Monthly Checkup? Committee Work

It has been about a month since I last took time to write here. Of course a lot is going on. I am going to blather on in a rambling way now. This will probably be a couple of posts–as I likely should have written one a week.

The Committee Assignment:

I have been participating in a University subcommittee with an insanely bureaucratic name: The LACC1CCC. That stands for “Liberal Arts Core Category 1C Coordinating Committee.” At this point, we are trying to sort out some kind of large scale SLO and SOA (Student Learning Objectives and Student Outcomes Assessment) for those courses we offer that fulfill the Liberal Arts Core requirement labelled 1C: Quantitative Literacy. I find this really challenging. On one hand it is important to have a clear idea of what you are trying to do and how you will decide if you are getting it done effectively. But it also feels like a giant nightmare: a lot of talking that will just disappear and not be used by anyone. For now, I have decided to be altruistic and believe there is a chance this will work well.

At UNI, we have five courses listed that meet the requirement:

  1. Math 1100: Math in Decision Making
  2. Math 1420: Calculus 1
  3. Stat 1772: Introduction to Statistical Methods
  4. Math 1201: Mathematical Reasoning for Teaching 1
  5. Computer Science 1025: Computer Modeling and Simulation

Those are very different courses. Somehow, we are to find a description of the commonalities in what we are trying to achieve with them and then decide on a measurement scheme for our own effectiveness at meeting those goals. I have taught the first three on the list (3, 1 and 2 times, respectively), but I don’t know much about the other two.

Right now, my biggest hangup is that my goals for Math in Decision Making are all about attitude and affect for the subject. I feel challenged by this process to improve my approach to “quantitative literacy.”

My course is split into three units: (1) counting and the idea of the infinite, (2) something about probability and/or statistics, and (3) classifying surfaces.

Almost all of the things that sound like strict “quantitative literacy” are in unit (2), which is clearly the worst part of the course. I am on my third time teaching this, I am using my third different approach to that unit, and it still doesn’t click. Students don’t like it. I don’t like it. Generally they don’t learn what I am aiming at and no one has any fun.

I worry that this is largely a problem of my attitude. Units (1) and (3) feel like this: “woo-hoo. let’s do some crazy math!” Unit (2) makes me feel like Ben Stein’s character from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. So, this is something I am noodling over. Anyone got a good idea for a unit that teaches some basic prob & stat, but feels like interesting math is going on? Anyone? Anyone?


Oh, and if you have experience with designing SLO/SOA, I’d like to hear about that, too.



5 thoughts on “Monthly Checkup? Committee Work

  1. A social justice project? I haven’t managed it myself. (And am now avoiding teaching the statistics course.) Depends on your students, and you, and… (Mainly commenting so I can follow any discussion on this.)

  2. I am still not exactly sure what that means in the context of a mathematics course. Frankly, though I have heard the term, I haven’t investigated.

    I did think briefly about trying a problem about redistricting for congress. Would that count?

  3. Probably. Although it doesn’t sound particularly exciting to me. I’ve heard good things about projects that look at how many liquor stores per capita in various neighborhoods. Maybe explore the statement that “The lottery is a tax on poverty.” You get to explore expected value, and then you could look at advertising. (I hear lotteries are advertised more heavily in poorer areas.)

    What are the demographics of your students? And what excites them?

  4. Hi,

    I have a question that will come off either as ignorant or rude, although I am not sure which one:

    Aren’t you all doing this backwards? It seems like you should come up with the goals and then design the courses around them.

    It seems like you are “cheating” by starting with the courses and then figuring out what they are teaching students. (That said, my mathematics department is trying to come up with similar goals right now. If our goals do not match what our courses do, there is a good chance we will change the goals rather than change the courses. But I am not happy about this).

    Of course, maybe I am misunderstanding the whole situation.

  5. It could certainly seem that way…

    The courses were all designed a long time ago, and the same goes for the Liberal Arts Core language. Over the years, things drift. For context, the original work up of all of the courses and the LAC was done decades before I arrived at UNI. Yet, I have taught several of the courses, and they fit the LAC language rather awkwardly at times.

    So, periodically we have to do a little check-up. It is the intent of our committee to be descriptive rather than proscriptive, but if our introspection leads to changes in implementation it wouldn’t be all that surprising.

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