Revamping of entry-level courses begins

Like the East Stadium construction that can be seen outside the windows of Avery Hall and the UNL Department of Mathematics, renovations to Math 100A: Intermediate Algebra and Math 101: College Algebra are under way to produce a product that better serves UNL students.

Modifications to these entry-level math classes are monumental as they will affect such a large portion of the student body. The benefit that faculty most hope students will see is the value of math in their lives.

“We would like students to come out of this class seeing how to use math in subsequent classes and in the world,” said Professor Allan Donsig, vice chair of the mathematics department.

Math 100A and Math 101, designed for the non-math major, started experiencing revision beginning in Fall 2012. The greatest refashioning being made is a shift away from lecture-based dissemination of information to a more active instructional format, allowing students more time with higher-level conceptual problems. Revamped syllabi and lesson plans are designed to get students into this problem solving mind-set. A few topical changes also have been made with the aim of connecting algebra and geometry and developing higher-level reasoning abilities.

The new class format is modeled on a group problem-solving approach with discussion during class and then reading assignments and online homework following. Not only does online homework allow students access to practice outside of class, but also it allows instructors to see where students are having difficulties and to track trends within the larger class population. Instructors can then tailor lesson plans during the run of the class to meet that specific group of students’ needs and learning styles.

“Learning is active,” said Wendy Smith, research assistant professor in the Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education. Smith is leading an effort to survey 100A and 101 students at the beginning of the semester and again at the end regarding their attitude and comfort level with mathematics. Smith and Jennifer Green, research assistant professor in statistics and the CSMCE, are also looking back through the past 10 years to track 100A and 101 students’ progress throughout college in order to make predictions about their student success and graduation rates after taking these courses.

For the graduate teaching assistants, a main goal of the modifications is to allow for greater success for them as instructors. Typically, the GTAs are first-time instructors. The hope is that the syllabi, lesson plans and exams, which have been designed by experienced faculty members, will allow the GTAs to focus their attention on guiding their students through material and leading discussions, without the added pressure of designing the coursework.

In addition, this format allows for GTAs to see how professors who have been working in the field for some time organize a class, and gives them experience working with a model that is conversational instead of lecture-based. Faculty members will be increasing their involvement by attending the classes in order to track progress of the changes.

With the changes to Math 100A and Math 101, faculty members hope that students will have an opportunity to see math the way a mathematician does.

“Math is dynamic to the mathematically inclined,” Donsig said.

– Stephanie Vendetti