Wow! It’s been a while since I’ve had time to post here.

I had a chance to go to the annual Oregon Community College Math Conference again this year.

The first presentation I saw this year was by Kirk Trigsted, the Director of the Polya Math Center at the University of Idaho. The Polya Center is a computer-based tutoring center that is also used as the primary delivery structure for introductory level (Algebra, Pre-Calculus, Trigonometry) courses at the University of Idaho.

The Polya Center uses MyMathLab software for students to assess and practice skills. The classes meet once per week and the students are required to attend the Polya Center at least 150 minutes per week and to keep a course notebook showing a selection of worked problems.

Being as we here at Clatsop CC are also moving towards delivering our developmental math courses using what is known as the “Emporium Model,” this presentation was very informative and useful for me. Kirk Trigsted discussed some issues and data that they have gathered at the Polya Center showing how students make use of the lab-driven course delivery.

They initially expected that many students would want to attend voluntary face-to-face class meetings. They found that, although there is a dedicated group of students that will make use of the voluntary face-to-face class meetings, this is generally a small group. Mandatory weekly class meeting sessions are used to discuss any issues that arise from week to week and can also be used for giving tests.

Most students spend between 4 and 9 hours per week at the Polya Center although the minimum requirement is 2.5 hours. The Polya Center has generated informative data regarding the number of students using the Center at any given time which helps them with their staffing issues.

Next I saw a presentation on Applications of Pre-Calculus by Doug Gardner from Rogue Community College. He focused on using the ideas of functions applied in specific situations. We examined the construction of a cup using trigonometric calculations to produce a given volume. We also considered various applications from structural engineering that focused on loads and deflection of a beam. This was a very informative and interesting session on some possibilities for course applications.

Friday afternoon, I went to Alice Kaseberg’s presentation on the screw of Archimedes and the variety of places in which this shape appears. Standard screws, of course, show this shape as well as circular staircases, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, artillery barrels, clothes washer agitators and augers of all kinds. The mathematics of this shape is very interesting and there are a variety of classroom activities with which to explore the properties of the spiral.

One of the most interesting applications she mentioned was in a Roman mining operation. The screw was set on an angle in order to raise water up out of the mine and allow access to the ore.

Finally, on Friday afternoon, I attended a session with Dr. Marilyn Carlson from Arizona State University. She was presenting problems and concepts from a textbook she is currently developing. I found her presentation and course materials to be very interesting. Like the two previous sessions, this one was focused on using applications to delve deeply into the concepts behind the mathematical ideas of a particular course.

On Saturday morning I attended a session with Bill Jennings from Klamath Community College on the use of Hitachi Starboards in the classroom. This technology is a form of smartboard in which the instructor writes with a stylus on a tablet monitor. The text and figures can then be projected onto a screen. There are a number of advantages to using this technology, although it seems too early to say that handwritten lecture notes will entirely disappear.

The last session on Saturday morning was by Dr. Don Groninger from Middlesex County College in Edison, New Jersey. Like the University of Idaho’s Polya Center, Middlesex County College has implemented a software based course delivery system for a number of developmental courses. He discussed various aspects of the project including developing summer programs for the local high school students, and also an “extension-of-term” program that allows students to re-do work from a course they haven’t passed in order to get ready for the following term.

Middlesex County College has also gathered data showing that their software based system using the ALEKS software has helped to improve their students’ understanding of the concepts in the math courses they are taking.

Clatsop Community College is also working towards developing a software based delivery system for our developmental courses. The goal is use the benefits of individualized skills practice that the software can provide.

Software can do many things that instructors cannot do – assessing students’ understanding of individual concepts and generating practice problems based on an individualized assessment are among the strongest benefits of a computer based learning system.

However, instructors can help students to see the interlocking nature of these skills and concepts in a way that computer software cannot.

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