Next fall the community college where I teach math is going to try a new system of teaching developmental mathematics. The two courses that are going to be changed are Prealgebra and Elementary Algebra. They are going to be taught in computer classrooms where students will spend most of their time on the computers doing problems.
The success rate for the previous system is abysmal. Only about half the students in each of the courses pass with a C or better. There are several features of the new system that are promising. Students will not be allowed to progress until they pass the previous material with 85% correct. From a teacher’s point of view, this makes sense. To look at from a more elementary viewpoint, no one expects children to do addition who cannot count. Five plus eight is pretty meaningless to the child that doesn’t know what comes after eleven. Algebra is just as cumulative.
Yet one of the main reasons for our previous lack of success is not the poor classroom structure. The students who need to take Prealgebra and Elementary Algebra in college usually have a history of failure. If a student is making reasonable progress, the courses are finished by his freshman year of high school, if not earlier.
I hope this works. I believe it will produce better results, although perhaps not as much better as many of us hope.