article n + 1

Posted on November 4, 2019


Technically not an article; it’s transcript from a podcast.  “Grow Up, Branch Out.” It suggests we could have mathematical literacy infused in *life* and all through college, no matter what you’re major.

I was intrigued by an early quote:

We call QL a literacy for the same reason: it is not a skill that we learn but rather acquire through repeated use across many and various contexts.

…  Why on earth is a skill acquired through repeated use across many and various contexts not “a skill we learn” ?????   That seems to accept that math “learned” is … the rote stuff.

I was encouraged by this paragraph:

To handle the burning numerical questions of our age, our students need more than a fire extinguisher on the wall. They need a smoke alarm. A vigilant sensibility, a habit of mind. We don’t just want our students to use numbers; we want them to WANT to use numbers, to see the world through a quantitative lens. Because the stakes for numeracy have never been higher.

I like these words.   They’re not “they need to pass a math class.”

I was thinking, awesome:   it’s not about “here is a program we got funding for; now we need to brag about it.”

Sigh, that’s two paragraphs later… we’ll see.   SO there’s “Big-Q” math that you get in math class, and “small-Q math” that is “across the full spectrum of the curriculum.”

Okay, are we going to deal with the fact that too many students don’t understand any of this when they arrive?   Yes..  There’s a literacy assessment.   (Doesn’t say what happens to people who don’t meet the  standards to take the literacy course.  That’s okay, they can find a vocation program <sarcasm>).

Okay, here we go:   “Reimagining Freshman Math.”  I wait with worms on my tongue… (baited breath, Mork ;))

The Carnegie Foundation’s QUANTWAY project is an example of a widely-adopted curriculum for freshman-level, general-education quantitative reasoning, that includes both college-level modules teaching numeracy, algebraic modelling, and elementary statistical literacy in context, and also developmental skills modules to support these outcomes on either a prerequisite or on a corequisite basis.

Okay, we will have “developmental skills modules.”  Well, I might as well get back to breathing, ’cause that’s pretty much all that’s said here.

NExt paragraph, that assessment:   the “quantitative literacy and reasoning assessment,” which is used to evaluate their courses but also as a placement exam for them.   Okay, tell me more.

We change the subject and talk about social science programs, and how lots of times students put off taking stats until the end and bad things happen, and how it would be much better to put it early and then they could use those math skills in the curriculum.   Cool!   Awesome!

And there is a rubric for figuring out if you know the math too:

The VALUE rubric sets an analytic scale for each of the components of quantitative literacy: the interpretations and the assumptions needed to retrieve a quantitative idea from its context; the calculations and choices needed to gain an insight; and the analysis and communication needed to place that insight back into its context.

… and it seems that the whole developmental stuff is not addressed.   There’s this statement in passing:

Likewise, two of the most math-anxious student populations on campus are also two populations that will have an outsized influence on the health of our democracy: future teachers, and future journalists.

Hmm.  Think I’ll just let that stand.

Okay, now we do touch on the developmental — the “modules” that are “bigger htan a class period, smaller than an entire course,” including something I love if it’s done right:   a class all about learning that your “gut reaction” is often wrong, if you look more closely, and that you should look more closely.

Can I get a whole lot of amens?   (In my opinion, this is one of the most important lessons Being In College gives you: that if you learn to analyze more deeply, you can avoid pretty awful mistakes.  Unfortunately, lots of folks in the college don’t go by that so you have to analyze deeply and then see whose ego you’ll bruise with the truth… phonics with pretty much *all* the analytical data supporting its teaching…  when the department is into whole language? tread gently…)

The rest of the article talks about different “levels” of “quantitative literacy” at a college.   I’d say most are at level 0.5:   “what are you talking about?  We just need to get fewer students flunking out!” but it’s good to see steps laid out.

I wonder how many students pass that qualitative literacy assessment and get to take the “big q” course.. .and how many don’t.   (That said, I’m elated that this is a concerted effort to bring this understanding to the masses, even the education and journalism majors…)