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Math Center enhances instruction

January 1, 2011

Central Wyoming College is employing an innovative method for teaching pre-college math courses that gives students instant feedback and instructors the ability to monitor their progress.
By utilizing specialized software, students in developmental math courses can use a self-paced learning program that is personalized to the individual’s strengths and weaknesses, enabling them to learn more and experience success in ways previously unattainable.
“It’s a really robust system,” explained CWC math instructor Mike Bostick, who along with Professor Val Harris researched the implementation of the software at other institutions and designed a program tailored for CWC students.
Harris said that students learn in a mastery-based system in the new Math Center which was constructed during the remodel of CWC’s Classroom Wing last summer. The center has 34 computer stations and is open from 8 a.m. until the college closes in the evenings. Walk-ins are allowed to use the system though students enrolled in developmental math courses have first preference.
For the student who has been out of school for some time, the pre-college math courses give them the necessary refresher. For the large population of students who have math anxiety, the system gives them step-by-step instruction to a problem which includes both videos and animation.
The center is more informal than the normal classroom setting, which Bostick said is especially important for the student to master those skills so they can move on to college level work.
“The greatest feature is that it gives you instant feedback,” Bostick said, explaining that he’s had students who make one mistake while completing a problem making the entire problem wrong. “This system can find those problems and help the student to fix them immediately,” he said.
The purpose of the Math Center is to get the students prepared to take college level science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses, Harris explained. “We’d like for them to go through STEM courses, like algebra,” she said.
The students are required to be in the Math Center a minimum of four hours each week and then spend an additional eight to 12 hours working on the program on their own, either at home or in the lab.
Harris said the instructors have a rich and flexible set of course materials and tools that offer students a personalized interactive learning environment where they can learn at their own pace.
The math instructors are not lecturing to the students and therefore can give the students in the center individual attention.
“If they get a problem wrong, it gives them hints on what they did wrong,” Harris said of the software. The student can click on “Help me solve this,” and the program takes the student through it.
“It is an indispensible tool,” Bostick said, noting, however, the computer isn’t always a replacement for the instructor.
Bostick and Harris made sure not to eliminate the need for pencil and paper in figuring out math concepts and that is the way the classes take quizzes. Each student is also required to keep a notebook of their work, which Harris said is a “huge factor” in their success as it helps students develop organizational skills.
“I’ve had so many students who say they do everything in their head,” Bostick said. “By forcing them to write it down, we are catching their mistakes.”
Some of the motivated students in pre-college math can get through the class quickly and immediately enroll in a college-level course, MATH 1000. Those who struggle with certain math concepts can concentrate on learning to overcome them, he said, adding the center “takes the stress out of taking math.”
The Math Center is still a work in progress. “I think we’ve done a lot of things the right way,” Bostick said. With the remodeling of the Classroom Wing, both Harris’ and Bostick’s office were moved adjacent to the facility so they are always available to assist students.