INspiration and … developmental math

Posted on September 6, 2015

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Friday afternoon, holiday weekend and yes, attendance was down.   I still had hte pleasure of eavesdropping on a young man going over the homework and asking questions, asking more questions about the basic math that he doesn’t know yet.  Yes, it is worth teaching these folks — not to be confused with pretending that plunking them in front of a computer that will give textual examples of procedures in an ever-so-adaptive-way is actually teaching.

It can certainly be part of it!   Let’s talk blended learning, folks – but blended learning with a growth mindset.  Yes, I’m thinking back to the Inside HIgher Ed article at https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/08/28/community-college-new-jersey-struggles-break-through-adaptive-math-courses   about how the course based on ALEKS doesnt’ do as well as “traditional” math courses.

The big tidbit of truth comes with this statement:  “We underestimated the skill that you would need as a teacher to deliver that content,” he said.

There are two truths in this statement.  First, that (d’oh) teaching math is actually a pretty sophisticated skill.

The second is more dangerous:   that Douglas Walcerz, vice president of planning, research and assessment at Essex, thinks that delivering content is what teachers do.

Now, this is in direct contrast to his statement that “I never believed that just giving them content was going to be enough, … We really wanted students to form a learning community.”

Is he pretty much satisfied with things not being enough because of that fixed mindset thing?    Is he  not really sure these students can succeed anyway?  (I can’t tell from the article.)

I might suggest that lots and lots of research is out there showing that developmental students benefit rather hugely from guidance and structure in learning the rather sophisticated skill of “forming a learning community.”   I’d have been interested in hearing just how the students were expected to do that.   It honestly sounds like students were sitting at computers doing their ALEKS thing with a person who knew more math (but not necessarily how to teach it)  roving and helping.   This doesn’t seem the ideal setting for facilitating the formation of a learning community.

Also, Take a look at this choice of words:

“Our problem is not content. Our problem is both student beliefs and behaviors,” said Walcerz.

For example, keeping students on task with the self-regulated workbooks has been a struggle for faculty members. About 90 percent of developmental math instructors at Essex are adjuncts. And the college leaned heavily on graduate students from nearby Rutgers University at Newark and the New Jersey Institute of Technology to teach parts of the adaptive courses during the first year.”

Hello.   having 90 % adjuncts, and relying on grad students are **student beliefs and behaviors?”  Really?  Please explain how?

If I were your basic “how to write a paragraph”  writing teacher, I would gently tell you that you needed something that backed up your statement, so that if you claim the issue is student belief and behavior, that then you should give me an example of … wait for it … student belief and/or behavior. I might suggest that you say the students did not stay on task if that’s what happened. Were the students really on Facebook or reading INside Higher Ed instead of doing ALEKS?

How about … letting ALEKS provide the adaptive practice it does so well, but let math teachers do the teaching?   Let math teachers  look at student work, figure out student thinking … and have office hours to bridge those gaps so that they *can* actually make the progress they need to make.  They might show up on a Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend…

UPDATE:   Okay, I’ve watched the videos and happily, one of the math teachers actually states that gee, she is concerned about concepts. She notes that the folks who do things rote don’t tend to do well further down the line.

There’s a bit of an assumption that it’s impossible for stuff on the computer to address concepts.   I beg to differ — so it’s time to get to learning how to do better.   Discovered that this Wed. Lab one isn’t due– it’s just assigned 😉    Project 1 is due 9/21… two weeks from Monday.  We’ll see 🙂

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