Math Pathways Administrator's Q&A
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Question 1. Would I lose enrollment by cutting developmental mathematics?
Question 2. Can you share your curriculum and pathway design with my faculty?
Question 3. My math department gives me many questions and reasons that they can't lower the prerequisites. What do I do?
Math Pathways Q&A
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Question 1. Your pathways are different from Dana Center's co-requisite model. Why?
Question 2. Your Statistics pathway requires one semester of developmental math. Would you make it even shorter by switching to Dana Center's co-requisite model?
The Minneapolis Math Pathway Story
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A successful math education reform requires the willingness and the ability to meet students where they are. It should be done with curriculum innovation, and not by shifting more responsibility to the students or the student support services. Technology, tutoring and advising, no matter how good or abundant, would have marginal or no effect if the teachers are unwilling to change.
From 2018 to 2021, the math department at Minneapolis College created three pathways for students to complete their gen ed math in a year. They are College Algebra and Statistics with one developmental course MATH 75, and Math for Liberal Arts with no developmental math. This is our story.
When I started as the STEM dean at Minneapolis College in 2018, mathematics was facing multiple challenges. The enrollment had been slipping for years. The math sequences were long, intertwined and as complicated as the Minnesota Vikings' playbook. Hundreds of students each year would take logic to avoid math. It was time to change.
In 2018/19, our top priorities were:
In 2019/20, we launched Math for Liberal Arts, which quickly became a student favorite. We also revised Statistics by adding more advanced content for transferring purposes and more basic material to engage a slightly less prepared class. Then we raised it from 3 to 4 credits.
Our team moved to finalize the College Algebra and Statistics pathways in 2020/21.
Going into the 2021/22 academic year, we will be focusing on:
I mentioned in the beginning that a successful math reform requires curriculum innovation and a willingness to meet students where they are. That's exactly what the math department did, with Scott Storla's curriculum genius, Chhaya Patel and Jane Gringauz's relentlessly work on the Statistics course, Donna Spikes's coordination, and the entire department's teamwork and support of each other.
Those who follow national math movements closely would notice that our pathways have reached two milestones. Minimizing or eliminating developmental math is the goal of Dana Center of Texas, and the seamless curriculum transition from high schools is what Tennessee SAILS Program sets out to do. Few institutions in the nation have accomplished these goals, but our team did it with a small funding and a big heart.
Someone asked me lately about updating the flowchart of our math pathways. "What flowchart?" I joked, "Why would I need a chart for three short straight lines?"
Yes, three short straight lines. That's what math pathways look like, here at the Minneapolis College.
We made it through 2020! I wish you a much deserved restful winter break. Wherever you are, may your winter break be peaceful, and your 2021 be fantastic.
Happy Thanksgiving. We have almost completed this unusual year, and I am thankful more than ever for so many things you have done for our student and our college.
I am thankful for your hard work in teaching students despite the many limitations. I am thankful for the extra care you give to students who experience insecurities in health, employment, housing and many other aspects of life during this time. I am thankful for your continued effort in making our programs and courses better. Above all, I am thankful for your resilience during this turbulent time of pandemic and social instability. As a team, we did not panic, we made plans based on science and reality, and we responded to situations capably. Our calmness and consistency is a stabilizing force for our students and the entire college community. I am honored to be part of this team.
Thanksgiving is a time for family. My wife and I are first generation immigrants with no other family members nearby except our three children. I am thinking of everyone in the Schools of SciMath and ITEC: You are like my extended family, and I truly appreciate you. We might not see one another all the time, but we care about one another doing well, and we won’t hesitate to to support one another in times of need.
Thanks again for what you do and for who you are. I wish you and your loved ones a fantastic Thanksgiving break.
Not Her Choice
Since the pandemic began, you have done great work and demonstrated great resilience. I really appreciate it. Above all the things, I am especially grateful for your empathy for the students at a time when they need it more then ever.
Let me share with you a story from my 20's.
In Taiwan, the Army would send troops to help farmers harvest. In 1996, as a military officer, I led a team of 15 soldiers on a harvesting mission to Chu-Shan, one of the poorest towns in the nation. During the mission, an old woman asked us for help. Her rice plants were covered by weeds and the grains were in horrible condition. Her family planted the rice in the spring, but unexpected illnesses took her son, husband and brother-in-law in the same month, leaving her alone with a farm too big to work on. She was ashamed of the terrible crops, and it took her a lot of courage even to come forward to us for help.
My team and I ended up going the extra mile and breaking several protocols for her, including delivering her rice to the wholesaler with a 2½-ton 6×6 truck, which was for military cargo only. Luckily we were not reprimanded when our commander found out, but we wouldn't have cared anyway. Like one of the young soldiers put it, "She could have been my mom. I would never forgive myself if I don't help."
To this day, I still remember the look in her eyes, a mixture of sorrow, helplessness and shame. It was her reality, but not her choice.
When I became a teacher, I quickly experienced the job's many stressors, like the frustration and disappointment when students don't do well or don't seem to care. But before feeling overly negative or making unfavorable judgments, I always recall my encounter with this unfortunately woman. I'd rather believe that many students are like her: They might have done poorly or don't even seem to care, but it is the result of their reality, not their choice.
Thanks for being there for our students. They can't choose their reality, but they have chosen Minneapolis College and they have chosen to trust you as their teachers. Let's continue to do our best for them.
Week 6 Check-In
Happy Friday. Today is the last day of Week 6, and we are close to halfway through the semester! I want to thank you for your great effort and excellent work. Someone once said, “Never underestimate the resilience of our students, but make sure to provide the support they need.” It is also true if we change the word students to faculty. While I am confident in your professionalism and ability, please remember that I am here support you whenever you need a helping hand or a listener.
We are barely in October, but schools and administrators everywhere are already talking about their faculty feeling burned out or stressed out. I know you are all working hard, probably much harder than in normal times, but please let me know if you are experiencing similar feelings, or if you have any physical/mental challenges. We are in this together, and I’ll help in any way I can.
Thank you again for being a great team. Our schools have had no emergencies or urgent issues this semester because of your excellence: you not only get things done but you make it look almost easy. I appreciate it.
Those who don't have plans for the future are bound to have crises in the present 人無遠慮 必有近憂 --Chinese proverb
Congratulations on completing the challenging first week of classes. Except for the regular hustle and bustle of the opening week, SciMath and ITEC started off the semester smoothly. During the meetings with math and biology faculty on Friday, many of you told me that things were going well or at least just fine.
Just fine? That's an understatement of how well you handled the most turbulent opening week for the system, the state or even the nation. For our college, this week was marred by COVID-19 reopening and overshadowed by the civil unrest and multiple days of curfew in Minneapolis. But despite these challenges, everyone in SciMath and ITEC was able to focus on teaching. Many of you might not even notice anything if your classes are online.
As much as I was in awe with this performance, it didn't surprise me. After all, we planned and prepared well. We didn't count on the best case scenarios; we prepared for the worst ones. We didn't bet on vaccines to save our face-to-face lectures; we grow our online teaching tools and pedagogy. We didn't count on the state or the system to give us permission to reopen science labs; we converted to virtual labs and developed home lab kits. And when several advanced science classes decided to run a few face-to-face labs, we didn't just sit and wait for Public Safety and Facilities to help us; we collaborated with them and made plans for all situations imaginable.
Someone once said this about crisis management: If things are done right, a crisis will be resolved even before becoming a crisis and we will probably look like overreacting fools. Thanks for trusting the overreacting fool in your dean. As always, this fool works for you. Guaranteed.
Dean's Update 3/24
Before the Universe entrusts you with something important, it must first challenge your mind, tire your limbs, starve your body, take away everything you possess, and obstructs everything you try to accomplish. For it is the only way to motivate your intelligence, creativity and perseverance, and to make you develop skills for things you normally cannot do. (Mengzi, Chinese philosopher, 370—289 BC.)
Dear Colleagues of SciMath and ITEC:
Ten days ago, amidst a looming pandemic, the College and I called upon you to teach the rest of the semester without face-to-face contact. What a challenge, and yet what a response you have made! In no time, you converted all 213 sections of the spring 2020 classes to remote delivery. You remap the curriculum, create new materials, and make things work under less-than-perfect circumstances. You also explore new technology, learn new skills, and use methods you did not in the past. You support your peers by sharing knowledge and by encouraging each other. I am proud of what you have accomplished, and I am inspired by how you did it.
Like Chinese philosopher Mengzi said, grave situations challenge us to become better, and prepare us for even greater tasks. For our team, the next task is already on the horizon: We need sustainable online teaching practices for future classes, should the pandemic linger.
In the next a few days, I will be working with departments on the summer 2020 schedule. Whether your department chooses to go online full-speed or cautiously, I'd like us to make sure that the students are adequately taught, and that your department keeps developing good online practices to meet future challenges.
Thank you for being great educators and colleagues. I am proud to be part of this fantastic team.
(No puns intended for Gabriel Marquez's 1988 novel.)
Please spend a few minutes and read the College's announcement about current coronavirus situation. (The College sent it to you through MplsConnect email channel on 3/4.)
Dr. Ben Weng