I’m Helping to Develop a New Math Course!

21 May

This summer, I am helping to develop a new mathematics course, Intro to Workplace Mathematics.  The motivation for, content of the course, and context of the mathematics are all designed to graduate technical students who are ready to enter the workforce with the appropriate mathematical skills.

The motivation of Intro to Workplace Mathematics is to have a course that gets technical students prepared for their technical mathematics course without extra material and with real-world context for all of the mathematics.  When Kentucky adopted the Common Core Standards, the Council on Postsecondary Education, which oversees all two-year and four-year colleges and universities in Kentucky, decided that developmental education should also match the same standards.  The result was the addition of mathematics topics that are geared solely towards students preparing for College Algebra or other general education mathematics classes at a four-year college.  However, these additional topics are not required by students who are seeking a two-year technical degree. Techical students have a different set of mathematical requirements, which focus on applied mathematics problems.

In developing the course, input for the content of Intro to Workplace Mathematics came from two different courses.   The first source was a survey of technical faculty and industry representatives.  The second source was a review of the competencies of the technical mathematics courses offered by KCTCS.  The competencies of the course are:

  1. Convert between units of length.
  2. Use significant digits to show the accuracy of a measurement.
  3. Use and interpret scientific notation.
  4. Simplify algebraic expressions using the properties of algebra, including the distributive law and combining like terms.
  5. Solve linear equations in one variable.
  6. Translate verbal statements into algebraic expressions.
  7. Solve literal equations for a given variable.
  8. Solve problems with percentages, ratios, and proportions.
  9. Plot points on a rectangular coordinate system.
  10. Graph lines from their equation.
  11. Find the intercepts of a line from the graph or equation.
  12. Calculate the slope of a line from the graph, equation, or two given points.
  13. Interpret slope as a rate of change in applications.
  14. Simplify algebraic expressions using the rules of exponents.
  15. Use appropriate technology to solve application problems.
  16. Solve applied problems using the above competencies within appropriate contexts.

For me, the most fun will be developing the real-world context for the course material.  The goal is to make the question “When are we ever going to use this?” irrelevant.  This summer, I will be spending my time combing through technical textbooks and conferring with technical faculty to find the best applications of the mathematical content.  My guiding principle is the work done by Dan Meyer on pseudocontext, which is math word problems that would never occur in a real-world context.

I am looking forward to working on Intro to Workplace Mathematics.  Students in technical programs provide a vital service in the US workforce.  By developing a mathematics course with the motivation, content, and context requried by these students, they will be better prepared for their future employment.

College Algebra: Solving Systems of Equations with Matrices

18 Oct

This semester has turned out to be very busy for me.  I’ve been working through the college algebra materials, but haven’t taken the time to revise and post them.  I’ve put new materials for systems of equations and matrices.  More will follow as I get caught up.

Hey, Vi Hart, is Everything OK?

27 Aug

If you are not familiar with Vi Hart’s mathematics doodling videos, you should check them out.  Vi has become a star amongst mathematical people with her delightful videos. She manages to make connections that I’ve never made, and I have Ph. D. in mathematics. I find her upbeat delivery to be a wonderful change from some of the drier math videos online.

Her latest video is, to me, the most bitter one yet.  She spends more time criticizing math classes in this video than in her previous videos. She spends time on the video referring to the “check box” approach to teaching, and how the students and teachers are unengaged in the classroom.  Angry Birds is a bad guy of the video. You don’t make friends by attacking Angry Birds.

She mentions that education should be about learning how to think. I can’t argue with that.  I’d like more avenues of investigation and opportunities for thought provided to the viewers.

The irony I find with this video is that she has been working with Khan Academy, which, to me, embodies every criticism Hart has about traditional education.  For comparison, here is one of Sal Khan’s videos on parabolas.


Graphs of Quadratic Functions: Graphs of Quadratic Functions

College Algebra: Functions Represented by Graphs

27 Aug

I’ve posted my latest College Algebra materials.  More of the same, except for one devious question.  I’m expecting the students to use the internet to get the answer to question 6 of the student handout.  Most will have iPads, and I hope they manage to remember to use it.

The College Algebra students took their first exam last week.  The class average was over 85.  Most of the dual-credit high school students had Precalculus last year, so they are way ahead.

No MTT2K Entry from Me

15 Aug

I had been considering making a video similar to the one by John Golden and David Coffey critiquing Kahn Academy.  This would have been part of the MTT2K prize offered by Dan Meyer and Justin Reich.  I have decided not to make a video for three reasons.

First, Kate Nowak has hit it out of the park with her video.  The video is based on another 90’s cultural reference, Pop up Videos.  I know I can’t do any better than her in both topic and tone.

Second, I tried to make a video, and it was really mean.  I used Khan’s video on related rates and snarked right over it.  Related rates is hard enough to teach for an experienced teacher.  The video low hanging fruit for parody, especially when Khan couldn’t remember who was the guy other than Leibniz who invented Calculus.  As much fun as it was to make, I don’t want to have that hanging out there forever.  I try my best to keep it classy.

Third, I really wanted to make a video that does the job right.  It is really hard to do a good related rates problem  in a WCYDWT style, as accurate measurements via video are tough.  There is no sense is setting myself up for criticism for a job poorly done.

So, I’m passing on the prize this time.

Calculus II: Arc Length and other Issues

15 Aug

I’ve added new materials for Calculus II.  We’re up to arc length tomorrow.

I’ve been talking with some of the other math faculty about the format for my half lecture/half computer Intermediate Algebra.  My orginial plan was to lecture on the course material on Tuesdays and then let them loose in the computer lab on Thursdays.  However, that plan would not allow me to cover all of the course material.  Thus, a new plan is required.

One of the aspects of our redesign model is that all students take a pretest at the start of each unit.  So, my plan is to use the pretest and their quizzes to focus on the material where the students are struggleing.  The hard part will be getting that information out of MyMathLab.  I’ll have the weekend to match up the questions with the objectives in each section.  Fortunately, there are only nine students, so it won’t be too hard to go through each test.

Calculus II: Volumes Using Cylindrical Shells

14 Aug

I’ve added some Calc II materials.  I liked the way it worked in Intermediate Algebra, so I’m going to give it a try in Calc II tomorrow.

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