AMATYC 2010 - Boston Summary by Carren Walker

Over 1200 individuals attended the AMATYC conference in Boston in November 11-14, 2010. I attended to observe and collect findings and emerging trends in Developmental Mathematics. (For a recording of an Elluminate session capturing what Carren learned while at AMATYC, please click here: View the Elluminate Live! recording).

AMATYC defines developmental mathematics as any course Algebra II or below. There is an AMATYC Committee in Developmental Mathematics. More information can be obtained by requesting to Join the Developmental Math Group:

Common Themes

  1. Required Course Redesign
  2. Development and Use of Emporium Models
  3. Learning to Mastery
  4. Encouraging Conceptual Learning by Asking Different Questions
  5. Development of Different Pathways to College Level Math Courses (Statway, Mathway and MLCS)



Required Course Redesign

Several college representatives reported that either their state legislature or college president is requiring course redesign for developmental mathematics. Sessions at the conference addressing developmental math topics were full to standing room capacity. There were many attendees in the room expressing the urgent need to bring back ideas and examples of different approaches to teaching and better results for students. The general consensus was that community colleges are facing a hard problem with no clear solution. [For an example of a state involved in such a process, see this report from Virginia.]


Emporium Model

This seemed to be a buzz word in many developmental math sessions. The Emporium Model is described on the NCAT (National Center for Academic Transformation) website. In their words:


- see NCAT Emporium Full Description

  • Eliminates all lectures and replaces them with a learning resource center model featuring interactive software and on-demand personalized assistance.
  • Depends heavily on instructional software, including interactive tutorials, practice exercises, solutions to frequently asked questions, and online quizzes and tests.
  • Allows students to choose what types of learning materials to use depending on their needs, and how quickly to work through the materials.
  • Uses a staffing model that combines faculty, GTAs, peer tutors and others who respond directly to students’ specific needs and direct them to resources from which they can learn.
  • May require a significant commitment of space and equipment.
  • More than one course can be taught in an emporium, thus leveraging the initial investment.

This model gained publicity when the program at Cleveland State Community College (CSCC) was cited in an address by President Obama in a major speech on higher education on August 9, 2010 in Austin, Texas. Emporium models has cited improvement in student retention, completion, and future success in college level mathematics. Emporium models have also shown costs savings. More detailed information is available at the NCAT website (see above link).

The exhibit hall had many vendors demonstrating products that could be adopted in an emporium model. The sales buzz word was "learning to mastery".


Learning to Mastery

Learning to Mastery was a term being used by presenters of educational software. The software presented by different vendors featured versions of artificial intelligence that worked to assess student's current knowledge and create the "next problem" for the student. This type of learning software often has a feature that does not let a student progress to a new topic until "mastery" is demonstrated. The lessons are differentiated for the learner. The software prepares reports for the instructor. Many of the software products also had optional textbook companions.


Encouraging Conceptual Learning by Asking Different Questions

These presenters often cited a recent publication of AMATYC:

**What Community College Developmental Mathematics Students Understand About Mathematics.**

TStigler, J.W., Givvin, K.B. & Thompson, B. (in press). he MathAMATYCEducator, Volume 10,No. 3, 4-16.

This publication focuses on student understanding as opposed to procedural mastery. The authors assert that there might not be much difference in the conceptual understanding of the students placed in develpomental math courses. The entire article is worthy of careful reading as it presents data from an study thoughtful reflection, and results from student interviews.

Presenters in sessions looking at the questions that we ask students were advocating for a shift in the types of questions that we ask students. The focus was on presenting students with either noncomputational questions to puzzle within a group environment or "real world" questions to tackle with little scaffolding.

Conceptual Questions Examples
  1. What is a number that does not have an opposite? Explain.
  2. Why does a negative number times a negative number equal a positive number? Prepare an explanation to share.
"Real World" Question Example
  1. Students were given a data on gender, student weight, backpack weight, and report of back pain. They worked in groups to find a rule that would determine if the backpack weight caused back pain. Student groups then had a poster session to display and defend results. Video from the classroom tackling this problem was presented by Myra Snell from Los Medanos Community College.



Different Pathways through Developmental Math - Towards Systematic Change


Both AMATYC and the Carnegie Foundations for the Advancement of Teaching are working to support systematic change to the pathways through developmental math. The current pathways under contruction are plans for nonSTEM students to progress more quiickly and more successfully to college level math course. Both groups have made a distinquished acceleration from compression - that is they are rethinking what content, what learning experiences need to be included in a one semester developmental math course. They are not wondering how to fit all the content topics of PreAlgebra, Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 into one semester.

AMATYC Developmental Math Redesign wiki provides information on a course redesign for Algebra 1 and 2. the redesign has two names in use, New Life Math and Mathematical Literacy for College Students (MLCS). MLCS assumes that students have basic number sense. The content design aims to support the many different options for the student's next course. The designers are thinking about providing maxmimal flexibility for colleges that adopt this curriculum.

Mathway and Statwayare current pilot projects at 19 and 8 colleges respectivly. Expansion to many more campuses is planned for the fall of 2012. Seatle Central is a pilot college for Statway. The Carnegie Foundation director sees these efforts as long term project with the aim of systemic change. The curriculum seeks out rich authentic conceptual problems that allow students to grapple with matematical ideas. There is a sense that there wll need to be exceptional faculty support in order to support the transformation in teaching methods. Uri Treisman and Jenna Cullinane presented a working paper on the early progress of Statway at a September meeting. Click here to open the paper. At the AMATYC meeting there was a two hour meeting discussing the current status of Mathway. There will be an elluminate session on December 9th with more detailed information of the current status and aims of that initative.