One issue that universities all over the United States face today is how their beginning math courses have become student obstacles to earning a degree, and in particular, a degree in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). There are a number of reasons for this barrier, some of which started long before students entered college. However, much can be done at the collegiate level to tear down this wall without giving up high quality mathematics instruction demanded by many degree disciplines.
Last week I had an opportunity to visit a university that is working hard to improve its beginning math courses: Michigan State University. After hearing about their programs, I think MSU is one of the universities at the forefront in the country in this effort, not only for its courses for non-STEM majors, but also for the way it is increasing access for students who wish to pursue a STEM major.
MSU is trying to make math relevant again for its non-STEM majors. Instead of solving yesterday’s generic word problems, students are now modeling and solving problems involving math they will need for experiences they will encounter later in life. MSU is near the beginning of this journey, and will likely (and self-admittedly) need a few midcourse corrections, but the university is definitely headed in the right direction. As the lead curriculum writer and mathematician of the PK-12 Eureka Math curriculum, I have seen first hand the difference this makes: students go from seeing math as “something they have to take” to “a valuable course they want to take.”
Increasing student access to STEM majors involves much more than just what happens at the university level. For example, my curriculum, Eureka Math, is specifically designed to produce college-ready students who are ready to become the next generation scientists and engineers. MSU is thinking about this issue at both the university and pre-university level. At the university level, MSU is looking at ways to shorten the time period between when students start college and when they enter their first calculus course—a gateway course to many STEM fields. This shorten timescale can mean the difference between taking 5 or 6 years to get a STEM degree and the usual 4-year timeframe. And MSU is trying to do this in a way that still ensures that students arriving to Calc I are ready for the course.
Congratulations to MSU on its efforts. I encourage my readers to visit the Mathematics Department at MSU or the Program in Mathematics Education (PRIME) to learn more about the university. Math is not the only field where MSU is making positive changes–check here for engineering and here for chemistry. Go Spartans!
CHANNEL: That’s News to Me
© 2016 Scott Baldridge
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