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PCC’s use of quantitative reasoning spreads across the curricula

Published Saturday, September 3, 2016
by Elizabeth Townsend

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Tags: Cooley QEP QR4U
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In 2012 Piedmont Community College was challenged to create a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) by its accrediting agency. DiscussionQR4U Logo and focus groups led the faculty and staff to consider a project using basic math. Once finalized, the purpose of PCC’s QEP was to improve students' quantitative reasoning skills by implementing mathematics across the curricula, using problem-solving and real-life applications. QR4U became the slogan to emphasize that quantitative reasoning is a skill that everyone needs in their daily lives.

Lisa Cooley, Director, Quality Enhancement Plan, explains, “Fall 2016 begins QR4U’s fourth year of implementation. Faculty are teaching 34 activities in 12 distinct courses that cover a variety of general education classes. These activities will help students sharpen their quantitative reasoning skills.”

Instructors have spent the last three years creating and deploying activities in their classes. Students are then graded and scored based on the six competencies, including identifying and explaining mathematical information, performing mathematical calculations, making and evaluating assumptions based on data, and explaining evidence-based thoughts used to solve real-life problems.

“The activities reflect the talent and creativity of our faculty who tirelessly work to help our students succeed,” continues Cooley.

Examples of the classes using QR4U activities include:
Introduction to Computers (CIS 110):
Paul Phillips created the activity “How Big is One Million?” knowing that students often hear about megabytes and terabytes file sizes but probably cannot comprehend what that means. Similarly, Phillips points out, “In everyday life we hear about budgets being passed for millions, billions, and trillions of dollars, but again, do they know how large that is?”

The student assignment, then, was to provide a representation of one million. “One student project focused on heartbeats. If your heart were to beat 60 beats per minute, how long would it take your heart to beat a millions times? The answer is about 11 ½ days. They continue the analogy with how long one billion heartbeats would take, and then one trillion. The students can relate to that,” explained Phillips.

Introduction to Sociology (SOC 210):
“Agents of Socialization and Money Attitudes” was created by instructor Lisa Covington, who offers three QR4U activities in her classes. “This is my favorite project because when I teach Introduction to Sociology, the whole concept is that family is the most important agent of socialization. I wanted to somehow relate that to the concept of personal finance and financial responsibility,” she said.

During this project, students evaluate a chart that displays saving and spending patterns for two individuals. This means they also need to learn about compound interest and other financial ideas in order to understand the graph. “Upon analyzing this real-world data, the students learn how saving at different points of life change can your financial status.”

Precalculus Algebra (MAT 171):
Math instructor Patti Morgan works with students on a business concept called “What is the best choice?”, focusing on two different videos games that are being produced by a company. Through a system of equations, linear programming, and graphing, the students determine which video game the company should produce and sell, including how many and for how much. Morgan shares, “After they make this determination, we talk about having a competitor and how that may force the company to change the price and number produced.”

General Biology I (BIO 111):
Katie Hester, biology instructor, created a graph demonstrating the connection between ocean acidification and global warming. “The students are tasked with interpreting the graphs and data used in the activity.” Taking it a step further, Hester has students examine changes in coral reefs, making predictions about the future.

“There are real stories that go along with this project. For example, oysters are not thriving in the northeast which is a challenge for the oyster companies. This has a direct impact on humans. We’re not just talking about animals and plants dying, we’re talking about your industries and your money,” Hester says.

American History II (HIS 132):
Dean for Humanities and Social Sciences Wayne Cohan uses economic development data from the census department in his “Reconstruction after the Civil War” activity. Students study which regions and states are showing improvement over several decades. “Based on this information the students then talk about why one region, the one we happen to be living in, declined so drastically in terms of its economic output. They followed the discussion with an essay in which they had to wrestle with the implications of that data,” shares Cohan.

Design I (ART 121):
Amy Levine, Fine Arts instructor, utilizes measurement and symmetry in her class. Students are given a 16x20 symmetrical frame and asked to design a symmetrical drawing that is square to fit in this frame. Levine explains that, “Students had to account for a mat around the drawing and the extra space that would be integrated into the design. There’s a lot of math in this project, along with a lot of balance decisions to get the best result.”

Quantitative Literacy (MAT 143):
This class offers a personal finance segment where math instructor Shannon Turner encourages the students to select the car of their dreams. Students then research financing, fuel costs for that vehicle, estimated repair costs, taxes, and insurance. “The students are surprised when they project the cost over life of loan. It’s a real eye-opener that will hopefully help them later on in life,” shares Turner.

“The variety of the activity topics is impressive, but how they intermingle among the courses is fabulous,” commented Cooley. “For example, students explore science in a math class, statistics in an English class, data in a history class, magnitude in a computer class, and personal finances in math, sociology, and student success classes. Students also explore associations in psychology, apply scale and proportion in art, analyze graphs in biology, investigate language using statistics, and wrestle with the logic of critical thinking. For me, seeing such a wide variety of activities in action is both inspiring and energizing, and it’s a wonderful way to start a new academic year.”

Photo: QR4U logo