While our conventional math education focuses on equipping our students for success in calculus, the esoteric nature of calculus has long been a major source of frustration in studying math. Given the proliferation of students struggling with algebra and calculus, Seattle Central College’s Math Department believes there is an alternative math path that can alleviate the pain rendered by math.
Statway, a statistics-oriented math path, was developed by the Carnegie Foundation as a re- sponse to the nationwide failure in developmental math – the traditional series of pre-college math classes ranging from basic arithmetic to intermediate algebra. “The initial problem was how to increase the success rate,” said Paul Verschueren, a Statway instructor since 2011, the first year of Statway’s implementation at Seattle Central. In tackling the problem, the Carnegie Foundation identified the fact that, depending on their majors, students need varying degrees of exposure to calculus. Instead of conforming to the conventional and universal curriculum of pre-algebra, Statway instructors introduce algebra within the context of statistics. In in other words, they “teach algebra when needed as needed.” According to Verschueren, “Students who struggle with math sometimes don’t neces- sarily struggle with the mathematical concept, but they struggle with learning out of context, the larger context of what this is for.”
However, it is worth noting that students should ensure statistics adequately satisfies the math requirements for their majors before enrolling in Statway. “If a student is undeclared, or unsure about what they want to do, we do not recom- mend Statway,” Verschueren added. “The good thing about the traditional math path is that it doesn’t close any doors.”
In fact, Seattle Central is one of 19 pioneering colleges in the country to implement Statway, which enables students to simultaneously learn algebra following the algebraic sequence, and in a statistics context. Composed of MATH 91, MATH 92, and MATH 136, Statway at Seattle Central is intended to be completed in three con- secutive quarters with the same instructor and the same group of classmates, thereby forming a supportive bond throughout the quarters.
Indeed, statistics is a sophisticated area in math that is closely related to our daily lives. “When you read the newspaper, when you try to under- stand public opinion, when you understand how you are being marketed to and why, these are all [occurrences] when statistics runs the show,” Mr. Verschueren said. “Some say that understand- ing statistics is one of the things that separates an educated and an uneducated citizen, and I think that’s true.” Mr. Verschueren believes that without understanding statistics, one risks being misled and overwhelmed by one’s emotions when making decisions, while statistics encourages one to be more skeptical and protects from bias by applying science and facts in informing one’s opinions.
With Statway, the success rate has more than doubled compared to that of the conventional developmental math path, both nationally and at Seattle Central. Despite the fact that some people argue that a fuller understanding of algebra (compared to Statway) is part of a basic education for everyone, Mr. Verschueren sees the coexistence of the two math paths in community colleges as a growing nationwide trend, part of an active attempt to raise success rates in math among non-STEM majors. “I would love to know that every student at Seattle Central knew that [Statway] was an option. I am proud to be part of the pilot school, the wonderful thing we are doing,” Mr. Verschueren concluded.
By Tracy Lam