Plenary participants

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)

Image from Pixabay.com

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.

seychelles beach 1

Environmental Statistics Across Continents

For NCSCE’s Engaging Mathematics initiative, Dr. Cynthia Kaus of Metropolitan State University, one of the project’s co-principal investigators, will develop two versions of an Environmental Statistics course: one to be offered at Metropolitan State in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the other at the University of Seychelles, where Dr. Kaus was recently appointed as a Fulbright Scholar.

Even though the two versions of the course will be taught in different locations—indeed, in different hemispheres—Dr. Kaus plans two strategies to unify her efforts. First, she will design the courses to cover the same mathematical material. For the first year at least, the mathematics will be at the introductory level. In future iterations, Dr. Kaus plans to collaborate with a statistician to raise the complexity of the content for more advanced students at the junior and senior levels. Secondly, both the US and the Seychelles courses will be structured around a common environmental issue and theme, the use of wind farms.

Dr. Kaus hopes to have students at both Metro State and the University of Seychelles use wind experiment kits to gather data on wind farm efficiency and other variables that could help inform policy and practice, as well as improving the functionality of wind farms in both the Seychelles and St. Paul. The kits are manufactured by KidWind, a nonprofit organization located in St. Paul. She also plans to utilize web conferencing software, such as Skype, to facilitate communication between students at the two universities, so they may share their data, project results, and presentations.

Dr. Kaus anticipates offering these new courses in the spring of 2015. Subsequent course iterations will also be organized to allow students to work with local organizations on projects of environmental importance. For updates on how her courses develop, check future issues of the eNews and follow the initiative on Twitter @MathEngaging.

Article originally published by Christine Marie DeCarlo on April 24, 2014.