January 23, 2018

Kennesaw State STEM students to benefit from new math instruction

SEMINAL project supported by the National Science FoundationNational Science Foundation logo

KENNESAW, Ga. (Jan 23, 2018) — Kennesaw State University undergraduate students pursuing STEM degrees will benefit from a new approach to teaching introductory mathematics courses. The University is one of only a handful invited to join the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) in working to scale the adoption of active learning for undergraduate pre-calculus and calculus instruction.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is supporting the project, known as SEMINAL: Student Engagement in Mathematics through an Institutional Network for Active Learning, with a $3 million, five-year grant. The initiative will focus in part on helping underrepresented minority students succeed in introductory math courses that are foundational in STEM fields.

Over the past year, APLU has worked with San Diego State University, University of Colorado Boulder and University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which have all championed the use of active learning in introductory mathematics instruction with great success.

KSU is one of only nine other universities across the country selected by the APLU for inclusion in the program. The process will help to identify which methods for implementing active learning for mathematics work best at different types of schools, with the ultimate goal of developing models that can work at virtually any institution.

“Students who enroll in pre-calculus or calculus 1 will be directly helped, but we anticipate residual benefit for students who enroll in calculus 2 and other courses that require these courses as prerequisites,” said Kadian M. Callahan, assistant dean for faculty and student success, and associate professor of mathematics education. “Our students represent a broad range of majors and programs across KSU.”

On average, nearly 3,400 students are enrolled in pre-calculus, calculus 1, and calculus 2 sections at the University each semester, and that number is increasing. 

“On behalf of my entire team, we are so pleased that the APLU has chosen Kennesaw State to be part of this exciting initiative,” said Callahan. “One of the keys to success in STEM is acquiring a strong foundation in introductory math courses. Active learning has proven highly effective in helping more students succeed in such courses.”

Callahan’s team includes associate professors of mathematics Lake Ritter, Jennifer Vandenbussche and Erik Westlund.

“This project supports faculty as they work to use active learning instructional practices to increase the number, percentage and diversity of students succeeding in pre-calculus, calculus 1 and calculus 2, and who experience continued success in subsequent courses,” Callahan said.

The largest study of undergraduate STEM education literature to date a meta-analysis of 225 studies published by the National Academies in 2014 - found that undergraduate students in classes using active learning methods had higher course grades by half a letter grade, and students in classes with traditional lectures were 1.5 times more likely to fail.- 

The eight other institutions joining the effort are: California State University, East Bay; California State University, Fullerton; Loyola University, Morgan State University, The Ohio State University, University of Maryland, University of Oklahoma, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. 

The nine universities will join the three core institutions to form a diverse cohort of institutions aiming to study how to enact and support institutional change fostering the use of active learning in mathematics. The universities joining the effort were selected from a pool of 47 institutions that submitted proposals and will serve as models for a national push to reform introductory math instruction. The goal is to create a broader network of universities in the SEMINAL project.

“Far too many students hoping to pursue careers in STEM fields get tripped up by introductory math courses right off the starting block,” said Howard Gobstein, APLU’s executive vice president and one of the principal investigators on the NSF-backed initiative. “With a persistent shortage of skilled workers in STEM fields and unequal access to all students, we have a tremendous opportunity to broaden participation and address the biggest hurdle for STEM students’ success.”

The institutions were selected through a rigorous peer review process examining the merit of proposals as well as institutional characteristics including type, size, location and attributes of the student body. SEMINAL was initiated through, and continues to align with, the APLU Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership (MTEP) – building on earlier funding from the Helmsley Charitable Trust. APLU is also working to increase underrepresented minority participation in the STEM fields through its APLU INCLUDES effort, which aims to diversify STEM faculty.

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∼ Robert S. Godlewski; Photos by Lauren Kress

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