Methods for Teaching Math

A new report offers practical recommendations on ways to improve math instruction at 2-year colleges.
October 6, 2006

Math instructors at community colleges face an uphill battle by many measures: the U.S. Department of Education says that fewer than half of high school graduates are prepared for college-level math and science, high school test scores in math have barely budged since the 1970s and American students rank a sorry 24th out of 29 developed nations for mathematical problem-solving skills. Two-year colleges -- which attract higher numbers of students needing remedial education than their four-year counterparts -- bear the brunt of the challenge of getting students up to speed.

With these bleak realities as its backdrop, the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges released a report Thursday, "Beyond Crossroads: Implementing Mathematics Standards in the First Two Years of College." The document offers practical suggestions to help faculty members and administrators "meet students where they are," as the association's president, Kathy Mowers, said.

The report offers no-nonsense methods and tactics designed to guide faculty and administrative decision-making processes in five main areas: student learning and the learning environment, assessment of student learning, curriculum and program development, instruction and professionalism.

"Beyond Crossroads " offers a set of proposed actions in support of each recommendation listed. For instance, the document’s recommendation that students, faculty and support staff understand the influence of students’ attitudes toward learning mathematics and employ strategies to alleviate anxiety is accompanied with a list of suggested faculty actions that include a need to: be aware of diverse mathematics backgrounds , answer questions and explain material, assign and provide feedback on homework assignments, and use multiple assessment measures.

Suggested steps that departments or institutions can take regarding student attitudes include offering mathematics and study skills workshops, providing a sufficient number of qualified, well-trained tutors and providing training for counselors to support students’ math anxiety.

Judy Ackerman, the immediate past president of the two-year math group, said instructors can bring the report to college administrators to point out ways they can improve: "This is how we should be teaching math," Ackerman said. "These are the changes we need to make."

William Steenken, a consulting engineer for GE Aviation and a member of the National Advisory Committee for "Beyond Crossroads," said the report will help "make good teachers great" and will be particularly helpful to part-time instructors, who taught 44 percent of math courses at two-year colleges in 2005, according to the report. "We need to provide guidance to adjunct faculty," Steenken said, pointing out that many work full-time in fields unrelated to teaching.

Electronic resources accompanying the document will be available online beginning November 2, after the report is distributed at the math association's annual conference in Cincinnati. Other implementation recommendations outlined in the report include the need for faculty to engage in continuing professional development, integrate technology in the classroom and incorporate skills that students will need in the work place into technical and career math courses.


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