Math curriculum adds up to better learning

By Allie Talarico – 1851 Staff

The word “math” is likely to elicit thoughts of classrooms, quizzes, calculators, graphs, and numbers scrawled like hieroglyphics on a chalkboard. Like English and science, math is fundamental to academic advancement in school and beyond, and at Lasell, most students are required to take at least one math course. The installation of a new math curriculum, however, has changed the way students learn and perceive mathematics with the new course MATH106: Algebraic Operations.

Hatem feature pic
Chair of the Mathematics and Science Departments, Professor Neil Hatem demonstrates the uses of MATH106.

In 2012, Professor Neil Hatem, Chair of the Mathematics and Science departments, and Associate Professor of Mathematics, implemented the this math pilot course in 2012. Hatem took on the position of Department Chair in fall of 2011 from former Chair, Dr. Brad Allen, who was responsible for creating Lasell’s applied math major. It was not long after his appointment that Hatem began to research self-paced modules for teaching algebra, on the suggestion of Dr. Kimberly Farah, Professor of Chemistry.

“Some of the schools now are looking into this self-paced model,” Hatem said. “So that you still have to do the same amount of work you did, but you do it at your own pace and the teacher is there more as a tutor.”

Visits to Kent State and other schools found that many were already looking into similar self-paced models of teaching. At Lasell, the feedback from the pilot course was overwhelmingly positive, and many students enjoyed the new approach, which utilized online programs. The course is meant to be a reinforcement of math topics that students have already seen, but the approach MATH106 takes centers on individual student success, by allowing students to learn and work at their own pace. In the new math labs found in Wolfe Hall, students work on the material at individual computers, and solve math questions online. In order to advance to the next section or chapter, students must correctly complete at least 80 percent of the questions, thus helping them to master a concept before diving into the next one.

Professors Julie Kjeer and Deirdre Donovan join Hatem in teaching the class. Hired in 2013, they joined fellow mathematics professor Dr. Esther Pearson, who has taught at Lasell for eight years, and Professors Joanna Kosakowski and Malini Pillai, who have both taught at Lasell for 28 years. In 2014, the course was designated as the foundation course for all incoming students, and during that fall semester, Hatem, Kjeer, and Donovan taught more than 400 students in 14 sections. Kjeer, with the feedback and support of Donovan and Hatem, took the initiative to further improve the course curriculum into something that will help students prepare for future math classes and even their careers. Over 95 percent of students that take the class pass.

The course is not yet perfect though. Student success in the course has increased. Junior class President Kelsey Desjardins explained how some students have approached her with complaints about how the online math class is not working for everyone. As a result, one of the goals for the program is to involve projects and outside components with the online portion. Overall, the efficiency and success of the program cannot be ignored.

“As a teacher, you’re always looking for ways to improve what you do,” said Hatem. He and fellow mathematics professors predict only more success to come.

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