Quantitative Literacy: A PRIME candidate for success

  • Dec 9, 2016
  • Faculty & Staff, Research, Mathematics, PRIME

Azya Moore (left), instructor Bronlyn Wassink and Abigail Rogalke discuss a group project.

Azya Moore (left), instructor Bronlyn Wassink and Abigail Rogalke discuss a group project.

Recognizing the importance of Quantitative Literacy (QL), the Department of Mathematics now offers two new courses—Math 101 and Math 102—which were developed as a joint effort between the department and MSU’s Program in Mathematics Education (PRIME).

Quantitative literacy moves away from the memorization of formulas and instead emphasizes the use of tools that places mathematics within a real-world context—a skill that is often not stressed in high school mathematics.

“Rather than using complex mathematics to solve simplified real-world problems, students in Math 101 and 102 use relatively basic mathematics to gain understanding of complex real-world questions,” said Vincent Melfi, director of PRIME and associate professor of statistics and probability.

Students enrolled in the classes typically are in non-technical majors. Approximately 46 percent are either communication, journalism or advertising majors.

“The development of QL reflects the reality that different streams of students require different levels of mathematical sophistication, and that many students best absorb mathematical concepts when they are framed in terms of concrete, everyday activities,” said Keith Promislow, chair of the Department of Mathematics. “The early returns are very encouraging!”

Upon completion of the pilot courses last year, students were asked to provide feedback.

"As a student majoring in communication, I will not be using algebra in day-to-day job tasks, so Math 101 was a good alternative for me. It allows me to have a background in the types of real-world math that I will be using,” responded one student.

Math 101 focuses on world demographics, health and risk, and how the media can manipulate numbers to perpetuate a certain viewpoint.  Math 102 covers finance, economics and voting systems. 

“These courses offer students valuable and relevant education tools that will reach far beyond their degree programs and work to make them better citizens through the ability to accurately understand a world ruled by numbers,” another student commented.

“The goal of the QL courses, along with many of the gateway mathematics courses, is to get the students to spend more of their class time in an ‘active learning’ mode,” Promislow said.

One of the class projects involves creating posters using infographics based on a topic of their own choosing.

“The students really like being able to visually express their data,” said Bronlyn Wassink, a specialist in the math department who teaches the courses. “They have the opportunity to research something that they are actually interested in, and learn different ways to show data—outside of the stereotypical bar graph. Most math classes don’t teach this.”

Feedback from one student sums it up best: “Math had been an ongoing problem for me until I took this class. It changed my perspective of mathematics, and the topics covered were relevant and important. If it were taught in high schools, I think it would change a lot of people's minds about math and make them see it as a much more interesting topic at a younger age."