This semester, we have more than 150 sections of Mathematical Literacy offered at colleges across the country … and these are outside of the grant-related work (such as Quantway™). In other words, the New Life Mathematical Literacy course is now the most implemented reform math course in the United States.
Getting to this point is the result of the incredible effort of dozens of math faculty, many of whom have been members of the New Life wiki at http://dm-live.wikispaces.com/. Our work has not involved large grants from foundations; rather, collaboration and local initiative have allowed us to create significant change.
However, change is not the same as progress. Progress involves sustained efforts which achieve explicit goals. We have achieved more than other efforts … but we “are not there yet”.
Where are we headed? How will we know when we have arrived? These are not questions for which we create singular responses and data-based conclusions; these are questions for a profession to use as standards for our work.
In the world of process and product design, one set of strategies involves having people seeing themselves in the situation that they are trying to create. For example, we might ask 100 math faculty to imagine that the mathematics curriculum works like it is supposed to. What does this look like? What does it sound like? What does it smell like?
For our work, here are some answers I would give to those questions about what we are trying to achieve:
- Students text each other about the latest exciting math problem.
- Students pass every math class unless something unexpected comes up.
- Over 10% of students major in a STEM field and over 10% of degrees are awarded in STEM fields.
- Students learn diverse mathematics, with understanding, in both pre-college and college math courses.
- Fewer students are in college-prep math classes than are in college level math classes.
- Half of the students who start in college-prep math classes change their goals to be more STEM-like.
- Math faculty are the happiest faculty on campus.
Part of our difficulty has been that we have not had a goal in mind — beyond having higher pass rates. Higher pass rates is not a design standard; it’s a production standard (and a poor one, at that).
Progress would exist if we would judge that we are substantially closer to achieving our goals. If we don’t articulate our goals (like the 7 statements above), we can never have progress … because we are not directing our efforts towards anything. Change is cheap; progress is where the power is.
I started off this post thinking a next step, like getting the Algebraic Literacy course on the radar — and I still think that is very important. Or, thinking about salvaging the college algebra and pre-calculus curriculum, which is very important. I hope that you will be involved with one or both of those reform efforts. Overall, however, I am concluding that we need to have more conversations about our goals. What does progress look like? How do we know when we are there, as opposed to where we are now?
We have created significant change. Progress? We’re not there yet.