Grant to help TNCC boost student success in math


Published: January 13, 2009

The Daily Press

A sticking point in its math curriculum could soon be solved by a new effort at Thomas Nelson Community College.

The Virginia Community College System awarded a $65,000 grant for TNCC faculty to create a new way of teaching developmental math. A study showed that approximately 2,000 students were enrolled in those classes in the fall of 2006. However, about 50 percent dropped out before finishing.

The entry-level classes, which are non-credit, must be passed before students can advance to take for-credit math classes.

Developmental classes are for those whose placement test lands them in either Algebra I or Algebra II.

“We’re looking at students who are getting frustrated and never really completing the course like they should and moving to the program courses,” said Patricia Taylor, TNCC’s dean of mathematics, engineering and technologies. “It’s a barrier. A frustrated student may decide not to continue their education.”

The new program’s aim is to help students only take the sections of the class they need, and to advance through the curriculum more quickly before becoming either frustrated by falling behind or bored, Taylor said.

“It’s mastery-based, so a student will repeat a unit until they get it, before moving on to the next unit,” Taylor said. “It will improve their success by allowing them to take the modules that they need, skip the ones they don’t and move through the course as quickly as possible.”

The program breaks up the 16-week course into four parts. A diagnostic test the first day determines which modules a student will need to study.

Students will be divided up by the modules they are studying each of four weeks, and will change instructors accordingly.

A test at the end of each module will determine whether a student moves on or repeats that module until they pass.

The approach has been tried elsewhere, and will now be examined for adaptation to work at TNCC, Taylor said. It will be called Student Success Using Math Modules.

“The faculty are going to have to develop the testing system, select the software package, which I believe they’ve done already,” Taylor said. “They’re going to have to structure the entire project for the two courses.”

A team is working on this, with plans to start the Math 03 (Algebra I) modular class in the fall semester and the Math 04 (Algebra II) the following spring.

A hundred students will participate in each pilot program.

After gathering data and feedback on that initial class, faculty will make changes and recommendations as needed, Taylor said.

Math department chairperson Catherine Hoffmaster led the way on the grant application and is heading up the project.

“We’re really excited about it,” Hoffmaster said. “We think it’s going to be great for our students and hopefully eventually it will be adopted by the VCCS.”

The planning process began, and the book and computer software that will be used were chosen before holiday break, she said.

“Math is typically one of the downfalls of many students,” Hoffmaster said. “All of us who teach it love it and are excited. But sometimes students can get to a point and they can get snowballed.

“This, I think, will be encouraging because each success they have will help them do better.”



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