Dr. Paul Nolting's Academic Success Press Blog: A Publication Dedicated to Math Success 
Dr. Paul Nolting's Academic Success Press Blog: A Publication Dedicated to Math Success 
ASP Blog: Can you briefly describe AMATYC’s New Life Project? What exactly does it aim to accomplish?
Rotman: There are several things involved in the work. One, the specific curricular model, which involves the longterm replacement of any algebra course or prealgebra course before college level with two courses: mathematics literacy and algebraic literacy. The content is all derived from what research shows students actually need. Most of it deals with fundamental ideas of math—all interesting stuff to teach. Another dimension involves bringing a bunch of things together that have been piling around in different places. There has been a lot of good work done on pedagogy and on research. We are trying to disseminate this information the best we can and embed it in our work. We are working on things like student motivation and development for success in college. When we first started, we had this nice model for our math literacy course, which had layers: content in the middle, a layer for assessment, a layer for pedagogy, a layer for student support. The name, by the way, comes from the fact that most people in developmental mathematics five or six years ago were very discouraged. This was before the state mandates and these big [negative] reports. Conferences were full of conversations about how to improve anything in developmental mathematics. I often say that we were discouraged and desperate people. So we developed this New Life name to let people know that this is something they can get excited about—something that can bring some excitement back to the professional life you once had, instead of being so discouraged. We don’t do motivational speaking, but we do try to present things in a way that gives people hope for something better. In some ways, we are countervails to these heavyhanded state efforts to control our work. ASP Blog: How much does New Life differ from what the people at the Carnegie Foundation and the Dana Center are doing? Rotman: There is a lot of overlap between the three efforts. In 2009, we collaborated with the Carnegie Foundation and participated in some meetings to finalize their corresponding course. This is essentially our math literacy course with a few changes—mostly a matter of their network improvement community and their materials. So the content is similar. They share the same interests that we do in research, pedagogy, and student support. At that same time the Dana Center was also developing their curriculum. Since that time, they have gone on their own path with Pathways and Mathways. These three efforts are largely networked together. All of them are generally doing similar things in different ways meant to meet different needs. The Carnegie Foundation is interested in colleges, college systems, and working together in their network. The Dana Center is interested in getting states to do things statewide. AMATYC picks up just about everything else: people who don’t have a state system or have a college that won’t do something systematically. No states have to do the New Life project. Those that are participating choose to. New Life Project focuses specifically on math faculty. We get them excited about doing their work. ASP Blog: How do these three reforms compare to past reforms—specifically those that promoted accelerated courses and the emporium model? Rotman: The reforms you just mentioned mostly address the delivery system of what we’ve been doing. They make things more efficient, or get more students to pass—but they don’t change the mathematics involved. They still involve the same uninteresting and unempowering math. That’s one difference Another is that most of our work is on the relationship between mathematics professionals and students, whether facetoface or online. These other efforts often minimize these relationships. We think that it really helps to have a personal connection. Professors need to understand what students need on a personal level. ASP Blog: So how can institutions determine what specific types of math redesigns work for what specific types of students? Rotman: I have to say, I’m definitely biased here. If colleges want to do what is best for students, they will as quickly as possible replace their entire developmental mathematics curriculum with something like one of [the three models mentioned in the previous question}. Which one they pick depends upon their environment. If they can make systematic changes, then the Dana Center and Carnegie Foundation plans would work. If they can’t, then they can use New Life. You get similar results from all three of these programs. That is my advice: you have to get rid of what you have been doing because there is no place in the country where the old stuff is actually helping students. There are places where pass rates are getting higher, but that doesn’t mean that the work is actually helping students learn math. ASP Blog: How important are pass rates? If they are important, then is there a specific number we should shoot for? People have floated around a 70 percent goal. Rotman: By themselves, success rates aren’t enough. If we are offering good curriculum, and we have pass rates that are that high, then we are getting close to where we should be. The point is, if we get pass rates around 75 percent in traditional courses, then we are still failing because that math isn’t useful to many students—it doesn’t help them think better, it doesn’t give them the skills they need, it doesn’t really enable them to do much at all. In many ways, in traditional courses we see students at the end looking a lot like the students at the beginning, just with a few more skills. I want to fundamentally change students: make them more enabled, more powerful, and have more options. ASP Blog: Is there anything else you’d like to discuss? Rotman: One more thing that is worth pointing out is that in the New Life Project, we essentially want to ban courses on arithmetic in colleges. There are lots of surveys that show very little mathematics is needed for occupations. Most of these surveys are based on the algebra and arithmetic topics we have traditionally taught. The arithmetic that has been taught in the past, if you update the ideas, you get closer to a mathematics literacy course. There are very few numerical skills that you need to teach before a literacy course. To think that you need to teach students to do things like divide decimals by hand—none of these things help students for more than a few weeks. They’ll pass their classes, then immediately forget everything and have nothing to show for their work.
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AuthorDr. Nolting is a national expert in assessing math learning problems, developing effective student learning strategies, assessing institutional variables that affect math success and math study skills. He is also an expert in helping students with disabilities and Wounded Warriors become successful in math. He now assists colleges and universities in redesigning their math courses to meet new curriculum requirements. He is the author of two math study skills texts: Winning at Math and My Math Success Plan. Blog HighlightsAmerican Mathematical Association of TwoYear Colleges presenter, Senior LecturerModular Reader Contributions
