0483 Numbers. Photo credit: Mark Morgan (CC BY 2.0)

SENCER Inspires New NSF Grant that Infuses Numeracy Across the Curriculum

Dr. Frank Wang, a SENCER community member affiliated with the SENCER Center for Innovation – MidAtlantic region and professor of mathematics at LaGuardia Community College, was recently interviewed on the CASTpod podcast hosted by Harold Washington College in Chicago. On the podcast, Dr. Wang discussed the NICHE, or Numeracy Infusion Course for Higher Education, project funded by the National Science Foundation.

Prior to NICHE’s inception, LaGuardia launched an intervention for its students who needed help with basic skills mathematics. Because students often struggled with “abstract” approaches to math instruction, LaGuardia used SENCER strategies to teach mathematics through public health issues and the environment, which helped put the disciplinary content into a specific real-world context. Dr. Wang’s NICHE work is inspired by this previous SENCER intervention, and embeds quantitative reasoning in courses across the curriculum.

The interviewer, Kristen Bivens, asked Professor Wang what has been an exemplary application of quantitative reasoning in the project so far. He cited the work of Ester Isabelle Wilder, the NICHE PI, who shows her sociology students that, by the numbers, there are more homeless white people than black people in the United States. However, since the white population is larger than the black population in the United States overall, it is more meaningful in this situation to look at the rates of homelessness between the two, rather than the numbers alone. This is an important lesson in how statistical thinking and quantitative literacy can help us clarify and address civic problems, one that is also addressed in Dr. Cindy Kaus’s Engaging Mathematics teaching manual Introductory Statistics with Student Designed Community-Based Projects, which can be a helpful resource for educators interested in incorporating racial profiling data into their classes.

To learn more about Dr. Wang’s NICHE project and how it relates to SENCER and other areas, and to hear Dr. Wang’s advice on creating positive student attitudes toward math, listen to the interview.

Photo credit: Mark Morgan (CC BY 2.0)

Engaging Mathematics Leads Hands-On Session and Delivers Plenary Address during 15th Annual SSI

During the 15th Annual SENCER Summer Institute held last week at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the Engaging Mathematics initiative led a hands-on session in which participants tried out lessons and curricular units that faculty from the Engaging Math project have developed, all of which illustrate how to connect important topics in mathematics to a variety of civic issues. We are pleased to share these lessons and associated materials here on our project website, so that even if you weren’t able to join us in Worcester, you will still be able to access and use the Engaging Mathematics lessons in your own classroom, with your own students.

The lessons cover civic topics in environmental science, health, social justice, and sustainability, and are applicable to statistics, college algebra, pre-calculus, calculus, and mathematics for liberal arts courses. For an outline of the agenda of the hands-on session, links to lessons and materials covered by session presenters, and links to our Engaging Mathematics Advisory Board member Victor Donnay’s plenary slides, references, and handouts, please see the document below:

Download (PDF, 101KB)

Making Math Relevant: SCI-MidAtlantic Holds Quantitative Literacy Conference at LaGuardia Community College

On October 10, 2014, over 30 mathematics educators from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania gathered at LaGuardia Community College – CUNY in Long Island City, New York to hear LaGuardia faculty members present stimulating discussions on how they teach mathematics and statistics using issues that are interesting, relevant, and real to the lives of their students. Attendees came from Gannon University, Guttman Community College, Hostos Community College, Hudson County Community College, Kingsborough Community College, LaGuardia Community College, New York University, Rutgers University, and The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

The day began with warm welcomes by Drs. Paul Arcario, provost and senior vice president at LaGuardia Community College – CUNY and Mangala Kothari, professor in LaGuardia’s Mathematics, Engineering, and Computer Science Department and also a Co-PI for the National Center’s Engaging Mathematics Engaging Mathematics initiative. Their welcome was followed by an overview of SENCER and other NCSCE initiatives by Drs. Monica Devanas (SENCER Co-PI and co-director of SCI-MidAtlantic) and Ellen Mappen (NCSCE senior scholar and SENCER-ISE director).

Dr. Kothari and others emphasized the importance of developing quantitative reasoning skills while offering challenging mathematics and statistics courses that enable students to see “how they can apply their scientific knowledge and methods that they learned in class to real matters.”

All of the presentations provided good examples of rigorous, quantitatively based instruction that looks at learning through complex and important civic issues. We are happy to present to you a summary of these presentations:

• Drs. Mangala Kothari and Milena Cuellar spoke about the Engaging Mathematics project at LaGuardia and how the team is developing a statistics course based on connecting mathematics, the environment, and society. Dr. Cuellar noted that one purpose of such a course was to have students “believe that they can do math.” The course will provide students with an opportunity to learn statistics by describing how it can be applied to civic and environmental issues.
• Dr.Prahba Betne, who helped develop the NSF proposal that led to the funding of Engaging Mathematics, and who is a member of the initiative’s advisory board, followed with a presentation on how to make tables and graphs found in standard mathematics or statistics textbooks more engaging and contextual without having to develop new materials. She provided examples and discussed how she leads the class in learning these concepts by communicating information through writing and presentations that imagine real-world work situations.
• Dr. Reem Jaafar discussed using a current piece of Congressional legislation “to build students’ civic engagement and mathematical knowledge.” In her Spring 2014 college algebra course, she focused on the efforts of Senator Elizabeth Warren to reform student loans. The students first learned about the broader issue; then about interest rates and polynomial fitting. Dr. Jaafar suggested that the model can also be used to teach pre-calculus.
• Dr. Alioune Khoule led an engaging discussion of applying the SENCER approach to learning about the slope of a line in an elementary algebra course. For the lesson, students are given the rating levels of ski runs and placed into groups to think about how to measure steepness. Students then develop their own formulas to share with the class before the slope formula is even introduced.
• Dr. Shenglan Yuan discussed promoting common sense and articulated reasoning in basic skills math, moving away from the view “that mathematics is just about numbers and formulas.” She found that “by investigating real life situations,” she could “encourage independent reasoning and common sense” to solve a problem.
• Dr. Frank Wang began his presentation by speaking about “The PQL Effect”. PQL (Project Quantum Leap) was originally funded by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. It applied the SENCER approach to the challenges of teaching basic skills education in mathematics. Through the grant, the LaGuardia faculty used environmental, public health, and business issues to teach basic algebra and statistics courses. Dr. Wang went on to discuss teaching through Bayesian reasoning, where students infer the probability of a cause (e.g., a medical issue such as cancer) from an observed effect (e.g., a positive mammogram). Dr. Wang suggested that his students developed better numeracy and understanding of probabilities when they used Bayesian models to examine evidence in real world examples.
• Dr. Sreedevi Ande ended the presentations by describing how to teach SPSS software from a “practical perspective” in a basic statistics course. Instead of just following the SPSS manual, students brought in data on an environmental issue of importance to them and then used statistical analysis to explain the data.

“The development of core mathematical concepts is the basic challenge in enriching quantitative literacy in our students,” says Monica Devanas. “Using contexts that are relevant for students helps them build on this core as well as extend and expand their understanding to more complex mathematical areas. The SENCER approach acknowledges that students engage in mathematical thinking through a variety of ways, and the projects of the NCSCE support this effective student-centered learning model.”

SCI-MidAtlantic will be hosting another meeting on November 15 at Barnard College titled “Teaching with Technology.” Registration for this meeting is free and open to the public. Click here to register. You can connect with the Engaging Mathematics initiative on Twitter at @MathEngaging, and with LaGuardia Community College at @LaGuardiaCC.

Photo credit: Akash Kataruka

LaGuardia Community College to Host October 10 Meeting

October 10, 2014
LaGuardia Community College
“SENCER and Engaging Mathematics”

9:00 registration, breakfast, networking; 9:30 – 3:00 program with luncheon included

Learn more about the growing community of faculty who find SENCER ideals as successful principles for mathematics instruction. This is the basis for the newest NSF-funded initiative of NCSCE – “Engaging Mathematics.” Cindy Kaus of Metropolitan State University, Mangala Kothari of LaGuardia Community College, and Frank Wattenberg of the United States Military Academy are co-PIs with partners at Augsburg College, Normandale Community College, Oglethorpe University, and Roosevelt University. Co-PI Mangala Kothari is hosting this meeting at the center of SENCER-inspired developmental math curriculum reform, LaGuardia Community College, home of the “Quantum Leap” Project. LaGuardia faculty and others will present their innovations in math courses that use civic issues to make math more relevant to students.

To register for the event, please click here. There is no cost to register. All are invited and encouraged to share and present their SENCER initiatives at this meeting. To submit presentations, contact Monica Devanas at monica.devanas@rutgers.edu.

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.

Bucki Facilitating

Engaging Mathematics Partners Launch New Initiative

This past weekend, January 24-25, nineteen members of the Engaging Mathematics leadership team, including the partners, advisory board representatives, consultants, and Co-PIs, met in Jersey City, New Jersey to formally begin work on how to “make mathematics relevant to students’ lives, to connect mathematics learning to the goals and interests that students bring to college, and to show how mathematics relates to other disciplines, important civic questions, and technological challenges.”

On the first day of the meeting, the partners from the lead institutions shared and discussed details about the math curricula they had developed, including their intended audiences, the civic topics covered, and the expected rollout of each course or module. Attendees discussed strategies to expand the community of practice by reaching out to peers through academic meetings and conferences. An action planning workshop led by facilitator Jonathan Bucki helped stakeholders to specifically plot activities over the three years of the grant.

Attendees were joined by cadets from the United States Military Academy who shared their experiences with math courses that include civic issues. The cadets also demonstrated mathematical modeling on topics such as power battery loadouts for US soldiers, and the relationships between their costs and weights. Dr. Rikki Wagstrom of Metropolitan State University discussed how she incorporated the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) into her “Mathematics of Sustainability” course.

The second day of the meeting focused on assessment and evaluation. The independent evaluator for Engaging Mathematics, Leo Gafney, discussed his plans and methods for evaluating the project outcomes. Later, Stephen Carroll of Santa Clara University discussed guidelines and best practices for the Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG), which will be used to evaluate student progress in the courses.

“It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm of the project’s faculty members from different institutions as they worked together on planning and as they shared their ideas about teaching mathematics through a variety of civic issues, including environmental sustainability, energy consumption, water resources, and other topics related to local, regional or national needs. I am optimistic that the work the ‘Engaging Mathematics’ faculty are doing will be shared and serve as models (whether full courses or modules that can be used in a course) for the wider SENCER and national mathematics communities,” said Ellen Mappen, an NCSCE consultant with the project.

Following the meeting, Dr. Lynn Gieger of Oglethorpe University, a partner in Engaging Mathematics, shared that, “I came away from the weekend with a much better sense of the larger project as well as our particular role in it.” Dr. Chris Arney, professor of math and Chair of Network Science for the United States Military Academy and member of the advisory board, noted, “I do believe I was re-SENCERized.”

A page focusing on Engaging Mathematics activities and resources is now live here. Over the course of the project, a separate website will be developed and linked to this page. Visitors will be able to peruse the types of courses planned to be enhanced or developed, and additional features will be added to the site to allow project partners to share details on their course development, and once available, the results of course implementations. To learn more about the Engaging Mathematics initiative, please click here.

Article originally published by Kyle Simmons and Christine Marie DeCarlo on January 30, 2014.

Engaging Mathematics Hosts Planning Meeting in New Jersey

As previously announced in the eNews (here), the National Science Foundation recently funded the project Engaging Mathematics, “a strategy and program to make mathematics relevant to students’ lives, to connect mathematics learning to the goals and interests that students bring to college, and to show how mathematics relates to other disciplines, important civic questions, and technological challenges.” On January 24th and 25th, the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement will host the kick-off meeting in Jersey City, NJ.

Engaging Mathematics project leadership includes Wm. David Burns, Principal Investigator, and Co-Principal Investigators Cindy Kaus of Metropolitan State University, Mangala Kothari of LaGuardia Community College, and Frank Wattenberg of the United States Military Academy. Project partners, who will develop the curricula and materials, include Tony Dunlop and Victor Padron of Normandale Community College, Cathy Evins and Barbara Gonzalez of Roosevelt University, Lynn Gieger and John Nardo of Oglethorpe University, Rikki Wagstrom of Metropolitan State University, and John Zobitz of Augsburg College.

During next week’s meeting, 19 of the project’s stakeholders will examine the curricula developed by the partners, discuss the expansion of the community of practice, and more closely plot the trajectory of the project going forward. Jonathan Bucki will facilitate planning discussions. Additional consultation will be provided by Dr. Leo Gafney (the project’s external evaluator), and Eliza Reilly and Ellen Mappen (of the National Center). Advisory board members who will contribute expertise for Engaging Mathematics include David Arney of the US Military Academy, Prabha Betne of LaGuardia Community College, Victor Donnay of Bryn Mawr College, David Ferguson of Stony Brook University, and Susan Forman of Bronx Community College. A summary of the meeting will be featured in a forthcoming edition of the NCSCE eNews.

Article originally published by Kyle Simmons on January 15, 2014.

Engaging Mathematics to Expand SENCER Applications in Mathematics Education

Engaging Mathematics: Building a National Community of Practice is the name for a new three-year initiative supported by the National Science Foundation though its TUES-II program.

Engaging Mathematics (EM) will be organized by faculty colleagues who have successfully incorporated the SENCER ideals and other progressive pedagogies into college-level mathematics education. Over the next three years, the partners will work together to develop, assess and refine courses and modules, sharing them within the community of practice. As the project matures, EM partners will disseminate the results of their labors to the larger higher education community through a variety of media. While EM partners will routinely communicate with the SENCER community and participate in SENCER’s faculty development programs, they will also reach out to—and through—disciplinary societies and others new to SENCER.

In three years, the EM project intends to produce and publish transferable models, offer webinars, and organize local, regional, and national faculty development opportunities. The overall goal is to nurture and support a vibrant community of practice open to those committed to improving mathematics learning by connecting that learning to the great civic challenges of our day.

“Though this wasn’t so in the early years of SENCER, we now have a strong corps of leaders, along with terrific models and other curricular assets, in mathematics,” noted David Burns, NCSCE’s executive director and the PI of the new NSF award. “This grant from NSF will enable a team of scholars who have created many of these assets to work intensively with one another to expand their efforts, connect to new communities, and introduce successful approaches to colleagues around the country.”

“As with all our Center’s initiatives, our goal is to improve learning and strengthen the capacity for responsible civic engagement, ” Burns added. “We are blessed with a terrific team of co-PI’s and campus collaborators who will work to achieve the ambitious goals we set for this project. This is especially important work in the context of our nation’s need to improve our capacity to use mathematics to describe, model, analyze, and make reliable predictions about some of the most vexing problems we face. How to best understand and make decisions about a welter of personal and practical problems that are presented and argued in mathematical or statistical terms is one more challenge we hope to help our students meet.”

Burns, who will serve as principal investigator of Engaging Mathematics, will be joined by a team of co-principal investigators including: Dr. Cindy Kaus of Metropolitan State University, Dr. Mangala Kothari of LaGuardia Community College, and Dr. Frank Wattenberg of the United States Military Academy.

Engaging Mathematics institutional partners include Dr. John Zobitz of Augsburg College, Dr. Victor Padron and Dr. Tony Dunlop of Normandale Community College, Dr. John Nardo and Dr. Lynn Gieger of Oglethorpe University, and Dr. Barbara Gonzalez and Dr. Cathy Evins of Roosevelt University. Dr. Leo Gafney will provide guidance and overall evaluation of Engaging Mathematics activities.

During the term of the project, partners at LaGuardia Community College plan to expand on the successful Project Quantum Leap course Elementary Statistics with Environmental and Social Issues. Metropolitan State University participants will create modules for calculus courses centered on the topic of sustainability. In addition to these newly developed courses, LaGCC and Metro State will also disseminate successful SENCER applications on their campuses to the other Engaging Mathematics partners, and to faculty and administrators locally and nationally.

Augsburg’s focus will be on a project-based calculus endeavor, while Oglethorpe University will create new models for the general education courses required of all students. Roosevelt University partners plan to integrate the SENCER approach into a college algebra course using issues affecting the city of Chicago. Normandale Community College plans to focus on water issues in a general education course, specifically enabling students to create linear and regression models. They also plan to introduce calculus-based group projects into another course.

An overall project goal is to have the newly developed course and modules taught at both the institution where the course was originally developed and at a partner campus. In the end, all the institutional partners will thus have the benefits of several new courses and the PIs and project team will have a better understanding of what is needed to make courses succeed in multiple settings.

Professor Frank Wattenberg of the United States Military Academy will provide guidance and forge connections with other national mathematics innovation initiatives. He will be responsible for connecting our reform efforts to already successful and complementary projects, so that the full advantage of what has been developed and learned by others is available to the EM partners and the SENCER community.

Distinguished educators who will advise Engaging Mathematics partners as they execute activities over the next several years include David C. Arney of the United States Military Academy, Samuel Benigni of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, Prabha Betne of LaGuardia Community College, Victor Donnay of Bryn Mawr College, David Ferguson of Stony Brook University, Susan Forman of CUNY Bronx Community College, and Solomon Garfunkel of COMAP. Additionally, NCSCE senior scholars Ellen Mappen and Eliza Reilly will assist project partners with consultation on planning and dissemination and in transforming their successful courses and modules into SENCER national models.

At its invitation, the Engaging Mathematics leadership team will work with the Mathematical Association of America to disseminate materials, modules/courses, and results to their communities of interest. Additionally, Engaging Mathematics will offer a website where updates and resources developed throughout the initiative will be made available to all interested educators, administrators, and students. Regional meetings, national symposia presentations, and faculty development programs are planned.

Look for reports on the work of the Engaging Mathematics partnerships, along with information on how you and your institution might benefit from the EM project in future editions of the eNews.

Article originally published September 19, 2013.