TLU professors turn tables on college algebra

After visiting a conference in January 2011, Dr. John Sieben was inspired to makes some changes to college algebra. The math and computer science professor began working with Math Department Chair Dr. Reza Abbasian on developing a new, more exciting approach to Math 133.

In its beginnings, college algebra was created to prepare students for calculus. However, statistics show more students take college algebra as a math requirement with only 10 percent going on to calculus. For Sieben and Abbasian, this data meant it was time to change the way we approach college algebra and make the class more useful for students not studying science, technology, engineering or math.

“Our goal is to show how math can be both useful and fun for those who aren’t math or science majors,” said Sieben. “We’ll have more group discussions, in-class problem solving and collaborative group work. We want students to know that math predictions are used in everyday life from setting policy to tracking sales trends. Our students will be able to do real world applications where they will take a data set, identify a pattern and describe it mathematically.”

Based on data collected by the Khan Academy, a “global classroom” featuring an online library of more than 3200 video tutorials, Sieben and Abbasian will also implement what they call an inverted classroom.

“Students will receive lectures outside of class and class time will be spent discussing applications,” said Sieben. “This way, they have the lectures available to them at all times for reference. Students will come to class with questions where we can reinforce and verify that concepts are understood. This method has worked well at elementary and secondary levels and we believe it’ll also work at TLU.”

Sieben says he hopes this new approach changes attitudes toward college algebra and math in general.

“I want them to see how math is useful and that they’re capable of doing it,” Sieben said. “My focus is for them to not only develop specific skills but gain the confidence to look at a math problem and know they can solve it.”