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Introduction

Bret Eynon, Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs
Judit Török, Center for Teaching and Learning

Project Quantum Leap is an innovative effort by the Department of Mathematics, Engineering and Computer Science of LaGuardia Community College to address the needs of our students. It reflects the department's and the College’s commitment to solving the challenges of basic skills education in mathematics. With funding from the U.S Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) and assistance from the LaGuardia Center for Teaching and Learning, mathematics faculty have made a sustained, collective effort to explore new approaches to teaching mathematics and re-thinking their classroom pedagogies. Working together in a faculty seminar, they design, plan, test and discuss new classroom strategies. The PQL faculty are proud to publish the first edition of the PQL Sampler, a representation of and reflection on their initial classroom experiments. With this publication, we celebrate the accomplishment of a team of thoughtful, risk-taking teachers and a department dedicated to innovation and creativity.

In an effort to improve student learning outcomes in developmental mathematics, LaGuardia faculty have studied a successful mathematics and science teaching approach developed by a national project funded by the National Science Foundation. This award-winning project, Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER), has demonstrated the effectiveness of teaching mathematics in compelling contexts. Linking the study of mathematics to complex, capacious, and unsolved public issues, SENCER courses make mathematics more meaningful and engaging for students.

Project Quantum Leap (PQL) adapts the SENCER approach to meet the needs of a new setting and population: community college students taking developmental math. Studying
the SENCER approach and drawing on their own knowledge, LaGuardia’s math faculty
have developed problems and projects that integrate contextual themes in four math
courses:

Introduction to Algebra – Energy and the Environment: Global Challenge (MAT095)
Elementary Algebra – Problems and Issues in Public Health (MAT096)
College Algebra – Trigonometry - Business and Finance (MAT115)
Elementary Statistics I – Energy and the Environment: Global Challenge (MAT120)

For the past two years, LaGuardia faculty have worked together to design lessons and courses that use mathematics to solve problems in these areas, and to test them with LaGuardia students. The PQL Sampler is the first fruit of that effort.

The PQL Sampler

The PQL Sampler is a collection of math projects and assignments developed by LaGuardia faculty while participating in the PQL Seminar. These lessons take root in the SENCER approach by focusing on engaging and relevant public issues while keeping rigorous mathematical practices as their main objective. The lessons are presented here as a resource for other faculty and a prompt for further innovation.

The Sampler includes a range of lessons on each contextual theme. Under the theme of the environment, for example, lessons focus on understanding environmental pollution, protecting our natural resources, and making wiser choices in our everyday lives. Lesson topics include:

In the second thematic area, students analyze graphs and numerical data about issues of public and personal health. These lessons engage students with questions about the causes and severity of disease, as well as ways to practice making healthier choices about food and lifestyles. For example, the Sampler includes lessons that:

In the third thematic area, students create graphs and practice exponential modeling as they grapple with topics of interest related to the economy and personal finance. Lesson topics include:

Some PQL math courses were taught in learning communities, paired with Critical Thinking.
In these paired courses, math and humanities faculty worked together, designing courses that encouraged students to understand the connections between the different disciplines. The PQL Sampler includes lesson plans that emphasize the pedagogy of integrative learning and highlight the effectiveness of interdisciplinary teaching.

The PQL Sampler is an exciting achievement by a group of thoughtful and dedicated faculty. It can also serve as a resource for other faculty, at LaGuardia and other colleges, interested in using the PQL approach in their courses. The Sampler is organized according to math levels. Each lesson indicates what mathematical concepts are covered in the assignment and when to introduce it during the semester. Some lessons might introduce a particular topic, while others might synthesize or review previously taught materials. Attached to all the lessons are student handouts and reading materials that allow others to adopt or customize these lessons to their course goals and needs.

While it is a significant accomplishment, the Sampler is far from complete. It will grow and expand as LaGuardia faculty create new teaching materials and classroom projects. We will update and improve this resource as the project grows, in the hope that it will serve as a springboard for sustained faculty learning and classroom innovation.