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Actively Learning Mathematics RAC

RAC Leadership​

Auburn University: Gary Martin, Ulrich Albrecht

California State University Fullerton: David Pagni, Roberto Soto

California State University Chico: Christine Herrera

Florida International University: Maria Campitelli

Fresno State University: Lance Burger

Kennesaw State University: Kadian Callahan, Belinda Edwards

San Diego State University: Chris Rasmussen, Janet Bowers, Michael O'Sullivan

Tuskegee University: Lauretta Garrett, Anna Tameru

University of Colorado Boulder:  David Webb, Robert Tubbs, David Grant, Faan Tone Liu, Eric Stade

University of Hawaii Manoa: Monique Chyba, Mirjana Jovovic

University of Nebraska Lincoln: Wendy Smith, Allan Donsig, Nathan Wakefield

University of Nebraska Omaha: Angie Hodge, Janice Rech, Michael Matthews

University of South Carolina: Sean Yee

West Virginia University: Vicki Seeley, Nicole Engelke, Matthew Campbell

Western Michigan University: Tabitha Mingus, Melinda Koelling

Statement of the Problem

Student success in undergraduate mathematics has significant implications for whether they choose to continue into STEM majors and future related careers. Even for those students who do not choose to major in mathematics, science or engineering, success in entry-level undergraduate mathematics courses such as calculus can make or break their decision to persist in postsecondary education.

The Characteristics of Successful Programs in College Calculus (Bressoud, Carlson, Mesa, & Rasmussen, 2013) showed the percentage of students with grades of D, F or Withdraw ranged from an average of 25% at Ph.D.-granting universities to an average of 37% at regional comprehensive universities. We are committed to improving students’ achievement in and dispositions towards mathematics through the use of models for Actively Learning Mathematics.

With respect to the MTEP Guiding Principles, the ALM RAC involves Commitments by Institutions of Higher Education through Institutional Focus, Disciplinary Partnerships, and Institutional Support for Faculty. The ALM RAC also addresses the guiding principle of Candidates’ Knowledge and Use of Mathematics through future candidates’ engagement in Mathematical Practices in introductory level undergraduate mathematics courses, to deepen their Knowledge of the Discipline. Excellent introductory mathematics courses also have the potential to encourage more students to consider becoming secondary mathematics teachers (or at least to stop discouraging potential future teachers).

General Approach

Our working theory of change is articulated in the following diagram:

The overarching goal is to improve student success with undergraduate mathematics, starting with the Pre-calculus through Calculus 2 sequence (P2C2). This is accomplished through effective teaching practices, which are supported by learning environments that are more conducive to student interaction, reasoning, and problem solving and the use of instructional resources to support ALM. Faculty buy-in and institutional leadership is developed to support Graduate Teaching Assistant training. Also, for many campuses, undergraduate learning assistants are used to support student work with group activities and enhance student engagement in mathematical activity.

The ALM RAC driver diagram was most recently revised at the 2017 MTE-Partnership meeting, to refine our improvement target and adapt the secondary drivers to align with current ALM RAC efforts.

Measures Used

  • Student achievement: Tracking DFW rates: five years for Precalculus to Calculus 2
  • Students’ attitudes & dispositions towards math: CALCS (Collegiate Active Learning for Calculus Survey)
  • Instructional practice: MCOPP (Math Classroom Observation Protocol for Practices)
  • Assessments of curriculum: Analysis of reasoning goals, depth of knowledge

Current Progress

Over the past four years, we have worked collaboratively to improve instruction in introductory calculus courses. While the contexts across the fourteen campuses are quite different, requiring somewhat different approaches to implementing ALM, we have been able to learn from each other’s efforts. We have exchanged and co-developed instructional resources, used common measures to document student dispositions, and have regularly discussed the local models used to support learning environments that are more conducive to ALM. Several campuses adopted the “learning assistant” model used by Colorado. Discussions across campuses have helped to clarify the approaches used and have identified the critical role of institutional change in promoting ALM. On some campuses, efforts are at a stable place, while in others the efforts are expanding or just getting started. Ongoing work includes more coordinated data collection.

Opportunities for Engagement

A collaborative NSF-funded research grant – Student Engagement in Mathematics through an Institutional Network for Active Learning (SEMINAL) – now supports research into better understanding how to enact and support institutional change in undergraduate mathematics. The SEMINAL grant is actively soliciting additional partners ready for institutional transformation to join in this research project. (see

The Active Learning RAC is currently seeking additional partners who are interested in contributing to future research and products, including the use and revision of instructional resources, professional development materials, documented strategies to support instructional change, and the use and improvement of relevant measures to study the impact of these changes (full partner). We are increasingly convinced how much contextual features and personal relationships impact the successful implementation and institutionalization of ALM efforts, so appreciate having diverse partners whose collective experiences can better span the many variations.

We also welcome partners who are interested in field-testing and implementing ALM resources and measures, without the full commitment of contributing to the Active Learning agenda or development of resources (participating partner).