PCC math instructors offer a better equation for student learning
Photos and Story by Janis Nichols
Students from California to Maine who enroll in college algebra or precalculus will have Jessica Bernards and Wendy Fresh to thank for both the classroom experience and the passing grade. The math instructors invested 18 months in the writing of the Guided Lecture Notes, a supplement for the text authored by Sullivan & Sullivan. They said their supplement is a leap of practicality that minimizes the tedium and maximizes the joy of learning college math.
“Reading math text is difficult for many students,” said Fresh. “Students who don’t speak or read English as their native language have told me how much they appreciate these notes. Words they don’t understand are printed and make it much easier to translate.”
Bernards added, “Students were spending way too much class time copying math definitions and formulas from a white board, time that could have been spent talking about what the definitions and formulas really mean, exploring the math concepts and working problems. The Notes give students more time to get to the ‘why’ of the mathematics for a deeper level of understanding.”
To minimize the loss of time, the two instructors gave their students printed materials that included the definitions, theorems, and formulas as well as explorations and examples. The notes were soon adopted by other math instructors which led to the idea of having the lecture notes published which led to a publishing contract with Pearson–considered one of the largest publishers of educational materials in the world.
Fresh explained that the Guided Lecture Notes allow more time for discussion, more time for students working in pairs to complete the work, and more time for the teacher to visit each student pair to check on their progress, answer questions and build relationships with them. Recognizing that students bring different learning styles to the classroom, the Notes also offer videos of an instructor working out the solutions to the examples and explorations within them.
“We know the current pass/fail rates for Math 111 and 112 are not where they need to be,” said Fresh. “We believe the Guided Lecture Notes will make a difference. This approach encourages student engagement and it also teaches students how to organize and how to take notes.”
Proof of that result is student Sarah Cooper, who enrolled in Math 111 two years ago.
“I was very surprised by my success in that class,” Cooper said. “The lecture notes made all the difference. They made sense. They told us what to expect and they were exactly what you needed to study for class or for a test. Because of that class, I love math now.”
The two instructors believe that their past experience as high school math teachers gives them an added ingredient for teaching college math at Portland Community College.
“We are familiar with the ‘sage on the stage’ experience that students dislike so much,” said Bernards. “We wanted to give math students a much more interactive experience and more time to get to that ‘aha moment.’”
Fresh has been teaching at PCC for 17 years. She is a graduate of the University of Oregon and Portland State University. Bernards has been at PCC for four years. She is a graduate of the University of Portland and Portland State University.