Feature Profile

Connecting Math to the Real World

New High Tech Lab Prepares Students

Math Professor Neil Hatem in the lab with students

The mainstream media headlines have proclaimed the achievement gap between U.S. students and their international counterparts in mathematics as a national problem. If students underperform in math, then they will not be prepared to succeed in global economy, they say.

But while much of the attention is focused on mathematics instruction in the middle and high school years, Lasell educators believe that math education can be enhanced through intervention, engagement and independent learning in the early stages of college.

"Having students navigate through a curriculum on their own helps them become more independent with their problem solving skills, which is something that they will need in the workplace," says Professor Neil Hatem, who teaches the majority of courses in Lasell's new Math Lab in Wolfe Hall.

The Lab, modeled after the Apple Computer Genius Bar concept, provides Apple computers with wide screen monitors for each student and a self-guided curriculum approach so that students can learn and achieve at their own pace. It was funded through a $160,000 grant from the George I. Alden Trust.

Hatem, who was instrumental in the creation of the Math Lab in Wolfe Hall, believes that Lasell is in the vanguard of the trend to make math more interactive - especially at the entry level stage in college.

"This new lab plays a vital role in many of our students' first math experiences in college," Hatem says. "At Lasell, where we say, ‘Learning by Doing,' the lab has students live by that motto as they literally ‘do' the math each day on their own."

Students this Fall took on the newly designed Algebraic Operations class (Math 106) - now a core competency element in the new Core Curriculum-- in 14 different sections. Each student progresses through the online course independently and, when needed, receives coaching from either Hatem or a classroom teaching assistant.

Hatem tells Leaves that the self-paced model allows students to view examples that challenge them to learn certain mathematical concepts through self discovery. The examples come in many forms, including video, so they can be customized by each student.

Vice President for Academic Affairs James Ostrow believes the new Math Lab coupled with curriculum changes, will also illuminate connections between mathematics and social or scientific problems students pursue at Lasell.

"This individualized approach provides a mechanism through which students can bear witness to and be more adept at, recognizing how math connects with the world," Ostrow tells Leaves.

Each class in the Lab will tackle a few projects that help them connect the math they are learning to those "real world" problems.

In one recent project, students gathered data about foot and shoe sizes and analyzed the figures to determine a "line of best fit" between the different variables using Excel.

Hatem says the simple project gave the students valuable experience in collecting and analyzing data, as well as experience using a common analytical tool in the workplace.

In many ways, the new structure has also helped make mathematicians out of some math-hesitant students.

"This class was a major turning point for me. I have struggled with math since before I can even remember," says Ashley Medeiros ‘15.

Medeiros, who described math as a childhood "nightmare," said this new, personal, at-your-own-pace approach helped her understand the material quicker, build confidence and provided support simultaneous with the work.

"There was no feeling of embarrassment when I got something terribly wrong, because no one saw me get it wrong," says Medeiros. "And, when you do get something wrong, the My Math Lab tool has a 'help' button that literally takes you through the process step by step."

Early feedback indicates that students enjoy the experience so much that math class has become a favorite course, rather than a requirement.

That's great news for Hatem and College officials, who firmly believe that problem-solving skills learned through the Math Lab, combined with Connected Learning experiences at Lasell, will serve the students well long after graduation.

"Interactive learning significantly enhances all education, and interactive learning better supports math education for many students," Hatem concludes.

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