Christian Science Monitor 'Math makeover: Colleges swap lectures for active learning'

Lindsay Augustyn/CSMCE
Lindsay Augustyn/CSMCE

By Noble Ingram

March 22, 2018 — When Nathan Karas showed up to his first day of Intermediate Algebra at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the classroom didn’t quite look like what he expected.

For one, there weren’t any desks. Students collected around a handful of long tables. There also wasn’t a lecturing professor at the front of the room. Instead, an instructor and a learning assistant (LA) drifted throughout the class. And those other students Mr. Karas sat down with? They weren’t just his neighbors; they were his partners. Each table was expected to work, study, and take quizzes together, as a group.

UNL is part of an initiative that fosters active learning methods – such as those found in debate and collaborative problem-solving – in college math courses. The project, called Student Engagement in Mathematics through an Institutional Network for Active Learning (SEMINAL), was born out of a crisis in university math: Too many students, especially students of color, were either failing out or giving up. In 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) sought to determine why. Their findings: the traditional math classroom dynamic – with a lecturing instructor and an emphasis on individual work – doesn’t appeal to a broad swath of learners.

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