Who Needs Algebra? New Approach To College Math Helps More Pass

October 9, 2014

“Adult learning theory tells us that adults learn better when the intellectual work is applicable to their lives,” says LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow, who is on the steering committee of an initiative called Community College Pathways. The new approach seeks to largely skip over abstract algebraic formulas and go directly to math concepts that students will use and find engaging. Pathways consists of a yearlong course, Statway (for “Statistics”) and a pair of semester-long courses, Quantway (for “Quantitative Reasoning”).

In their traditional forms, both subjects typically come after remedial algebra in the college math sequence, and are offered for college credit — but these topics have far more immediate applications than algebraic equations do.

“Algebra is useful if you’re going to be compounding chemical substances for a manufacturing firm or if you’re an engineer,” Mellow explains. “But understanding statistics, probability, levels of risk — whether for retirement planning or the risk of your kid getting a concussion in football — those are real-life issues people will face.”

Similarly, the Quantway course is organized around concepts important for immediately useful topics: personal finance, health and civics.

This may sound like the old debate over replacing “pure math” with “applied math” or “business math.” But Karon Klipple, who directs the Pathways project, says what’s even more important to this new approach is changing how teachers teach, and how students think about math — and even how they feel about it. The article is from NPR’s blog.

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