Message from discussion Int. algebra food for thought
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From: Barbara Savage <bsav...@rcc.mass.edu>
To: Philip Mahler <mah21...@comcast.net>, Kathy Almy
<k.a...@rockvalleycollege.edu>, AMATYC DMC <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thu, 13 Oct 2011 04:47:38 -0400
Subject: RE: Int. algebra food for thought
Thread-Topic: Int. algebra food for thought
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I agree 100% with what you are saying. Thank you for a great summation of =
the key points for Dev Math courses. See you in Austin!
Dr. Barbara J. Savage
Associate Professor of Mathematics
Mathematics Department Chair
Developmental Mathematics Coordinator
Roxbury Community College
1234 Columbus Avenue
Roxbury, MA 02120
(617) 427-0060, x5210
(617) 541-5385 (fax)
"Lurz sat in his chair, legs crossed, looking at the photo of Elsie. "You h=
ave to be prepared," he told Deborah, his voice gentle. "Sometimes learning=
can be just as painful as not knowing." [p. 271] Rebecca Skloot, The Immo=
rtal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown Publishers, 2010
From: email@example.com [firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf O=
f Philip Mahler [mah21...@comcast.net]
Sent: Thursday, October 13, 2011 4:46 AM
To: Kathy Almy; AMATYC DMC
Subject: Re: Int. algebra food for thought
I'm replying by email. The google group just doesn't seem to generate any r=
eal back and forth.
I posted something last May which I will copy below. Basically I said somet=
1. The position paper=92s goal is to get rid of Intermediate Algebra as a=
college requirement, not refashion IA.
2. Only a small percentage of Community College students need Intermediat=
e Algebra (IA).
3. We need to get rid of the requirement of IA to do college level math.
4. We need to accept that not all college students (to say nothing of our=
college colleagues) will be wonders at algebra. The manipulations of algeb=
ra is over rated (beyond some basic algebraic / symbolic concepts).
5. We should not have as a goal to bring a mathematically weak college st=
udent =93up=94 to the =93level=94 of the second year of high school algebra=
. If they didn=92t get it there, it is not our job to do it. Our job is to =
give them meaningful skills for jobs and life, not teach them how to factor=
or add radical expressions.
6. The manipulations of decimal numbers and fractions is over rated. (Num=
ber sense, yes. Find LCDs by hand... Not really.)
7. We need to focus more on giving non-STEM students some skills in stats=
or modeling, but not try to make statisticians or applied mathematicians o=
8. The NewLife / Mathway / Quantway projects are the only real new ideas =
I have seen in 25 years Their goal is to achieve S-MM skills in one year fo=
r anyone who has had some high school algebra.
9. The position paper should essentially say something like
* Statistics or simple math modeling (S-MM)are college level math.
* You don=92t need IA to do these, so don=92t require it in college.
Here are my answers to Geoffrey's question about IA.
1. Who should take it?
Answer: Practically all High School students, so they have real career choi=
ces, as pushed by Robert Moses and the algebra project:
1. A. Should college students take it?
Answer: Only if they are committed to a STEM career, whether or not they to=
ok it in high school. Otherwise, they don=92t need it and it is a waste of =
their time and our time. Thus most community college students should not ta=
2. What should be taught?
Answer: It is only for STEM majors, and the question of content for today, =
when Wolfram Mathematica will do any antiderivative a person can do, etc is=
a whole other ball game and doesn=92t relate to developmental math.
3. How should it be taught?
Answer: Self-paced, hands on is always nice, with lots of applications. But=
again, for me, not my focus on the position paper.
Here is my posting from last May:
The position paper I had in mind in Boston was to support the idea there th=
at Intermediate Algebra should not be an automatic requirement for college =
level mathematics. To quote another poster on the old discussion list: =93I=
A as a prerequisite to college-level quantitative thinking is an archaic no=
tion. This prerequisite was developed specifically for those needing calcul=
us. Other areas/topics in mathematics would lend themselves better to appli=
cation in people's daily lives. Also, most students earning 4-year degrees =
will not be required to take Calculus, but instead a statistics course. For=
these reasons, IA should be removed as the sole college-level math prerequ=
Assuming this is what we are talking about, I proposed a position paper in =
Boston because most, or many, states require IA as a prereq for a college l=
evel course. Besides other negative effects, this kills the concept of Math=
way/Statway/New Life (in a nutshell, do developmental math in the fall, and=
a college level course in the spring). I find this concept the only new id=
ea I have seen in math education for two year colleges in 25 or 30 years.
Self-paced is not new, =93emporium=94 is not new, technology is not new, =
=93guide on the side, not sage on the stage=94 is not new. (These are all w=
orthy concepts, needless to say.)
=93Intermediate algebra=94 is almost universally a pre-calculus course. In =
fact in a typical curriculum every sequential course is a pre-calculus cour=
se. I personally am not interested in tweaking, but much more in the Mathwa=
y/Statway, New Life, model. Although tweaking IA is a worthy goal, to my mi=
nd this position paper is not about that, but is about much more radical th=
inking. To me it is the only logical answer to the fact that almost no stud=
ents who start in low level developmental math every take a college math co=
urse, or even survive the many semesters put in front of them getting ready=
for, yes, calculus, which none of them take.
I have tweaked some =93axioms=94 I posted on the old list. I believe these =
are the rationale and basis for a position paper on the outdated requiremen=
t of Intermediate Algebra for every college student.
---- Here are some preliminary thoughts of mine. Understanding that others =
may disagree with my opinions.
1. We are talking primarily about students who come to an open door institu=
tion who are not committed to a STEM major or career. This is the preponder=
ance of students in a open door college, and certainly of those placing int=
o low-level developmental math.
2. What is appropriate mathematics for most of these students has changed a=
great deal with the widespread use of computers to compute, and to deal wi=
th large sets of data and to display this data graphically.
3. Many algebra and arithmetic manipulative skills are not important for th=
4. The most appropriate mathematical knowledge for these students centers a=
round simple mathematical modeling and using basic concepts of statistics. =
I'll call these NSS for Non-Stem Skills.
5. Every semester in a remedial sequence greatly diminishes the likelihood =
of a student achieving academic success. We should try to minimize the time=
spent on "remediation" for these students. This requires a focus on only N=
6. Preparation for NSS in a two-year college environment may not parallel t=
he high school mathematics curriculum (See note below).
7. For weaker students, we may need to accept weaker attainment. This would=
still be more than they get now, by their rapid attrition in our =93pre-ca=
8. It is OK if a prep course leaves out the skills not needed in a statisti=
cs course, or a math modeling course, or a math for poets course. By way of=
example, the algorithms of decimals and fractions. Number sense, yes. Algo=
rithmic ability, in the context of calculators, no.
NOTE: I would not argue against the idea that high school students should a=
ll see some algebra, as much as possible. As Robert Moses in the Algebra Pr=
oject has said for years, if I have it right, we close doors on students wh=
en we do not offer this opportunity. And a community college should offer a=
nother chance to do this, for appropriate students. But most of our develop=
mental students have seen significant amounts of this stuff, and made a cho=
ice about it. It is not for them. And the detailed computational skills jus=
t are not needed for them.
Society is asking us to educate students who 25 years ago might still get a=
good job without 2 or 4 years of college. That=92s not the case now, but t=
hese students are not just more of the students who once went to college, t=
hey are the ones who were always there but ill- prepared for college. We si=
mply can not transform them into the other category (aside from that handfu=
l of exceptions who, as Uri Treisman said at the AMATYC conference, are so =
few we can name them).
There are plenty of strong math students coming out of our high schools, bu=
t they are not the subject of discussion in all of this.
OK, this is much too long, but I need to know if we are still talking about=
doing away with an IA requirement, or are we talking about tweaking it, pr=
esumably still with the same sequence of courses or modules leading up to i=
I think the position paper needs to lay out some basic principles along the=
lines I cited above. It doesn=92t need to list desired skills (this is a p=
osition paper), but does need to make the case for a very refined preparati=
on for a stats or similar college level course, and that what is best for o=
ur developmental students is not related to any part of the high school cur=
Thanks for listening, if you did.
As Blaise Pascal once wrote, I am sorry this is so long, but I haven=92t th=
e time to make it shorter.
On 10/12/11 8:43 PM, "Kathy Almy" <k.a...@rockvalleycollege.edu> wrote:
> Hi DMC members,
> I emailed last week about our committee meetings at Austin, one of
> which will specifically address the position paper on appropriate
> preparation for all students. A major component of that discussion
> will involve intermediate algebra. Geoffrey Akst, a committee member,
> had a great idea for looking at the problem. This is what he
> suggested we think about when discussing intermediate algebra:
> 1. Who should take it?
> 2. What should be taught?
> 3. How it should be taught?
> I'm starting this discussion through our Google Groups, although you
> may be getting a copy in your email inbox. If possible, please
> respond to the above three questions. I'd like to hear from as many
> members as possible. If you are not able to attend the conference
> next month, we really need to hear from you.
> When you give your response, consider that whatever we suggest must
> work for all kinds of faculty and colleges across the country. We all
> have our own personal preferences and those will likely work their way
> into the conversation. But whatever we eventually write must be
> representative of this body's position and possible to implement by
> schools and faculty nationwide. That's not to say that every school
> is going to do what we suggest; many won't. But a paper such as this
> can help states as they are trying to change articulation agreements
> and pilot new options. It will also drive some administrators so what
> we recommend can have an effect. Just something to be mindful of.
> And with that, let the conversation commence. Please go here to
> post: http://groups.google.com/group/amatyc-dmc/
> Kathy Almy