M.A.T.H. Tips: Vol. 24

Math Courses Creating Prepared Professionals

For quite some time, college math courses have focused almost solely on the mathematical knowledge students would need for success in their chosen careers.  If we’re honest, students in non-STEM fields don’t really need much in the way of mathematical knowledge.  What they do need is the ability to think critically about life situations, to be informed citizens, and to be good employees.

The most prominent movement in college math over the last several years involves pathways to completion for non-STEM students.  From a math literacy course designed to replace beginning and intermediate algebra for developmental students to quantitative reasoning courses at the college level, it’s an exciting time for curriculum development.  These new non-STEM math courses have included slight changes to the topics covered and significant changes to the way those topics are covered.  Gone are the boring math lectures that lull students to sleep.  Instead, students are engaged daily in teamwork, communication, and contextual problem-solving with a goal of helping students to become more prepared to enter the workforce.

The National Association of College and Employers (NACE) is a leading resource when it comes to spelling out key career competencies employers really want from recent college graduates.

According to NACE, four of these key competencies are:

  1. Critical Thinking/Problem Solving—Being able to reason and analyze issues, make decisions and overcome problems.
  2. Oral/Written Communications—Articulating thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively in written and oral forms to persons inside and outside of the organization.
  3. Teamwork/Collaboration—Being able to collaborate with colleagues and customers representing diverse cultures, races, ages, genders, lifestyles and viewpoints.
  4. Professionalism/Work Ethic—Demonstrating personal accountability and effective work habits such as being punctual, productive, responsible and having integrity.

These new non-STEM math courses have helped students find success in the classroom while preparing them for success in the workforce.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Sadly, many students have come to think that math consists of a set of rules and formulas that must be memorized to solve problems according to some prescribed steps.  This group of new non-STEM math courses is working to change that perception.  In these courses, students engage in problem solving every day.  Students are expected to apply skills to solve math problems they have never seen before rather than mimic what an instructor has just done.  Most employers don’t want to hire someone to solve a problem they’ve already solved.  Instead, they want to hire folks equipped to solve problems that haven’t even occurred yet.


In these new courses, students get experience working as a team.  Students are arranged in groups, where they remain for the duration of each unit.  Students work as a team to solve math problems and to complete projects.  Having the experience of dealing with the team member who doesn’t contribute or who tries to take over everything is good preparation for what they will encounter in just about any job.

Oral and Written Communication

As students work in groups they are expected to communicate with each other and the instructor.  Assignments focus on interpretation of results, so students practice written communication of what an answer really means. Through group projects and other group assignments, students gain experience communicating with team members through email and other forms of technology.  Presentations of final projects offer yet another opportunity to practice good communication skills.

Professionalism and Work Ethic

The overall structure of these courses along with embedded assignments requires that students are ready for class, participate and contribute to group discussions, and complete tasks on time in situations where others are relying on them.  Instructors often find that students help hold each other accountable, which improves attendance and student engagement.

Over time, abstract college math requirements became a roadblock to success for students in non-STEM fields.  New math pathways flip that script and give us the opportunity to help students develop marketable skills while still being exposed to relevant, meaningful mathematical concepts that better align with the philosophy behind general education mathematics requirements for students in non-STEM fields.

For more information about the new math courses that focus on these types of skills, contact McGraw-Hill author Brian Mercer (bmercer@parkland.edu), Professor of Mathematics and Faculty Chair at Parkland College.





AMATYC 2018 Wrap-Up: Improving Mathematical Prowess and College Teaching

Making an IMPACT

On November 15 – 18 the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges held its 44th Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. The theme was Bright Ideas. Belaboring the joke that ran through the conference, it was a magical time. The conference featured traditional 50-minute talks, workshops, chat-and-chews, an elaborate poster session, mini-sessions, focus groups, and meetings. There was also an exhibit hall with the latest in math-related texts, tech, digital learning options, ancillaries, and support options.

One of the key focuses of the conference was the roll out of the “IMPACT” document. IMPACT is an acronym for Improving Mathematical Prowess and College Teaching. The document supports and does not replace AMATYC’s Beyond Crossroads mathematical standards document.

The key to the importance of the IMPACT document lies in the term “Prowess”. This again becomes an acronym representing four pillars:

  1. PR       proficiency
  2. OW     ownership
  3.  E         engagement
  4. SS        student success

An executive summary of the document.

The full document:

There were two keynote talks:

  1. Billy Hix,  Math Really Rocks!! An Astronomer’s Journey
  2. Guadalupe Quintanilla, An Ongoing Challenge: Success in Education

Additionally, there were two featured speakers:

  1. Jeffery Allbritten, Mathematics Literacy in Higher Education: A Four Decade Review
  2. Mark Shafer, Facilitating an Analytics Transformation: The Disney Story

You can access videos of the keynote and featured speakers and all conference proceedings here:

Save the Date for 2019: The 45th annual meeting will be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin November 14 – 17, 2019. AMATYC is accepting proposals for that conference until February 1, 2019.



Digital Learning Innovation Awards and Funding

The Online Learning Consortium awarded the 2018 Digital Learning Innovation awards to: Arizona State University & University of Central Florida for their use of ALEKS across their respective mathematics programs.The 2018 DLIAward – Institution category, accompanied by a $100,000 monetary reward, has been awarded to each of the following institutions:

  • Arizona State University (HSI), for its use of ALEKS in “Transforming College Algebra: Eliminating developmental math and using adaptive courseware to enable student success.”
  • University of Central Florida (HSI), for its use of ALEKS and RealizeIt Learning in “Using Innovative Adaptive Courseware to Enable Student Success in Gateway Mathematics Courses.”

Watch the animated case study to learn more about how Arizona State University consolidated their Developmental Math course and increased College Algebra pass rates from 62% to 74% with ALEKS.

You can explore other DLI award winners here!

Math Careers: Kerry McKee, Director of Every Little Blessing Preschool

Responses might be edited for length and clarity

  1. What is your current job/career?

I am the director of an inclusive preschool for children with Down syndrome and similar developmental needs.  In addition, I am the director of a resource center for families who have a member with special needs and serve as an advocate in our community.

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

My graduate work prepared me for the grant writing I do to raise money.  Studying math taught me how to think and learn.  Every day I come to work requires learning and thinking.  I have certainly used problem solving skills to navigate the politics of advocacy.

  1. What motivated you to study math?

When I filled out my college application I thought I was answering a general question about what subject I liked best.  I had no idea that when I answered math I was declaring my major.  After that I kept studying math because I really enjoyed it.

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

Math teaches you how to think and every job requires thinking.  Math prepares you for the world in so many ways but should not restrict you from exploring any type of career.

  1. Other advice or comments?

Study what you love and find a career that makes you feel joy.  I get paid to get hugs, speak for those who don’t have a voice, and make my community a better place for everybody.  What could be better than that!

Taking the Plunge into Professional Development

Professional development is one of those buzz words that floats around.  But how do we as educators find the time, money and right event or workshop to attend?   We start by identifying our goals. Do we want to network with others teaching similar courses for new ideas? Attending a conference might help us expand our knowledge. Do we want to be better at in-class active learning? Maybe an online workshop might be best. Once you make a list of what you would like to learn you can start searching for opportunities.

A variety of conferences and workshops are held throughout the year.   Many educators choose to attend in the summer due to the flexibility of their schedules but don’t rule out online workshops held in the spring.   Some places to look for upcoming events:

Also, don’t discount webinars and workshops focused on K-12 learning. While college students have different issues, understanding where problems arise at lower levels can help us teach to our students’ specific needs.

The last piece of the puzzle is funding.  Ask! You never know what your department can offer until you ask. Also, look for funding opportunities through the different organizations themselves. Many professional organizations offer grants to those who need funds to attend conferences.  And don’t forget to look for webinars and opportunities on mheducation.com.  Monthly professional development workshops are offered on a variety of topics.

Math After-Hours: Read, Listen and Shop

Here are some of our instructor faves!



  • Something a little bit different for true crime fans: Sword and Scale a true crime podcast
  • Want to know how things work but don’t have a lot of time: Short Stuff podcast quick episodes on a variety of topics.
  •  Want to hear more about the wide and wild world of mathematics? Then we suggest the Breaking Math podcast. Accessible discussion of a variety of topics in mathematics.


Dress up your desk

Don’t forget to get your Pumpkin Pi gear