Siyaphumelela Conference 2017, The Wanders Club, Johannesburg 28 June 2017


Getting ideas into action: Statway and Quantway networked improvement communities

Bernadine Chuck Fong, Carnegie Math Pathways

Andre Freedman, Capital Community College

It’s an exciting time to be tackling problems that appear to be worldwide. The Carnegie Foundation is in California, home to many disruptive changes / technologies, e.g. Uber, Google.

An example of the problem: When asked which is bigger, a/5 or a/8 many students respond saying 8a = 5a so 8 = 5. For many, mathematics is about following algorithms and although they may pass algebra courses they can’t apply the knowledge.

Diagnostic tests can leave students feeling depressed, like they do not belong in higher education. A principle in the development of a disruptive transformation of mathematics in American colleges was to meet students where they are.

15% of students needing developmental maths complete the required college maths or stats course after 2 semesters. The Statway course achieved 51% completion after 1 semester – triple the success in half the time. Wow!

How will Quantway students do in future maths courses? About the same – Grade Point Average of 2.2 out of 4 rather than 2.1 for comparable students taking traditional developmental maths.

The back story to the development of the Pathways courses includes 4 main areas:

  1. Curriculum,
  2. Pedagogy,
  3. Psycho-social factors,
  4. a Networked Improvement Community

Curriculum – what maths do students really need for their (non-STEM) degree?

The goal of the Math Pathways was to help students who had difficulty with arithmetic and basic algebra and were not looking to do calculus or STEM degrees. Algebra is used as needed to solve problems in the Pathways course rather than doing it all up front.


Use of neuroscience and cognitive psychology – the brain grows with use, it’s not fixed.

Disruptive pedagogy

  • Productive struggle – rich problems with important mathematics, not “Here’s a problem, I’ll show you how to solve it, now you do more like it”. It’s “Here’s a problem, try to work on this in a group and I (the lecturer) will guide you. If necessary I’ll explain some parts to the class as a whole. We’ll discuss the answers the groups come up with and get a common understanding of what can be considered correct answers.”
  • Explicit connections – between concepts, procedures, problems, situations
  • Deliberate practice

Psycho-social factors (some say non-cognitive but Bernadine doesn’t like this, you still use your brain when you are feeling emotions)

Productive persistence: Mindset and stereotype threat. Tenacity and Good Strategies. [colourful slide]

Mindsets about ability

Fixed Mindset Growth Mindset
Goals Look smart Learn
Value effort, help, strategy No Yes
Response to challenge Give up Work harder and smarter

Mindsets are about academic potential.

Reading an article on growth mindsets vs reading about brain facts correlated with reduced dropout.

Networked improvement community

Bring together lecturers to design learning materials. They share a common problem, aim, theory of practice improvement, measurement systems, methodologies for disciplined inquiry.

“Some is not a number, soon is not a time.” Set an aim with numbers, e.g. “By June 2018, reclaim the mathematical lives of 30 000 students.”

Pathways started in 2011.

1st yr – the beginning, instructor notes, professional development.

2nd yr – Launching 1st course

Fewer options for students reduces registration stress. E.g. put students in a health science field rather than making them choose one of many options up front.

Why hasn’t Pathways scaled up faster in America?

  • Maths staff who prefer the traditional approach oppose change. Teaching is a cultural routine. Culture eats strategy. “We’re talking about a cultural revolution …”

How did you sustain communities? Funding? Engaging staff?

  • You first need the cultural change and the commitment, funding will follow. The institution needs to commit to funding things differently.
  • It takes a lot of will. Grant money is episodic and may not continue, it really needs to be an institutional commitment.
  • Each lecturer starting to teach a Pathways course would be assigned a mentor who has experience in a Pathways course.
  • Hand-pick people in leadership positions who want to do innovative change. Carnegie is responsible for the USA university ratings so they could use branding to attract interest and participation. Carnegie is associated with a sense of prestige in America and the use of the name to attract interest was deliberate.

The psycho-social factors have been adopted in Calculus courses in America to reduce dropout through the 3-semester sequence.

Could there be a summer school for students before they start university? Possibley. In SA there could be the problem with getting students to attend a non-credit bearing course. Bernadine says that compared with giving general mindset teaching, it is more effective if a maths lecturer teaches mindset in the maths class.

Red tape can block or stall changes. E.g. SA universities may not legally teach courses that are not university level. But a Pathway course takes in a student with below university entrance requirements and after 2 semesters gives them a college-level qualification. How do you classify the level of the course – at the level of the student entering or exiting? Some USA universities split the Pathway courses so the first semester looks like a pre-university course and the second semester is university level.


Why are you in Higher Eduction?

To serve students? Why do you want to serve students?

So they can have a life that contributes to society? Why? (Keep asking why.)

How clear is this post?