The contextualized math program for secondary and postsecondary students that Palm Beach State College (PBSC) is launching with a new Advanced Technological Education grant fits with the college's strategic goal of boosting student retention and completion.
The new Intermediate Algebra course for postsecondary students will incorporate tactile experiences and authentic math problems from the college's Electrical Power Technology (EPT) and Engineering Technology (ET) associate of science degree programs.
Jay Matteson, principal investigator of the InnovATE project supported by the ATE grant, hopes the contextualized math will assist students—both teens and older adults—entering the EPT and ET programs with intellectual scaffolding that ignites their interest in STEM careers and fortifies their learning so they can succeed in college.
The InnovATE project aims to improve STEM learning and increase STEM career interest among the students enrolled in high-yield middle and high schools, defined as Title I schools, that serve as key parts of PBSC's student pipeline. Currently, the Algebra I passage rate is only about 50% at the six high schools that the InnovATE project targets.
"If you can't pass math, you can't get to the degree program," Matteson said, summing up PBSC's challenge and the nation's challenge with recruiting and retaining underserved populations in STEM fields.
PBSC Plans to Reach Underserved Students
Matteson, who directs the Institute for Energy and Environmental Sustainability at PBSC, and Oleg Andric and Ira Amado Rosenthal, the two PBSC professors who are InnovATE's co-principal investigators, are ramping up the program this summer. They are working with an outreach specialist who will take makerspace activities to the six Title I high schools that send nearly half of their graduates each year to PBSC. The specialist will also visit the 18 middle schools whose students move on to the target high schools. All the secondary school students who take part in InnovATE program will be known as STEM Collegiate Scholars.
At the secondary schools the outreach specialist will use a peer-facilitated instructional model to guide faculty and student peer leaders' work with students on interactive learning activities designed to build academic thinking and habits of success.
InnovATE will also use software tools to extend students' exploration of STEM careers and analyze the program's influence on students' academic progress and career decisions.
Eventually PBSC campus activities will be offered to the STEM Collegiate Scholars.
Matteson emphasized that the entire three-year ATE project aims to reach at least 1,680 middle school and high school students who are in the "murky middle" academically. These are the students most likely to drop out of college when their aspirations cannot be supported by their foundational skills.
He hopes the tactile aspects of the Intermediate Algebra course and makerspace activities will help bridge connections between students' affective intelligence and cognitive development, and encourage their exploration of STEM careers.
"In a contextualized math program, when you create the math, you are not just going to give them formulas and things like that. You make things. You're going to put it together; you are going to construct it. So you have the hand parts of it: piecing, cutting, making things. And then you have the cognitive part, which is the applied principles. They have to measure and scale. They have to calculate," he said.
He hopes that by having students work in groups, where they must engage with one another and explain what they are doing, it will further help them translate math concepts and clarify their learning.
The InnovATE project's ultimate goals are to have students entering PBSC with stronger math skills and clearer career maps.
Matteson hopes this combination will result in more underrepresented minority students and women enrolling in advanced technology programs like Electrical Power Technology and Engineering Technology. Palm Beach County has growing power, aerospace, and manufacturing industries that are seeking highly skilled technicians.
FLATE's ET Forums Promote Collaboration
Although Matteson and his colleagues are new to the ATE program, they have already experienced the collegiality of the ATE community thanks to the advice of Marilyn Barger, the principal investigator and executive director of the Florida Advanced Technological Education Center of Excellence (FLATE) at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida.
"We would not have gotten to this point without her [Marilyn Barger's] help," Matteson said. He explained that Barger's informal advice sharpened their thinking and grant writing, and helped them cross-check the details of their ATE proposal before submitting it to the National Science Foundation.
He and his colleagues routinely attend meetings of the Florida Forum on Engineering Technology that FLATE convenes to support implementation of the Engineering Technology degree program it developed and helped implement throughout Florida.
The collaborative nature of the forum meetings not only helped start the ET program at PBSC, but have helped the team's thinking about other STEM curriculum issues. For example, at forum meetings PBSC team members have shared their work on the Smart Grid curriculum they are developing with other grant support.
In April, Barger and personnel from the Advanced Technology Environmental and Energy Center (ATEEC), another ATE center at the Eastern Iowa Community College District in Davenport, Iowa, came to PBSC to help Matteson and others at PBSC with a job task analysis for Smart Grid technicians. This analysis helped PBSC faculty pull together three-and-a-half years of work on the Smart Grid curriculum, Matteson said, adding his gratitude for their assistance.