- Posted by Marley Arechiga
- On August 5, 2016
Math classrooms are rarely remembered as places where students build community with classmates, think about real world questions, or, for many former math students, gain the confidence to excel at or enjoy doing math. Yet at a panel presentation at the 2016 Pathways National Forum, attendees learned directly from students about how the Carnegie Math Pathways is doing all of the above and more to transform how America teaches math.
The panel featured three students: Marco Antonio Flores Garcia from Tacoma Community College and Sheree Bocanegra and Khealah Hoskins from Diablo Valley College. All three students are alumni of Statway, a Pathways course that focuses on statistics and quantitative reasoning. Like many community college math students, the panelists initially viewed math as a daunting barrier to college graduation. So common is this barrier that nearly half of all new community college students each year – about half a million1 – fail to achieve college math credit. Though each had a different experience, Flores Garcia, Bocanegra, and Hoskins each discovered that Statway was the fresh, relevant approach to math that would support them in attaining that elusive college math credit.
The panelists all recounted unexpected experiences of community in Statway. Traditional math classes have a standard format – a student sits, an educator speaks, and little to no interaction among classmates takes place throughout the course. According to Bocanegra, a student in Administration of Justice, “[Statway] is a group of people together; if you are struggling they help you, and if someone else is struggling, you help them.” The sense of community extended to instructors as well. Flores Garcia attributed much of his success to the way his instructor adjusted himself to the learning styles of his students. “In Statway, if you fail, others look out for you,” he said.
Another critical component of Statway for the panelists was the course’s real-world application. Hoskins, a Business and Psychology student, deeply appreciated Statway’s interdisciplinary approach. “Statway doesn’t just touch on math; it touches politics, psychology, and makes the entire college experience more cohesive.” Bocanegra echoed a similar sentiment about Statway’s relevance to every-day life. She described how even when she watches television, she draws on her experience in Statway to better interpret and evaluate information.
Perhaps the most powerful takeaway for the panelists was gaining the confidence to succeed at and even enjoy math. Hoskins realized that Statway was a completely different kind of math class when she received the results of her first exam. “I was blown away,” she said, “I got a 97% on my test. I hadn’t had a math score that high since I was 14.” She observed that knowing the results “were not charity points” made her realize that this was not a fluke – she was learning math, and it was sticking. Bocanegra said that if she were to take another math course, she would continue with statistics. “I don’t have that fear anymore because I know now I can do it,” she said.
As the panel wrapped up, the students were asked what they would say to their college president if they were trying to convince her to expand the Pathways at her institution. Flores Garcia answered with a question: “Do you really want to help your students?” Attendees chuckled at the implication, but the resounding question at the heart of this year’s Forum was, “How do you want to help your students?” Do we continue on the traditional route, which fails nearly 500,000 students each year, or do we dare to transform the way we teach math?
1 Bailey, T., Jeong, D., & Cho, S. (2010). Referral, enrollment, and completion in developmental education sequences in community colleges. Economics of Education Review, 29(2), 255-270. Bailey et al. claim that approximately 60% of first-time community college students are placed into developmental math courses. Of those students, 70%never complete their credit-bearing math course. The National Center for Education Statistics IPEDS Data Center reports that the average number of first year community college students over the past decade is approximately 1,200,000 annually. 60% of that figure is 720,000, and of this new amount, 70%is 504,000. Thus, approximately half a million students each year do not obtain college math credit.