Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Give way to math education

After a long period of writing a coherent development programme, together with the department of applied mathematics, we finally received a 'go' on a series of four projects in the field of math education. The past years have painfully shown that a lot of students have trouble with their math subjects like Calculus. Although in most cases they achieved reasonably well scores in their final exams in secondary education, the math entrance test at the very beginning of their university career is often a great disappointment. Another issue that comes up during the curriculum is that students who have enrolled into a to a science curriculum also have to take some obligatory math courses. One of the questions they ask themselves is: "do we really need this?", i.e. there seems to be no clear relation between what is learnt in the math courses and what they will need in the further parts of their science curriculum. The math is given on a much more abstract level than they are used to, which makes it difficult to imagine how it can be applied in the context of their major curriculum. As a result some students tend to develop a negative attitude towards math and postpone taking exams in these math courses, sometimes until the very end of their bachelor program.
One of the projects in the new development programme aims at developing context-specific cases. However, this will be addressed in a much more integrated way in the sense that the abstract math theory will be part of a face-to-face introduction. The cases will be presented right after this introduction causing that students do have to apply their fresh knowledge in a context that relates to their main curriculum. So, a student in construction technology receives a different case than a student in chemical technology, although in both cases they may follow a course called 'Calculus I' for example. Besides an expected improvement in transfer of knowledge, we hope to find a spin-off effect in the sense that students may develop a more positive attitude towards math subjects, and possibly spend more time on the subject. And as we know from previous projects and research: spending more time on a subject is positively related to the results that will be achieved. The projects will be started during the summer. The first products (cases) should be available already in september 2008.

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