SENCER E-Newsletter, November 2006, Volume 6, Issue 3
FIPSE Awards LaGuardia $500,000 to SENCERize Mathematics Education
LaGuardia Community College has received a prestigious FIPSE grant to enhance developmental mathematics pedagogy. Conceived by the College's Dean for Academic Affairs, Dr. Paul Arcario, the College's 2006 proposal was one of 51 out of 481 applications selected for an award in this highly competitive program.
In an effort to improve student learning outcomes in developmental math, LaGuardia's Project Quantum Leap will adapt the SENCER approach to teaching science and advanced mathematics to a new setting and population: the community college student needing developmental math.
As one of 17 undergraduate colleges of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia serves over 13,500 degree students and 39,000 students in non-credit and outreach programs. Since accepting its first incoming class in 1971, the College has been a gateway to college for thousands of students - immigrant, minority, low-income, first-generation college - who might not otherwise have had access to higher education.
LaGuardia's project recognizes the importance of mathematics instruction to these students' success: nationally, students who take college-level math as early as possible (no matter their eventual major) are more likely to attain a degree. Yet at community colleges - now the major gateway to higher education in this country - enrollment in remedial classes accounts for over half (55%) of mathematics program enrollments. Many of these students are not progressing into college-level math courses; dropout and failure rates in remedial courses are high, as is student dissatisfaction. Clearly, new instructional strategies are needed to improve student success rates in this critical subject area.
LaGuardia math professors Prabha Betne, Gordon Crandall, and Frank Wang, who provided the mathematical examples for the proposal and will head the project, believe that the SENCER approach will be particularly appropriate for basic skills math. "Students in these courses," observes Dr. Betne, "have generally had unsuccessful experiences with math, viewing the subject as uninteresting, scary, and irrelevant. They are perhaps most in need of an approach that can deepen the settings and contexts to engage them more fully, to interest them in more complex problems that they will not dismiss as superficial." Dr. Wang adds that, "Once such a compelling context is established, other approaches to teaching developmental math - learning communities, problem-solving, discovery method, project-based learning, and inquiry-based learning - become more relevant." Dr. Crandall concurs, observing that, "Without establishing context, approaches such as the discovery method and inquiry-based learning seem unfocused and scattershot. Students can end up jumping across widely different contexts in the course of a semester, typically working through a series of modules with applications so disconnected that none can be explored deeply enough to become compelling." Instead, in adapting the SENCER-approach, concludes department chairperson Dr. Kamal Hajallie, "we will create a single, engaging context to be explored throughout the entire semester for each level of basic mathematics we offer."
Project Quantum Leap will focus on a three-year faculty development program supported by the College's Center for Teaching and Learning. The Center's director, Assistant Dean Bret Eynon, notes that grant funding "will allow faculty to engage in sustained work to transform the entire developmental mathematics curriculum during the course of the grant period. Dr. Peter Katopes, LaGuardia's Vice President for Academic Affairs, believes Project Quantum Leap will help further a key aspect of College's mission: "Community colleges are now the primary gateway to higher education in this country - particularly for minorities and other underserved populations. LaGuardia's overriding objective is to learn about what works and what contributes to the success of this student population - and to put what is learned into practice."