Thursday, December 18, 2008

Making Math Meaningful to Tech Students

Here's a great approach to addressing the difficulty that technical students have with math courses. Dan Hull is the Director of OP-TEC, the National Center for Optics and Photonics Education, which is funded by the National Science Foundation's Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. I think this approach - creating a discipline specific math supplement that connects the technology, which the kids love, to the mathematics - could benefit any of our technology programs. OP-TEC: Math in Photonics Education: It all adds up.
Faculty at colleges tell me that most of their students love to work with lasers and optics - they’re not dropping out from lack of interest; they’re dropping out because they are struggling with the math.

A few years ago, Gary Beasley, lead instructor in lasers and photonics technology at Central Carolina Community College (CCCC), was losing over 60% of his students in the first semester - mostly because of the math. So, together we began working on that problem.

OP-TEC staff examined the math topics that were required in the first two photonics courses. We found the following eleven topics:
  • Scientific notation
  • Unit conversion
  • Introductory algebra
  • Powers and roots
  • Ratio and proportion
  • Exponents and logarithms
  • Graphing in rectangular coordinates
  • Geometry
  • Angle measure in two and three dimensions
  • Trigonometry
  • Special graphs
Then we developed a math supplement titled Mathematics for Photonics Education. In it we included a chapter for each of the eleven topics. Each chapter has a 2–3 page review of the math concept, followed by several pages of example calculations for problems that students typically encounter in photonics courses. The remainder of the chapter consists of exercises for student practice. We also prepared a diagnostic test that Gary (or any photonics professor) could administer to students who were beginning their first courses. The book is not a math text - it is a supplement that every new photonics student can own and keep for reference throughout the duration of his or her work at the college.

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...