• Bruce Simon

Active Engagement in the Mathematics Classroom

A conference was convened by the Institute for STEM Education and the Bay Area Basic Skills Partnership at the Newark Campus of Ohlone College. Over 100 math teachers from local high schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges came together to collaborate on developing teaching practices that actively engage students in learning mathematics.

The traditional notion that all math faculty simply teach mathematics and all math students learn mathematics is no longer enough to describe the complex system in which teaching and learning takes place. The job of math faculty is still to teach mathematics. Students still need mathematics and quantitative reasoning skills to successfully navigate the modern world. Some students need advanced skills to prepare them for technical studies and careers in business, science, technology and engineering. Other students need to be able to think quantitatively in meeting the challenges of daily life. They will need to be able to understand compound interest, calculate the gratuity on a restaurant check, and interpret a graph about climate change as part of their civic duty to choose an elected official.

As you all well know, the world in which we teach and learn has changed dramatically in the past few years.

In just the past 2 years the following changes to education policy and teaching practice have been adopted:

• CA Academic Content Standards in Mathematics (Common Core) changed scope and sequence and introduced standards for mathematical practice for the K-12 system. • CSU Executive Order 1100 removed the focus of the quantitative reasoning requirement from high school algebra to include a more broadly defined set of essential quantitative skills for the nearly half a million students it serves. Changes that have the potential to reverberate across educational systems in CA and across the country. • CSU Executive Order 1110 changed the way the CSU measures preparedness in Mathematics/QR for incoming freshman from high stakes testing to a Multiple Measures framework • Community Colleges developed guided pathways and adopted multiple measures placement strategies to advise students. AB 705 required community colleges, "to maximize the probability that the student will enter and complete transfer-level coursework in English and mathematics within a one-year timeframe." These changes and others have, and will, alter the makeup and mind set of the students and the required skills they must demonstrate to achieve their career and personal goals. Our obligation to these students is to ensure that the educational experiences we provide within the framework of these mandates opens doors rather than blocking pathways. Although some would argue that these changes have been written with insufficient input from math faculty and directed at schools and colleges without sufficient time and support for proper, effective implementation, our challenge is clear. We need to fulfill our responsibility and teach mathematics. We need to prepare students for the successful achievement of their personal and academic goals. One year ago the Greater Bay Area Basic Skills Partnership was formed with a grant from the CA Community College Chancellor's Office. The partnership, including Ohlone College, Mission College, Diablo Valley College, Chabot College, the four Peralta Community Colleges, San Jose State, San Francisco State, and Cal State East Bay, was tasked with investigating the feasibility of community colleges providing basic skills instruction to CSU students. In addition, we were charged with investigating possible ways to support students in transitions between educational systems through innovative approaches to instruction and bureaucracy. We were looking for ways to make the boundaries between our systems more transparent and easier to navigate. The partnership chose to focus on our common goals – providing students with educational experiences in their math classes that support them where they are, that illuminate pathways and that open doorways. Our job is to show them the way forward to achieve their goals. The Partnership decided to offer a conference focused on effective mathematics teaching. We intend this to be a start, to learn some new strategies to engage students, to meet a new colleague, to become re-energized about teaching mathematics.

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