TMATH 110 Introductory Statistics
***I have flipped ALL of my classes
I consider myself fortunate that so early in my career I have taught a wide variety of students – high school and college, engineering, liberal arts, traditional, non-traditional, minority and even at-risk students. What I have noticed about all of these students is how much harder they work, and how much better they learn, when they feel that what they are studying is relevant to their lives or somehow connected to what they already know. I feel that there are several ways that we as educators can help students better understand math and better enjoy their mathematics experience.
Firstly, I feel it is mandatory that we do not forget what it feels like to be on the other side of the “big desk” when we teach. It is easy to forget what it feels like to be confused and not understand things, especially when the concepts come so easily to us. It is imperative that we understand what kinds of misconceptions our students are likely to bring with them to our classes, and we must know how to help them overcome their misconceptions. With the myriad of teaching styles and techniques out there, it is impossible to know exactly what each student does or does not already know without taking the time to get to know each of them individually and evaluating their personal strengths and weaknesses. I know that this can be a time-consuming process, and most would argue that it is impossible to spend this kind of time in a typical class. However, I feel that it is a necessary first step if we want to break the cycle of confusion, frustration and anger that struggling students experience when they try to learn additional materials with a shaky foundation and/or misconceptions.
Secondly, we all know that the majority of students we teach in lower-level math courses are not mathematics majors. However, these students have a broad range of previous or concurrent coursework that we can use to further their education, and if we show our students how the concepts of algebra, calculus and other lower-level mathematics affect their own subjects and coursework, they can build upon those connections and have a much better grasp of the material. In addition, seeing how mathematics affects other areas can only increase their interest and effort. By grounding the material in real-world examples, they are able to create relationships with concepts they already understand, and thus learn new concepts that are more complicated. A final benefit to seeing the usefulness and applicability of mathematics to a variety of disciplines can be an increase in the number of students who ultimately choose mathematics or mathematics teaching as their major.
Another way to increase the perceived relevance of mathematics and hopefully the enjoyment level in the classroom is to present problems using “alternative” teaching styles, especially those that take advantage of technology. By using graphing calculators and computers, we are able to present students with questions that more closely resemble real-life applications. Students become jaded when all critical points occur at nice, integer values. When the data involved appears to be real, the students learn better because they more readily buy into the usefulness of the material being discussed. Technology in the classroom allows students to investigate problems with messy values or problems that would otherwise be too intense or advanced for them to attempt. Whether or not they are able to complete the more advanced problems is not as important as the mere fact that they are able to investigate more in depth concepts. I feel the most valuable use of technology in the classroom is the ability to allow students the opportunity to investigate difficult problems that will in turn stimulate their curiosity and ultimately lead to stronger mathematics skills in general.
Finally, I think that we need to make a concerted effort as math instructors to reach all of our students. Because many of our introductory courses service other departments, we spend a large amount of time getting students to a minimal level of passing through office hours, review sessions, etc. Often I feel that the better students, those ‘A’ or ‘B’ students who do not need as much assistance, get shortchanged because we do not see them as much as those students that are struggling. A student that goes away unchallenged is just as bad as one that goes away frustrated and confused. By making our courses more relevant and building on each student’s own body of knowledge and level of understanding, we can give every student a chance to satisfy their academic curiosities and fulfill their potentials. The benefits for them, and for us, can be tremendous.