CUNY Matters Covers the Success of BMCC’s Math Across the Curriculum

The summer 2007 edition of CUNY Matters, the University publication that publicizes the people and programs of The City University of New York, carried the following article, “BMCC Says ‘Math Across the Curriculum’ Project is a Big Success.”

Professor Klement TeixeiraFor many students—particularly those in fields such as English or fine arts—the mere mention of cosines, exponents or irrational numbers is enough to cause sweaty palms and upset stomachs. But the math department at Borough of Manhattan Community College has implemented an innovative program to make such “math phobia” a thing of the past.

Under the guidance of Senior Vice President Sadie Bragg, Dean Michael Gillepsie, and Dr. Klement Teixeira, BMCC has launched Math Across the Curriculum (MAC) initiative, in which problem sets that teach quantitative reasoning skills will be incorporated into courses as varied as sculpture, design, business, and nursing.

Through funding from the University’s Coordinated Undergraduate Education (CUE) initiative, the program guides professors from a wide variety of disciplines to integrate quantitative reasoning into their curriculum, so that they are more palatable to students who usually have an aversion to traditional math instruction.

The program has been used successfully at other colleges across the country; however BMCC is one of only a handful of community colleges in the country to use the program.

“Most students are quite capable of quantitative reasoning, but the way they process information varies from student to student,” said Dean Gillespie. “By introducing abstract concepts within a context they already understand and have an interest in, they are able to absorb them and see how they correspond to real-life situations.”

During the first MAC initiative three years ago, Professor Teixeira and his assistant, Leon Scott, worked with BMCC faculty across disciplines to create problem sets specific to their courses. The goal was to help students prepare for task 2 of the CUNY Proficiency Exam, which requires students to read and interpret graphs and charts, critically.

Senior Vice President Bragg and Dean Gillespie were also encouraged by the success Professors Teixiera and Frederick Reese experienced with their Quantitative Reasoning course, which they developed to teach students how to apply math in their daily lives. Students learned how to solve a variety of problems such as:

• Ed is now 20 years old and would like to retire at age 65 with $1 million in the bank. How much does he need to save each month to achieve his goal? His bank is offering 5% APR.
• You have 7 years of financial data for a company. Construct a linear regression model to predict the income in the 8th year.
• Michael purchased a combination lock with 40 numbers. He needs four numbers in the correct order to open the lock. What is the probability that he can guess the combination and open the lock on his first try? Assume that number can be used only once.

The classes filled up immediately, and the math department saw how this methodology could be applied in other classes through the MAC initiative.

The current MAC initiative for 2006-2007 consists of three phases: the introduction of the program and concepts by the BMCC Math Department to faculty members from a wide variety of disciplines; the presentation of faculty’s MAC projects and curriculum to the math department; and the execution of the curriculum in the classroom, which will begin in fall 2007.

The first phase began last fall, when Professor Reese from the math department held the first of several seminars for their colleagues in other departments, and discussed ways in which quantitative reasoning could be integrated into their curricula. Part of the seminar involved selected readings from the books Achieving Quantitative Literacy and Mathematics and Democracy by Lynn Arthur Steen, followed by discussions of how the ideas could be applied in their classrooms.

Dr. Teixeira said, “For some courses, it was easier to see how math would fit in—in business and science for example, in which an understanding of the relationship between numbers is essential. But for other classes, like foreign language, it was more challenging, and we worked more closely with these professors to develop their ideas.”

Over the past month, faculty members have initiated the second phase by presenting the projects and ideas they plan to introduce into the fall semester’s curricula to the math department and their colleagues attending the seminars for evaluation and feedback. The results, according to Dr. Teixeira, have far exceeded their expectations.

“We were amazed by their creativity, and how seamlessly they were able to weave the ideas we had discussed in the seminars into what they were teaching,” said Dr. Teixeira.

Michael Langenstein, who teaches “Intro to Sculpture,” in which students design and build complex forms out of applicator sticks and then paper, plans to have his students measure out the total space of their designs and calculate exactly how much material they need.

“Now that I’ve taken the program, I realize I can integrate quantitative reasoning into my class by posing questions to the students. They take a questionnaire, and start thinking about quantitative reasoning, and how it relates to the course. They start considering the cost of things, and how much material they need, and it gets them thinking in that area,” said Langenstein.

Some instructors have already successfully introduced the ideas they learned through prior MAC initiatives, specifically, faculty members created problem sets to help students prepare for task 2 of the CPE exam that requires students to critically read and interpret graphs and charts.

Sung Gwak, a faculty member from BMCC’s nursing department who participated in prior MAC initiatives said “After taking part in the MAC program, I apply more graphs and charts in my lectures in order to explain the concept-oriented knowledge base. This type of program enhances more application of knowledge in clinical practice for nursing students. All my lectures are on PowerPoint, so I utilize lots of charts and graphs to explain comparative findings or statistical analysis in clinical setting.”

Joan Jeter-Moye, who teaches a course at BMCC called “Career Planning” in the Cooperative Education Department, used the MAC program to develop problem sets that demonstrate the cost of living and disposable income in New York compared to other cities and states.

“This assignment proved to very effective in demonstrating how the same salary in other cities/states will result in having more disposable income due to the lower cost of living,” said Jeter-Moye. “It helped students learn how to interpret data and understand how to relate the information that is provided in charts and graphs.”

Dr. Teixeira said that by the fall semester, all the faculty members who took part in the program will have developed ideas that will be put into practice in their classes. “We are very excited and encouraged by the progress we’ve seen so far, and the enthusiasm of everyone who participated in the seminars. In the end, I think we’ll have far more students at BMCC who may not have seen themselves as strong math students before, will now find that they can practice quantitative reasoning in their daily lives.”