M.A.T.H. Tips: Vol. 14

Where to Next? Tips for Choosing the Right Course

When we think about advising students we often focus on the obvious; what course comes next in the student’s sequence? However, there is more to successful advisement than sequence. Whether advice comes from a counselor or a faculty member, here are some other things for the students to discuss and consider before they register.

Course load and timing: Some students might not succeed in a math class if it is taken along with other demanding courses. This could mean how many classes are being taken in a day or in the schedule in total. If math is the 5th in a string of 5 straight classes, it might not go well. Also, if a student is taking 18 credits, they might be stretched too thin to put in the time it takes to succeed in a math course. This can be compounded if there are work or home responsibilities. When giving advice about course load, think about the student’s entire schedule.

Delivery method:  Online is not for everyone. Once-a-week classes are not for everyone. Sometimes students get advised into bad modes of delivery because of scheduling conflicts. Sometimes it is just because no one ever asked how the student might handle this mode of delivery.

Time of day:  A student who needs to get their kids on the bus at 7:50 probably shouldn’t take a class at 8:00 am. Someone who gets off work at 5:00 might not make a 5:30 class.  It seems obvious, but sometimes students forget to factor in the basics and allow enough time between outside requirements.

Teaching Style: Teachers have a unique style. Sometimes a teaching style and learning preference don’t match up. A faculty member who favors mostly lecture, might not match a student who prefers a more active experience.

The bottom line is try to learn as much as you can about a student’s situation before giving advice about course selection. Remember, it isn’t just about “What comes next?”

Math Career Spotlight: Lydia Tolman, Actuary

In this month’s Career spotlight, we’d like to introduce you to Lydia Tolman.

  1. What is your current job/career?

Actuary. My current title is Manager over Individual Rating and Forecasting in the Actuarial Services Department of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.

  1. How do you use math or mathematical problem solving in your work? How does your math background help you in your job?

There are two aspects to the actuarial career path that rely heavily on math.

First, instead of obtaining a higher level degree like other professions (e.g. law degree for lawyers, medical degree for doctors), actuaries obtain credentialing through a series of exams. The preliminary exams actuaries take to obtain their associate level in the Society of Actuaries (SOA) are all exams centered around mathematical topics, e.g. probability, derivatives markets and stock pricing, and amortization of annuities (with and without life contingencies). In 2018, the SOA is also adding a predictive analytics exam. Credentialing through the exam process is required to be able to sign certain documents as a practicing actuary.

Second, there’s the work. Actuarial activities include pricing products based on expected values of future claims, reserving enough money to pay claims, performing financial projections (including stochastic modeling, simple Monte Carlo simulations etc.). Passing the exams and doing actuarial work requires an understanding of algebra, calculus, probabilities and statistics, etc. on a daily basis.

  1. What motivated you to study math?

Math was a topic that was always interesting to me, so when I started college with no idea what I wanted to do for a career, I started taking math classes in addition to a lot of other random topics (anthropology, French,etc.). Some of the typical STEM fields that students are pushed toward (e.g. engineering) weren’t appealing to me, and after going to several career events, I heard about the actuarial profession, which sounded interesting. This profession requires heavy mathematical skill sets so a degree in mathematics was a perfect fit. Additionally, getting a degree in a broad subject (math) rather than a specific subject with a specific career path (i.e. an actuarial sciences degree or accounting degree) was appealing to me in case I changed my mind in the future about my career goals.

  1. What would you say to a student who is thinking about studying math but doesn’t want a typical teaching career?

A mathematics degree is a great stepping stone to several career options, not just teaching (or actuarial work). The skills you learn when obtaining your math degree (basic coding, logic, reasoning, etc.) will set you up well for many opportunities. Plus, many people in the “real world” will be very impressed with your math degree (at least, that’s been my experience), which may be just what you need to get an interview.

  1. Other advice or comments?

a) Leverage your time in school to try out a few things.

b) Don’t hem yourself in to one career option by choosing a very specific degree (unless you’re really, really sure that’s what you want to do for the rest of your life!).

Just for Fun: Jokes, Memes & Shopping for Math Goods

Who doesn’t enjoy a break and a good laugh?  Share with your colleagues or students as you see fit!

Jokes & Memes

Don’t forget to start early holiday shopping for your math friends, colleagues and inspirational prizes for your classroom!


Watch: 10 Don’t-Miss Documentaries & Brain Puzzles

Access numerous additional TV, film and online video link recommendations when you visit our Index and choose the category “Watch.”

Listen: Podcasts for Math Ed Trends & Ed Tech/Development


Course Spotlight: Cool Resources for your Statistics Courses

When teaching statistics, it can be difficult to find interesting data sets or information that engages students. However, you are in luck because there are several resources out there that do the work for you!

  • A perennial favorite to show that correlation is not causation is Spurious Correlations: http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations
  • If you are looking for on topic real world data, The Pew Research Center makes its data available to the public. Not looking to go that deep? Each report has great visuals and the downloadable report includes detailed information about sampling methodology ,sample sizes, margin of error and confidence intervals. http://www.pewresearch.org/
  • Looking for great visuals and interesting displays of data? On the Reddit sub https://www.reddit.com/r/dataisbeautiful/  users upload their own graphs of large data sets or link to interesting displays of data from other sites.
  • Just want data? StatSci keeps a list of publically available data sets. http://www.statsci.org/datasets.html

Tips to Help Your Students Stay Focused to the Finish Line

It is that time of the semester again! November is month when the end seems so close, yet so far away.  It is also the month when students can easily lose focus, between overwhelming demands for their time and the Thanksgiving break

  • How do we help them stay on track and finish strong?
  • Have them write a practice test!  In groups of 3-4 assign students to write their own test questions with solutions. Compile the questions into a practice test they can use to study. For extra motivation tell them that 1-2 questions will be used on the final.
  • Give them a video assignment. Shake up the end of semester routine by asking to students to record themselves using math in real life. Have them upload a 1-2 minute video of themselves to you LMS.
  • Assign a reflection homework. Have students write a short reflection on their math journey over the semester and how successfully completing the class support their goals.
  • Try an interdisciplinary exercise.  Ask students to find examples of math in non-stem disciplines such as art, music, theatre and write (or make a video) on how math appears in other subjects.

Best Practices for Engaging Students Online & In Class

647330231Lisa Rombes, Department Chair at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan shares advice with our M.A.T.H. Tips team.  Thank you Lisa, and we look forward to additional posts and tips from others. As a department chair and online advisory committee member with a lot of plates spinning in the air, I am always looking for “sure things” to help faculty stay on top of engaging their students. Here are some tips that I would share with any math instructor to keep the fire alive in the online (and traditional) classroom.

  • Think about ways to have students engage in the material before they begin a section/assignment (for online students) or before they come to class so that everyone is ready to learn. Smartbook readings provide this learning opportunity in many of our classes.
  • Watch for “reverse engineering” as a default strategy for students. Are they just following the procedures in online homework with different numbers each time? Look for ways to disrupt this: pool questions, randomize, rearrange them, etc.
  • Look for opportunities for students to explain their results and explain their thinking. Remember Bloom’s taxonomy? Aim for the higher level each class day or online module.
  • Opportunity for ungraded practice will make your students more confident. It is a challenge especially in the online classroom: students tend to do only what is required. So, maybe 5 points for practice as compared to 40 for homework?
  • Reacquaint yourself with formative assessment, your best (old) friend. Make a point to find out, as you are teaching, if students are really getting the concepts.  Entrance slips (to test an out-of-class prep assignment, video, reading, etc.) and Exit Slips (with one or two essential questions from that day) can provide a wealth of opportunity to plug holes in learning.
  • Make short videos in online classes based on most-missed practice questions. This will show you care enough to dig into their understanding, and you may just be surprised class to class what they are struggling with.
  • Think about metacognition: ask “What was difficult in this unit” or “How well prepared are you for this test”. Put the learning responsibility on the student.
  • Ask your publisher what tools THEY can provide to help you make the above happen in your classroom, online and face to face. New tools are coming out every year that can make this job easier.



Summer School Tips N’ Tricks

IS09AB4OZSummer is upon us and so is the start of summer classes. Whether it is shortened timelines or online classes summer courses have unique challenges. In this Tips n Tricks we present strategies to help your students get the most out of your summer course.

  1. Welcome Video – In online classes fostering a sense of community can be difficult. Try creating a short (3-5minutes) Welcome video, introducing yourself and your expectations for the course. Level up and ask your students to post their own introduction videos to the class discussion page!
  2. Daily Schedule Assignment – Summer courses tend to run on shortened schedules. Help your students manage their time by giving them a spreadheet time table and have them fill out their daily obligations. Seeing where they have free time helps students manage when they can study.
  3. Online study groups– Online students tend to do their work either late at night or early in the morning. Since we can’t always be online, help your students help themselves by creating online study group times. Using Google hangouts or Skype students can meet to work on homework and support each other through the course. This can also work for face-to face classes!
  4. Use mini-assignments – Rather than big weekly assignments daily mini-assignments can help students stay on-track. Use the online homework system to set up 10-15 question assignments that assess the material covered each day in class.
  5. Check-In emails – Summer classes require intense focus. Help make the class fun by sending out weekly check-in emails asking students how they are doing, including a fun math tip can help liven-up the mood. Alternatively, have a weekly check-in discussion thread where students can check-in with you and each other.


Read: Math Gets a Makeover

Dave_Sobecki_ORMATYCOne of our authors, Dave Sobecki, shared this article with us and his insights on the pathways movement. The attached photo is Dave and his wife at the recent ORMATYC conference.

“Sometimes you stumble across an article, and think “YES!”   When I saw this, I knew I had to share it with my colleagues who have been so instrumental in inspiring my work towards building new pathways for students in college math.  Over the last few years, I’ve had so many folks share their questions, their enthusiasm, their frustrations, and their triumphs as we work together to improve graduation rates nationwide.  There have been times when all of us have wondered if we’re really gaining traction, or just inching forward as the wheels spin furiously.  Reading this article made me feel like we’re making a difference, and that the tide has turned in our favor.  Enjoy, and please share with colleagues, believers, skeptics and pathways agnostics. There’s still a lot of work to be done! From the Chronicle of Higher Education April 16, 2017. The latest push to improve mathematics courses seeks to transform them from a gatekeeper to a gateway.  Read on: Math Gets a Makeover.