Proposed RCC class ties math to practical applications

A $150,000 National Science Foundation grant awarded to Rogue Community College will pay for development of a new math class that answers many a high school student's question: "Why do I need to learn this?"

The applied technical math class will provide skills used in Algebra I, Algebra II, geometry and trigonometry but will incorporate problems linked to practical activities, such as using the Pythagorean Theorem to build a staircase or algorithms to create electronics.

"If students see how it's being applied, it makes a lot more sense," said Serena Ota St. Clair, coordinator of RCC Pathways & Articulation.

The class, which will be called Math 63, is expected to debut in January for RCC students who need to take developmental math. RCC officials hope that by fall 2011 the class will be available for graduation credit at local high schools in Jackson and Josephine counties, which will require approval by the Oregon Department of Education.

RCC officials plan to prepare high school math teachers in the summer of 2011 to teach the class. The class will be a third-year high school class and will incorporate applications needed for construction, diesel and automotive, manufacturing and engineering, welding and electronics technologies.

"The point of the grant is to engage people on a deeper level just because it gives them a purpose to do the math," said RCC math instructor Doug Gardner, who headed up the grant.

The new take on teaching math comes at an opportune time, as state diploma standards now require at least three credits of math in Algebra I and higher for students graduating in 2014. Students previously had to have only two credits of math at any high school level.

Juli Di Chiro, Ashland schools superintendent, said the class is another tool to help increase student preparation for college.

"We have, relatively speaking, good test scores, but what we are seeing more and more is the need for more science, technology and math, so we are really looking to try to enhance that because those are 21st century skills," Di Chiro said. "We are also looking for ways those can be realistically applied."

Gardner said his students are unprepared for college math, and he has to do a lot of review.

About 70 percent of RCC's incoming high school graduates have to take remedial math before enrolling in college-level math classes, said Margaret Bradford, RCC spokeswoman.

RCC's experience with student math shortcomings reflects the country at large. From comparisons to people in other countries, as well as in surveys of U.S. manufacturers and other employers of skilled laborers, Americans are generally lagging behind in math skills.

The country would save about $3.7 billion a year in reduced college expenses if more high school graduates were prepared for college and didn't have to pay for remedial classes to catch up, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

About 60 percent of manufacturers typically reject half of all applicants as unqualified because of a lack of basic skills, according to the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail

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