Learning Innovations Golden Apple Grant Recipients
Spring 2002-2 through Summer B 2002-4
||A Learning Community for Math Enhancement through Student Life Skills
Jocelyne Legrand, Social Sciences Department, Wolfson Campus
Adriana Matas, Math Department, Wolfson Campus
Bernard Mathon, Math Department, Wolfson Campus
This project consists of two learning communities, each one pairing Mathematics and Student Life Skills courses, which aim at student success in math. Both disciplines will emphasize vocabulary and reading study skills for math problems as well as math applications in everyday life. Early intervention will take place based on the results from the College Student Inventory, which measures retention/attrition proneness. Students will also receive tutorial and technological support. In addition, they will participate in the Becoming a Better Math Learner workshops.
The main objective of the project was to help students learn how to: succeed in mathematics, develop responsibility toward their studies and improve their attitude towards the subject. The project targeted two groups of highly “at risk” students who were required to take MAT 0020 or MAT 1033. Both groups included a few students who were repeating the courses. All students were required to take SLS 1535, a Student Life Skills course.
The project goals and outcomes were to:
• Form two learning communities organized into two MAT/SLS cohorts at the start of the Spring 2002-2 Term.
• Recruit 30 to 40 students for the learning communities by the 100% refund deadline for the Spring 2002-2 term.
• Increase the passing rate of the cohort students taking MAT 0020 from the Wolfson campus 2001-2 passing rate of 38.8% to at least 50% by the end of the Spring 2002-2 Term.
• Increase the passing rate of the cohort students taking MAT 1033 from the Wolfson campus 2001-2 passing rate of 48% to at least 60% by the end of the Spring 2002-2 Term.
• Improve student retention rates.
• Improve students’ study skills and test taking strategies. This improvement was to be measured by the results of pre-assessment and post-assessment questionnaires administered to the students at the beginning and at the end of the semester.
• Raise the participants’ level of math self-confidence. This was to be measured by administering to them the computerized version of the College Student Inventory and comparing their mean score on the item on math self confidence with that of the SLS 1535 students who did not participate in any learning community.
• Increase and improve students’ use of proper math vocabulary in the SLS 1535 classes.
The project’s goals and outcomes were accomplished by the implementation of a carefully planned instructional model that:
• Provided the students with a sense of belonging and enabled them to combat feelings of isolation often experienced by students.
• Provided the students with a well-structured environment and strong academic support.
• Allowed early intervention to prevent students from failing or withdrawing from classes.
• Emphasized the importance of developing good math study skills.
• Provided additional support to ensure effective learning of mathematics vocabulary.
• Provided a weekly one-hour study session for students enrolled in MAT 1033. (This had never been done before).
• Addressed negative attitudes toward mathematics.
• Promoted independent as well as group learning.
• Promoted active learning vs. passive learning.
• Used a holistic approach in teaching these students, realizing that mathematics is only one of many components in their academic experience.
Successfully forming these two learning communities was a challenge because Spring registration was well under way when the three professors’ grant proposal was approved.
Thanks to the remarkable dedication of the academic advisors and other Student Services personnel, the two learning communities were formed in less than two weeks. A total of 39 students were recruited: 27 were enrolled in the MAT 0020/SLS 1535 cohort, and 12 in the MAT 1033/SLS 1535 cohort before the end of the 100% refund period.
All students were required to attend study and tutoring sessions as well as the Becoming a Better Math Learner (BBML) workshop series consisting of four one-hour workshops on dealing with math anxiety and improving math study skills.
Four tutors were carefully selected and hired to work with the students. In the MAT 0020 study sessions, the tutors played a key role in assisting the study session instructor. In MAT 1033, the tutors were in charge of conducting the study sessions. The tutors were continuously guided and monitored by the math professors who worked closely with them.
Students worked on collaborative learning activities and worksheets specially designed for the study sessions and also took group quizzes. The tutors went above and beyond the call of duty, establishing telephone contact with students and inquiring regularly about “their” students’ academic progress.
The course competencies for MAT 0020 and MAT 1033 remained the same, but the syllabi were slightly modified to include assessment of group activities and assignments that would help improve the students’ math study skills. The competencies of SLS 1535 were adjusted to fit the needs of the learning communities and the syllabus modified accordingly.
The SLS component addressed the need of students to understand the vocabulary involved in the concepts they were working with in their mathematics classes. In coordination with the math instructors, the SLS instructor assigned homework on mathematics vocabulary needed by the students to properly understand their mathematics textbooks and gave students open book quizzes on math vocabulary. The SLS component also discussed reading and note-taking strategies for math and science.
Private one-on-one advisement sessions between the students and the SLS instructor, as well as frequent meetings among the three professors allowed proactive and early interventions. The math instructors kept the SLS instructor informed of upcoming math tests as well as the students’ performance.
The SLS instructor conducted frequent private sessions with the students to discuss their future academic plans and to advise them accordingly. Several guest speakers were invited to the SLS classes to conduct workshops on the math courses needed for transfer to the upper-division, math and career choices, math and high salary jobs, and on financial aid.
The SLS component and the BBML workshops addressed the importance of good time management, timely homework completion, selecting good study partners as well as effective relaxation techniques for taking tests.
Even though they studied in groups or with the help of the tutors, the students were made aware of the fact that their success in these classes was ultimately their responsibility.
The project was assessed based on how its goals and outcomes were accomplished.
This section gives the project’s results in terms of: successful creation of the learning communities, passing and retention rates, tutors’ valuable role and contributions, and students’ satisfaction with the project.
• Before the end of the 100% refund period, 39 students were registered in these two learning communities. This is remarkable given the fact that the registration of students only took place at the end of the Fall semester and right after the Winter break.
• The passing rate for MAT 0020 (a grade of S) was 40.7% (11 of 27 ), compared to the average Wolfson campus passing rate of 38.8% for all students taking MAT 0020 in the Spring 2001-2. This is 1.9 percentage points higher or the equivalent of 5% increase in the percentage rate.
• The passing rate for MAT 1033 (C or higher) was 58% (7 of 12), compared to the average Wolfson campus passing rate of 48%. This is 10 percentage points higher or the equivalent of 21% increase in the percentage rate.
• The passing rate for the SLS 1535 in the MAT 0020/SLS cohort was 74% (20 of 27).
• The passing rate for the SLS 1535 in the MAT 1033/SLS cohort was 83% (10 of 12).
• In the MAT 0020/SLS 1535 cohort, there was a 20% increase in the post-test scores of the Math Study Skills Inventory as compared to the pre-test scores given at the beginning of the semester. In the MAT 1033/SLS 1535 cohort, there was a 58% increase.
• The College Student Inventory was also administered to both cohorts. Due to technical difficulties, scores were unavailable, so no data can be reported.
• The retention rate for MAT 0020/SLS 1535 was 89%; 24 of 27 students completed the course. One student dropped the course, and two others had to be dropped by the instructors. They had personal problems that could not be resolved.
• 22 of the 27 MAT 0020/SLS 1535 students re-enrolled at the college in the subsequent Summer or Fall semesters. This is an 82% true retention rate.
• The retention rate for MAT 1033/SLS 1535 was 83%; 10 of 12 students completed the course. One student was dropped by the instructor after careful meetings and coordination between the two professors and several advisement sessions with the participant. One student stopped attending after the deadline for withdrawal due to health reasons.
• 11 of the 12 MAT 1033/SLS 1535 students re-enrolled at the college in the subsequent Summer or Fall semesters. This is a 92% true retention rate.
• 7 of the 12 MAT 1033 students are taking college level math courses at the time. Eleven are presently taking a math course.
• An informal survey was conducted in the math component among the students from both learning communities. The results gathered revealed that the tutors’ role and performance in the learning communities were extremely important and valuable to the students. The survey also revealed that they would recommend this program to others and that it should be an on-going program at the college.
• An informal interview upon the completion of the project with the tutors who participated in it revealed that they were completely engaged, mind, body and soul; they developed leadership skills; they felt deeply cared for and respected by the students; and, that they experienced great satisfaction watching the groups working together in such great harmony.
• A special website for these Learning Communities was created by one of the tutors who also participated in the Fall Learning Communities of 2002. Although the instructors supervised this project, it was entirely the initiative of the tutor. The website address is www.geocities.com/lctutor2003. This tutor also created a special E-mail address for the students who needed help after hours. Participating students had the opportunity to visit this site and were very excited about it.
• Compared to the Fall Learning Communities, passing rates for both cohorts were lower, but still higher than the campus passing rates for 2001-2. The instructors believe that one of the reasons might have been the late registration of participants. Research shows that students who register late generally do worse than those who register early. In addition, many of the students in these Learning Communities were taking the class for a second, third, or even fourth time. Again, these students tend to perform worse than those who take the course for the first time.
• The instructors strongly believe that even though the passing rates were lower than those stated in the project’s goals, they would have been much lower had it not been for the learning communities. Collectively, this group of participants had many more academic deficiencies than other groups these instructors normally work with.
• Regardless of passing rates, what these Learning Communities have produced, in both Fall and Spring, are remarkable retention rates. The instructors are delighted to witness the fact that even though not as many students as they would have liked passed their courses, almost all of them are in school, and taking a math course.
• Students’ math study skills and test taking strategies improved significantly as the Math Study Skills Inventory revealed.
• Other positive results of the Learning Communities which are not measurable were: better time management, increased confidence and most importantly, an increased awareness of the need to take responsibility for their academic success.
Some information on our preliminary findings and ongoing experience with these two learning communities were shared at:
• Math Faculty Retreat in February 2003
• Conference Day in March 2003
• Special luncheon for the learning community students, administrators, and math faculty in March 2003
• Math departmental meetings in Spring 2003
• Social Sciences/SLS departmental meetings in Spring 2003
General Comments and Recommendations:
• These learning communities successfully combined math and student life skills courses.
• Whenever feasible, the college should replicate this project.
• Professors involved in a project like this should receive 16 points for each 3 credit course.
• Ample time for recruitment of students is a must for optimum success of these learning communities.
• The nature of SLS 1535 makes it an excellent choice as a course to be combined with the college preparatory mathematics classes. The SLS instructors’ advisement skills, as well as their expertise in the affective domain effectively enhance the learning process.
• For the success of MAT/SLS learning communities, it is essential that close collaboration between faculty, chairpersons and student services personnel be established.
• Faculty members must be in close contact throughout the duration of the project, communicate effectively and be able to work in teams.
• Ultimately, students’ success depends on their individual effort.
The faculty members plan to share the results of this project at the following:
• Math Faculty Retreat in 2004
• Math departmental meetings
• Social Sciences/SLS departmental meetings
This report will be sent electronically to Mathematics and Social Sciences department chairs at the Wolfson campus.