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LaGuardia Community College Works to Close “Math Gap”

According to a 2006 U.S. Department of Education study, the earlier in their undergraduate careers that students, regardless of their majors, take college-level math, the more likely they are to graduate. For community colleges, where the majority of entering students place into pre-college math, this finding poses significant challenges, especially considering that because the failure and dropout rates for pre-college math courses are high, many community college students never take college-level math at all.

To close this “math gap,” LaGuardia Community College, one of the lead institutions for NCSCE’s Engaging Mathematics initiative, launched Project Quantum Leap (PQL). 

With FIPSE funding and support from the LaGuardia Center for Teaching and Learning, PQL math faculty are adopting the SENCER method to improve math education at the pre-college level.

“PQL aimed for improving the pass rates and retention in basic skill math courses,” Engaging Mathematics partners and LaGuardia professors Mangala Kothari and Milena Cuellar explain. “Students often find math as uninteresting and irrelevant to their lives. The SENCER approach allowed PQL to create the material for students relevant to their interest and use it in class to teach the abstract ideas in context to civic issues, making the subject more interesting and meaningful.”

Kothari, who is also a co-principal investigator for Engaging Mathematics, has already developed a PQL module called “Pollen Count Levels and Allergies.” She says the module helped her demonstrate to students the connection between mathematics and the real world. “The activity,” she explains, “provided students an opportunity to learn mathematical models and their applications and, at the same time, allowed them to enhance their understanding of pollen counts and related health problems of allergies.”

Another existing PQL course covers elementary statistics in the context of energy and the environment. The course uses projects to review material covered in class. For Engaging Mathematics, Kothari and Cuellar plan to introduce similar projects into a new elementary statistics course focused on social and environmental concerns. Their course will be divided into three modules related to common issues of New York City, such as the city’s inequalities; housing, redevelopment, and environmental issues; and the stop-and-frisk practices of the NYPD.

Kothari and Cuellar are currently working on selecting data sources and case studies appropriate for their student population and course theme. They will offer the course in spring or summer 2015. In December 2015, they will publish a teaching manual for the course to the web.

The LaGuardia faculty leaders hope that in the future the activities they develop will not only be shared with other Engaging Mathematics institutions, but will also be imported into non-STEM courses to strengthen student learning and interest in math by connecting course topics to locally diverse civic issues.

For updates on Kothari and Cuellar’s course developments, check future issues of the eNews, and be sure to follow the Engaging Mathematics initiative on Twitter @MathEngaging.

Article originally published by Christine Marie DeCarlo on May 21, 2014.

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