Reducing Algebra as a Calculus Pain Point

Time and time again, we hear from calculus professors across the country that one of the biggest issues in their classes is students remembering the building blocks of algebra.

Here are a few suggestions to help ensure students have the basics mastered:

Consider diagnostic testing.

Identify students who have skill gaps, then provide them with supplemental assignments in the first weeks of class for additional support.

Ask students who excel on the diagnostic test if they are willing to be course mentors, which will build classroom camaraderie.

If possible, host a 1-day algebra refresher workshop before the first day of class.

Begin the term explaining how algebra is foundational to calculus. Let students know they are not alone in struggling with algebraic concepts. Hosting an algebra refresher will help students feel more comfortable asking questions.

Remind students that you’re grading for accuracy.

Feedback is critical for students to realize they are struggling. If time permits, set aside a few minutes after passing back assignments so students can look over the feedback you gave them and ask questions.

Provide every student with technology resources as further help.

List out a few tech resources that are easy to access, such as YouTube videos or online interactive games, on your syllabus. Additionally, look for calculus materials that provide a brief algebra refresher as part of the text.


Hawkes Learning’s Calculus with Early Transcendentals textbook and NEW courseware offer exercises and diagnostic testing that target the key algebraic topics calculus students need to master. Request a complimentary exam copy.

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Ensuring students are college-ready

In education, little is more important than advocating for students. The demands of gateway, curriculum-level courses—coupled with the newness of college—can often enlarge barriers for underprepared students.

There has been a lot a buzz about corequisite and accelerated learning programs as a way to help the incoming student population.

Here are five reasons we’ve heard why this kind of course is worth consideration:

1. Decrease Debt 
College is expensive. Coreq and accelerated learning courses reduce tuition and other costs associated with prerequisite classes.

2. Lose the Stigma 
Anyone can get buried under the weight of negative associations. Boost morale and raise expectations by helping students get rid of the mentality that they are not college material.

3. Encourage Progress 
As an educator, you value the time and energy students put into your courses. Giving students the opportunity to earn college credit within their first year helps them see how their effort progresses them toward their end goal.

4. Limit Pressure
Students know that passing first-year courses is key to their college success. Decrease the pressure of gateway courses by ensuring students know that if support is needed, it will be there and aligned with curriculum-level content.

5. Increase Retention 
Ideally, all students who begin college get to end it with a degree. Corequisite and accelerated learning models help reduce time to the finish line as well as attrition between terms.

Fighting Students’ Apathy with a Growth Mindset Approach

Have you had students who just didn’t seem to care about class? They may have shown up physically, but they were somewhere else mentally. They barely participated in class discussions, and their writing lacked the effort you tried so hard to encourage them to put forth. How do you combat this apathy?

According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, bringing a growth-mindset approach, rather than that of a fixed mindset, to your classroom helps reduce apathy in your students.

Growth vs. fixed mindsets

People with a fixed mindset think their traits are static. They “have a certain amount of brains and talent and nothing can change that…[P]eople in this mindset worry about their traits and how adequate they are. They have something to prove to themselves and others” (Dweck). So, students who have fixed mindsets believe they cannot get more intelligent than they already are. If they’ve been a bad student with low grades before, then they assume they’ll continue performing poorly in academic settings because that is how they are. Likewise, if they succeed in school, that success confirms their inherent intelligence and creativity. They strive for success and try to avoid failure at all costs.

People with a growth mindset, however, believe they can learn and practice diligently in order to improve at the task at hand. This type of mindset “thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities” (Popova). Students are less preoccupied with failing and looking unintelligent and more focused on actively learning so they can become stronger in their character, creativity, and intelligence.

Changing the meaning of failure

Implementing a growth-mindset approach in class helps students understand that failure isn’t a terrible mistake that shines a light on their inadequacies. Instead, failure leads to opportunities to learn and get creative.

Risks often scare students with fixed mindsets because risks contain a chance of failing. Encouraging students to break outside of their comfort zones to take academic risks (within reason, of course!) gets them to try their hand at something different and put extra effort into their lessons.

Putting forth effort is nearly half the battle. When they apply their effort to learning something new and challenging themselves, students truly gain insight from the lesson instead of simply gaining a grade.

How Hawkes promotes growth

Hawkes gives students a penalty-free environment for learning. In the Practice mode, students can practice as much as they want to. Certify, the homework mode in the courseware, holds students accountable for learning the material on their own time. They can keep trying Certify as often as they need. If they don’t pass the first time, they don’t get a bad grade. Instead, they get the chance to try again—to get back on the proverbial horse and push themselves to keep learning and understanding the lesson. If they don’t pass Certify, students receive a customized Practice session with the question types they missed. By applying a growth mindset, students can learn from these Practice sessions, get more comfortable with the material and confident in their learning, then take on Certify again. When they pass Certify, they receive 100% full credit for the lesson, another reward for believing they can do it and applying themselves to the goal of truly learning the content.

Before taking an assigned test, students can create their own practice tests. Only they can see these practice tests. Not even instructors have access to this space, so students don’t feel judged by others. Instead of worrying about their performance on this practice assessment, students can ease into the material and allow themselves to explore what they know and what they still need to learn. Students have the option of setting a time limit, and they can also choose to not put a limit on how long they need to complete the questions.

By rewarding students for taking the time to learn the material through unlimited practice questions and customized practice tests, Hawkes’s system encourages students that they can learn and succeed when applying a growth mindset to their lessons.

 

 

Works Cited

Dweck, Carol. Mindset. Mindset Online, 2010, http://www.mindsetonline.com/index.html. Accessed 25 April 2017.

Popova, Maria. “Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets that Shape Our Lives.” Brain Pickings, 29 Jan. 2014. https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/29/carol-dweck-mindset/. Accessed 25 April 2017.

Where’s the best place to study on your campus?

Finals are here! (That statement is exclaimed more in sheer panic than happy excitement.) Around this time of year, finding a good spot to review your materials before heading into that final exam or finishing that paper looming over your head is as difficult as imagining finally being done for the term.

Remember to ask yourself a few questions when choosing a study spot:

  • Can I easily get help if I get stuck on a problem or concept I’m studying?
  • Is it quiet and easy for me to concentrate on my work?
  • Am I comfortable here?
  • How far away is this space from where I live? From my next class? From snacks? (That last one is especially important.)
  • What resources are available to me here? Do I have access to whiteboards, computers, books, etc.?

We asked two of our Student Ambassadors what their favorite study spots are on their campuses. Take notice of where they choose! We hope you have a similar place to which you can retreat for some last-minute studying.

From Kayla at Navarro College:

This is the QEP Teams Center, where I work at on Navarro Campus. It’s a place where you can get help with a specific class and use your time to study here. While working here, I’ve had students tell me that their one-on-one time with me has helped them tremendously because I can easily break down each problem with them individually. I also find it useful studying here as well. I am here three to five times a week studying.

 

From Austin at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania:

Sometimes finding the right spot on campus to study is a challenge. The perfect spot that I have found for myself, though, is our project room. Located in the same building as the professors’ offices makes it a perfect place for being able to step out of the room and ask your professor a quick question. The project room is also for upperclassmen, so normally it is a quiet place to study away from distractions. With white boards all around the room, it makes it easy to write up ideas or even write out some long problems.

A computer lab with a long table in the middle and a white board on the furthest wall is shown.

Perhaps these favorite study spots from peers have inspired you to find a great place!

10 Habits to Help You Succeed in College – FREE PDF Included

The title of the document is Reading Environment Assessment. It asks you to one: list three places you usually study in order of frequency. Then, two: Circle the response that applies to each of these places (T for True and F for False). Statements are Other people seldom interrupt me when I study here; Little of what I can see here reminds me of things unrelated to my studying; and I don't hear a TV or radio when I study here.

Getting a college degree is no easy feat. Fortunately, you and your fellow students have access to a plethora of tips and tricks to make the most out of your class time and study time. One such source is provided by Opportunity International, which lists out habits to help you succeed in higher education.

Here’s a taste of Opportunity.org’s 10 Habits of Successful Students, which includes my favorite three habits they’ve listed:

  1. Sleep. You don’t want to overdo this one and miss class, of course! However, you can’t pull all-nighters to finish projects and study for tests all the time. (Trust me. I’ve tried and learned the hard way.) Get your rest so you can think more clearly, retain information more easily, and be a more pleasant person to be around.
  2. Ask questions. You should use this tip inside and outside of the classroom. If you’re confused by what your instructor is saying, do your best to speak up during class! If you’re extra shy and don’t want to talk in front of all your peers, don’t miss the opportunity to ask your instructor during their office hours or right after their lecture. Make sure you ask friends for help with studying too.
  3. Maintain a study space. Sometimes, your dorm room or home isn’t the best place to get your work done. Take the time to locate a spot that’s quiet, easy to get to, and conducive to studying.

Need help with that last tip? We’ve got you covered. Check out our Reading Environment Assessment here. It asks you to evaluate three different potential study spots by answering a few true-or-false questions. It will help you identify your best environment to get your work done. Plus, it’s free and quick to complete!

Check out more habits of successful students here. Let us know what your best habits are in the comments below!


“10 Habits of Success Students.” Opportunity International. Opportunity.org, n.d. Web. 19 July 2016.

Accenting the English Class with Technology

“We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand, because it is the pen and paper of our time, and it is the lens through which we experience much of our world.” – David Warlick

Technology in the classroom can daunt even the most seasoned instructor, but most have used PowerPoint or have shown videos to drive the lesson home to students. Here are 5 reasons why you should test the waters with technology!

Five Benefits of Adding Technology to Your Class

  1. Spend less time grading and more time teaching.

Having the right system in place to keep track of student progress and assignment completion frees you up to devote more time to lesson planning, answering students’ questions, or even grabbing that extra cup of coffee before the next class.

  1. Prepare students for jobs.

Students will need to know how to format emails and perform effective internet research by the time they graduate. Jobs in all disciplines—from architecture to geology to mechanical engineering—require a high level of comfort with technology that only comes with exposure and experience.

  1. Diversify learning opportunities.

Some may think that introducing more technology into the classroom takes away from your role as an instructor, but it actually gives you more options to customize your course! It’s now easier than ever to share readings and videos from your lesson plans by making them available online. And with discussion boards and live chats, students can keep learning from you and their peers before and after class.

  1. Further engage your students.

Incorporating technology in your class, such as by asking students to use their smartphones for projects, encouraging them to write blog posts, or assigning a Photoshop project to expand their ideas of composition, makes learning more interactive and meaningful. Additionally, these different projects cater to different learning styles. You may see previously quiet students perk up at the chance to try something new.

  1. Improve classroom organization.

Are scattered sticky notes and coffee-stained planners plaguing you instead of helping you? Help yourself and your students by taking advantage of email calendars and reminders; then show your class how these tools help with time management skills. Your students (and the planet) will thank you.


Bonebrake, Jon for UB Academic Advising. “Using Google Calendar for College Students.” Online video. YouTube. YouTube, 11 June 2014. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.


What are other reasons you use technology in your classroom? Let us know in the comments below!