Making Math Relevant

January 19, 2012 | Borough of Manhattan Community College

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgy-cnQ8Gig[/youtube]

When Euri Parios enrolled in BMCC as a Human Services major, she was told that she would be required to take Math 051—Elementary Algebra. She balked at the idea. According to Parios, “Algebra didn’t seem relevant to my life or my career plans.” She adds, “I was sure I’d never have any use for it.”

Without a real use for algebra, she found it hard to get motivated and ultimately dropped the course. In fact, non-math and non-science majors have often questioned the need to study algebra. Disengaged and frustrated by developmental courses, students often see them as irrelevant to their lives and aspirations, and many have a difficult time staying with it.

Now, an innovative program seeks to reverse the high failure rate of community college students in developmental mathematics. Called the Quantway Networked Improvement Community, the program represents a collaboration among eight community colleges, including BMCC, in New York State, Georgia and Ohio.

At BMCC, Senior Vice President and Provost, Sadie Bragg, is the administrator for this new mathematics initiative, along with Mathematics Chair, Professor Annie Han and Professors Yevgeniy Milman and Michael George.

Away from the traditional algebra
“This spring, BMCC will offer Math 041, a new course that replaces elementary algebra with a curriculum that introduces non-STEM students to skills that will help them succeed in their coursework, in their careers and in life,” says mathematics lecturer Yevgeniy Milman, who worked together with Professor Han and lecturer Dale Dawes on the Quantway poject.

“In its content and approach, Math 041 will depart radically from traditional math courses,”  Milman adds.

“The course will be divided into modules, each with a set of lessons and a specific theme—personal finance, medical fluency and citizenship. Students will work in groups to analyze problems, receiving guidance but not explicit direction from the teacher.”

Over the past two years, BMCC has worked closely with the other colleges in the Quantway network via webinars and in-person meetings.

“The courses at each college will reflect the recommendations of our sponsor, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching,” Milman says. “But we know our students well, so we’ll tailor our strategies to their needs.” Quantway’s focus is not on algebraic procedures, nor is remediation the goal. “We and our Quantway colleagues in other states have developed a curriculum that is more appropriate for students in the liberal arts, the health sciences and other non-Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields,” Milman says.

Students will focus on understanding and applying the mathematical concepts needed to achieve quantitative literacy—not on rote memorization of equations and processes.  Milman states, “Students will learn how to use numerical reasoning to make intelligent decisions and address real-world problems and questions.”

A different perspective on math
By her own account, Parios would have benefited from the Quantway approach. Despite her early frustrations with required algebra, she readily acknowledges that basic math skills are vital to success in any profession—and in life.

“Math is everywhere—in the workplace, at home, when you go shopping,” Parios says. “But when we started hearing about quadratic equations in [our] Math 051 [class], I lost all motivation.  If I’d had a course like Quantway, I would have approached math from a[n] entirely different perspective. I’d have learned something I could apply to my life—and to helping people as a health professional.”