AMATYC Webinar on the Michigan Transfer Agreement (MTA) – March 27

I’ve posted previously about the new Michigan Transfer Agreement (MTA), which will help students considerably by identifying 3 pathways in mathematics.

AMATYC is offering a webinar next week on the MTA for community college mathematics departments.  Here is a portion of the description:

The Michigan Transfer Agreement (MTA) is the new general education transfer agreement in Michigan, meant to facilitate transfer between institutions in Michigan.  The basic MTA plan calls for a block transfer of 30 credits for students who have “MTA Satisfied” approved on their transcript.  For the first time, the requirements call for a math course – college algebra (or above), statistics, or quantitative reasoning.

Any AMATYC member can register for the webinar by logging in to the AMATYC web site and clicking on the link in the right column for the March 27 webinar (3 to 4pm, EST).  I will be presenting this webinar.

Although of special interest to Michigan AMATYC members, this webinar might be appropriate for faculty in other states who want to see how a pathways approach to general education works.

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SOAP, PEMDAS … Is there some MATH here?

For some reason, I have always found mnemonics to be irritating.  Perhaps this is based on a worry that understanding was being condensed to a ‘word’ that referenced a ‘phrase’ that had no connection to the mathematics involved.  Because we cover order of operations prior to algebra (questionable), we introduce one mnemonic to almost all students — PEMDAS.  Something about Aunt Sally (we all have one?) being excused.  The mathematical statement might be Grouping, Powers, Products and Quotients L to R, then Sums and Differences L to R.  Somehow, we don’t see “GP(P/Q)(S/D)”, even though it is better mathematically.

Another idea is reduced to a mnemonic — SOAP, for ‘same, opposite, always positive’ in factoring binomials involving two cubes.  This one at least refers to a memory process; this factoring is essentially a formula application.  The mathematics that is lost is ‘binomials of cubes’.  Perhaps this one should be ‘cubic SOAP’.  Of course, cubic-SOAP still is incomplete … it fails to capture the binomial going with the ‘Same’, and the trinomial first term (another always positive).

However, I wonder about the MATH mnemonic.  Perhaps you’ve heard it:

Man, Anything That Helps!!  (“MATH”)

Are we so desperate that we offer incomplete or inaccurate memory aids?  Perhaps we confuse correct answers with understanding mathematics.

Instead, I would like us to consider what this means:

Students should learn good mathematics in every math course.

A list of nice topics does not create a set of good mathematics.  In conversations, I usually find a good amount of consensus on the phrase ‘good mathematics’; we might have trouble articulating a single definition, but we have a good idea what it looks like at various levels of student mastery in various domains of mathematics.

Not everybody in the world uses ‘math’ as a label.  The label ‘maths’ is better, since our field has a plural nature; there is not one mathematic … there are fields of mathematics.  Perhaps if we kept using the word ‘mathematics’ instead of the inaccurate ‘math’ it would help us maintain our focus on why we are here … what we are helping our students WITH.  We are not here to get students to produce a minimal number of correct answers; we are here to help them learn mathematics with value.

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Pathways … for the New General Education

We’ve been working over the past 5 years to develop new courses for our students.  Mathematical Literacy is the first new course, and is doing very well; Algebraic Literacy is the second course, and is just beginning to get ‘traction’.  To help our students, though, we need a new plan … especially for general education.

Take a look at this map:

MTA Math Requirement Map March2014













The Michigan Transfer Agreement (MTA) is designed to improve the transfer of general education courses in Michigan.  The MTA requires one math course; students can use one of the 3 courses ‘in blue’: college algebra, quantitative reasoning, or introductory statistics.

Notice that students can meet their general education math requirement with one developmental course and then the MTA course … unless they need college algebra or pre-calculus.  We have embraced the pathways concept, with direct benefits to our students.

This is good news for students in Michigan.  I hope that other states will create similar structures.

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Math Lit, and Pathways for Faculty

On my bookshelf, I have copies of two of the best math books available today:  Math Lit (Almy & Foes) and Math Literacy (Sobecki & Mercer).  Here are cover images:

Almy Foes Math Lit Cover Feb2014








Mercer Sobecki Math Lit Cover Feb2014
















Three years ago, this course was not offered anywhere.  As of this month, we have over 40 colleges offering the class with over 160 sections; Mathematical Literacy is an alternative to a beginning algebra course.  With the hard work of faculty, support from their colleges, and wisdom of publishing companies, the New Life Project continues to make a difference in our profession.

The work continues; the next course to be developed is Algebraic Literacy.  This alternative to an intermediate algebra course offers similar advantages; take a look at the “Missing Link” presentation ( from last fall’s National Summit on Developmental Mathematics.

I am seeing this progress as part of the pathway for us — a pathway for mathematics faculty.  We are moving from an accidental collection of relatively isolated topics with little benefit to students … to a deliberate design of courses containing mathematics to be proud of, with content designed to help all of our students.

In the process of moving from the old to the new, we are on a pathway ourselves.  We can become inspired by the design, gain skills in teaching mathematics, and experience a course that connects meaningfully to students.  Instead of being seen as “the last course to take, the one that stands in the way of graduating”, we can provide courses that show benefits to students earlier in their program.  Many students will find our new courses enjoyable; they will leave with a more positive view of what mathematics is.

We are on the path that leads to a mirror, a mirror which says “We do important work, and students benefit; be proud!”  I hope to see many of you on this trail.

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