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)

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.