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Center for Teaching and LearningFocused Inquiry Groups (FIGs)  Title IIIAlternative Developmental Math ProgramArea of InquiryThe lack of engagement and preparation in developmental math classes is clear to all. In Summer 2007, we piloted Leap Ahead in Math workshop to help students be more prepared for their next math course. We used the computer assessment and learning system ALEKS, which created a study plan for individual students based on what they know. Students filled out a survey at the end. The responses to ALEKS were overwhelmingly positive, and students also responded that they would like to see ALEKS incorporated as part of a regular class. In the workshop, we observed some astonishing student behaviors. Students were very engaged with doing math. Many students worked for over two hours without a break. It was extremely rare to see a student surfing the net or reading email even though they were sitting in front of a computer for long stretches of time. Most surprisingly, students seemed to have very little trouble reading the explanations provided by ALEKS to help them solve problems. As many developmental students are reluctant to read their textbooks, this is astonishing. It suggests that students can and will read when they do not have to search for the text providing an answer to a question that is immediately at hand. The students were engaged and reading more probably because ALEKS only gave students topics determined to be within their zone of proximal development (i.e. what they are ready to learn), thereby reducing the frustration level developmental math students often encounter when they are in a lecture course. With the success of using ALEKS in a workshop, we are asking for support to incorporate ALEKS in courses to create an alternative developmental math sequence from the current lecture sections. The funding will support faculty time to further research and develop a program design, to implement a pilot of the design on Math 105 (Basic Math), to observe firsthand the use of ALEKS, to respond immediately to curricular needs during the pilot, and to find solutions to bureaucratic challenges. A successful pilot will provide evidence for institutionalization of an alternative developmental math program for Math 105 as well as Math 65 and 55.
Discoveries to DateWhile we have a sense of the potential benefits of using ALEKS for a course, the devil’s in the details. We will need time to research how others have implemented ALEKS in a course and develop our own program design. We will need to address issues specific to this course format, as lectures are no longer the only major delivery method and grades are not determined by the traditional scheduled chapter tests. We will collaboratively create class policies and course structure for Ming’s two sections of Math 105 in Fall 2009, so they will be more reflective of a pilot for a subdivision, as opposed to one instructor’s effort. We want to get a speaker/consultant who have been involved with using ALEKS, such as Wade Ellis, math faculty at West Valley Community College. Math 105 Pilot Because ALEKS creates an individualized curricular trajectory for each student, class lectures will focus on developing big concepts, rather than just teaching skills. The idea of these concept lectures is that they will engage a large number of students regardless of what they can do computationally, as our experience tells us that computational fluency does not imply conceptual understanding. Mathematical thinking involves formulating the appropriate operation to compute, not just carrying out computations. We will use some time in the summer to identify and develop these concept lectures. During the fall semester, as instructors work with ALEKS and note places that need to be supplemented, we will create material together to suit the classes’ needs, so Ming is not solely burdened with running sections in the new format and adapting to needs as they arise. To further support the students as they work on specific learning topics, we plan to give short minilectures during lab to a group of students who are about ready to learn about the same topics. ALEKS allows us to identify them. While student teaching assistants can also help give these minilectures, it is beneficial to have team teachers do so in the pilot. Giving minilectures is a way to manage differentiated instruction, which is done more frequently in public schools (especially in elementary education) but not often in postsecondary education. Team teaching will help us figure out together how to implement and manage differentiated instruction well and encourage more of us to attempt a delivery method less familiar to us.


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