## Math Literacy: Student Motivation

We’ve completed two weeks in our “Math Lab” format of the Math Literacy course. [We’ve been teaching Math Lit for several years, but this is our first try at this format … the Math Lab format focuses on student learning and options, and much less on ‘teachers presenting’.]

One thing I have noticed is that students are working harder than they did in our beginning algebra course. Math Literacy replaced beginning algebra (effective this year) so the students are similar in terms of background and goals. Both courses emphasize the online homework system from the company, and the length of homework per section is very similar, especially in terms of number of problems. The complexity of the homework is higher in Math Lit, as students need to do some reasoning (as well as calculating) right away.

I can measure the increased effort by both time on task and by sections completed. By both measures, students are more ‘motivated’ in Math Literacy than the traditional course it replaced.

This increase came in spite of the fact that students are working primarily as individuals (they did not form small groups or pairs, in general). The progress is almost totally based on what each student is doing. We often use small groups as a way to build community and motivation; perhaps the motivation link is not as strong.

Although I have not interviewed students about this situation, I think there are a couple of basic reasons why they find the Math Literacy course more ‘innately motivating’:

- They see the problems as more interesting, since the majority of problems are word problems of some kind — fewer problems are just procedural. Perhaps they view them as having a ‘reason to solve’.
- The content is different in a fundamental way from their K-12 math experience — the course is clearly not their Algebra I book with a different cover. There may be an element of “appeal to adults to learn something” as opposed to fixing their math background.

Over the semester, I will get to know these students enough to understand the situation a bit better. Right now, I’m happy just to be able to observe the effort they are investing in learning mathematics.

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