Scottsdale Community College notches NSF research grant

Two Maricopa Community Colleges will be part of a three-year, $2.3 million research grant from the National Science Foundation to study how algebra is being taught at community colleges.

Classrooms at Glendale Community College and Scottsdale Community College will be analyzed as part of the study, according to a press release.

“We will be looking at the relationship between math instructors, students and the math itself,” said Glendale Community College math faculty Laura Watkins in a prepared statement.

Ms. Watkins will serve as the grant’s principal investigator.

“There are many factors and characteristics that make community college instruction different than K-12 or university instruction,” Ms. Watkins said. “We’re going to analyze those characteristics and factors.”

The grant will begin as a pilot program this fall. The full research project will launch in spring 2017 and carry on into 2018.

Researchers hope the study will lead to case studies that illustrate successful components of face-to-face teaching.

“Since we do not have opportunities to observe our faculty peers in the classroom, we do not fully know what is happening relative to the teaching and learning in community college mathematics classes,” said April Strom, math faculty at Scottsdale Community College, who will be one of five investigators carrying out the Arizona part of the project.

“Now, we will be able to learn more about teaching and learning.”

Ms. Watkins points out that while NSF has provided grants to study math instruction at the K-12 and university levels, very few research grants have focused on community college instruction.

“We’ve been asking (NSF) for faculty development grants for community college instructors and they’ve always responded that we need more data,” she said. “This project will help us understand the community college landscape for algebra instruction.”

Ms. Strom pointed out that teaching algebra at community colleges and in high school has come under criticism by some who maintain algebra should not be required of all students. Studies such as these can counter those arguments, she says.

“It’s not good enough to simply focus on procedures and algorithms,” said Ms. Strom. “We need to focus on problem solving and ways of thinking.”

Ms. Strom is principal investigator for the Arizona Mathematics Partnership, which received a $9 million, five-year grant in 2012 from the NSF to implement strategies aimed at helping middle school math teachers be more effective in teaching math. Watkins has been serving as an investigator on that project as well.

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