behind.]  We’ve done quizzes in our Lab classes before, but I have never had even half the class take a quiz on time.

The early results are promising.  My conjecture is that some of the best learning occurs when we get out of the way, and configure the class so that students spend a lot of time interacting with mathematics.

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