April 10, 2009

Remedial math in community colleges

The anonymous community-college Dean Dad wrote this morning about remedial math classes in community colleges, and I'll use this as an excuse opportunity to bring together several thoughts I've spread around in different places or have not articulated:

  • Remedial education in community colleges should be the logical place where we try Carol Twigg's approach to improving essential common instruction.
  • We should stop blaming a mythical lack of alignment between high school and college for remedial-education needs in community colleges. I'd bet a bundle that every high school counselor tells students that algebra is required for college, and I'd bet a bundle that students who pass algebra and then are slotted for remedial education in community college knew far more algebra at the end of the algebra course than when they took the placement test for CC. My alternative hypothesis: students forget, especially if their hold on algebra in high school was by the fingernail. I'd be happy to be disproved wrong here, but someone has to do the research to keep stating the myth without my tossing tomatoes.
  • There should be no conflict between the National Mathematics Advisory Panel's final report recommendation emphasizing fractions as a central pre-algebra skill, on the one hand, and the desire to teach probability and statistics, on the other hand. How can you teach probability without students' understanding fractions? 
  • My guess based on observing weaknesses in communicating math-ed expectations is that one key stumbling block in learning fractions and teaching them is grasping/explaining how they can represent multiple properties and how the same properties of a fraction can be represented in different ways. If someone understands that 2 is a fraction, and that 67% not only is close to 2/3 as an abstract value but also can represent an approximation of the same darned thing (for a whole load of values for "thing"), then the concept of rational numbers is a small step, or at least a much smaller step when someone responds to the first statement with "huh?"
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Tags: community colleges, math, remedial education, teaching
Posted in Higher education on April 10, 2009 11:59 AM |