Math Learning Enters the Computer Age

  • October 2nd, 2003

by Rebecca Florence

Eighth grade students Alesha Marsh, foreground, Camille Jones and Roderick Gray at Greensboro East High School.
Eighth grade students Alesha Marsh, foreground, Camille Jones and Roderick Gray at Greensboro East High School.

In January 2003, Greensboro East High School became the first of three high schools in Alabama to begin teaching mathematics with computers and one-on-one tutoring when it opened its Math Technology Learning Center (MTLC), a facility modeled after UA’s own Math Technology Learning Center in Tutwiler Hall.

In fall 2003, Calhoun High School in Lowndes County and the new Bryant High School in Tuscaloosa County followed. The high schools are establishing this innovative new way to teach mathematics in partnership with UA’s College of Arts and Sciences.

The Math Technology Learning Centers remove many of the traditional barriers to learning math by enabling students to get individual attention and to progress at their own speed, moving ahead when they understand a concept and calling on a teacher for assistance as needed. Learning isn’t limited to a one-hour class. Students can work with the computer software as long as needed.

“When we saw the success that our students were having in the Math Technology Learning Center, we realized what a great advantage this could be for Alabama high schools. This can change the way high-school students learn math, a subject so many struggle with,” said Dr. Robert Olin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

This innovative style of learning was pioneered by Olin while he served as chairman of the department of mathematics at Virginia Tech. There he founded the Mathematics Emporium, the model for UA’s MTLC.

The UA center, home to 240 computers and six tutoring rooms, was christened in fall 2000 when 1,000 students enrolled in the newly redesigned Math 100 course. Today, over 2,500 students taking pre-calculus math do so in the MTLC, coming to the center when they are ready and learning at their own pace. Faculty members are available to provide individual assistance at the center, which is open 65 hours a week. Students are required to spend a certain amount of time in the lab each week, but they can also access the software from their home computers. UA’s MTLC was established with a $1.3 million education grant from the Pew Charitable Trust.

Since the lab opened, the number of UA students passing their first math course has increased 50 percent. The MTLC received a Judge’s Special Recognition Award in 2002 from the Alabama Quality Council for “exemplary results from effective benchmarking and improvement of best practices for creative responses to student mathematics needs.”

The high-school math learning centers consist of 25 computers with instructional software for a variety of math courses. The software also grades tests and exercises, giving a teacher more time to spend with students.

“The math learning center concept is wonderful. It’s the best method we have seen yet,” said Dr. John Covington, superintendent of the Lowndes County School System. “The center makes it possible for students in small or financially impoverished areas such as ours to study in areas of math that their schools can’t afford to teach in a classroom. Algebra, pre-calculus and calculus can all be taught in the same class. Students can work at their own pace. If a student needs help, he or she can be tutored individually by the teacher without reducing the instructional quality for the rest of the students. Our students will go out into the world and on to college better prepared thanks to the University’s help in establishing this center,” he said.

Kenneth Webb, chairman of the department of mathematics at Greensboro East High School, said that today’s students like the interactivity the computer software offers. “I think the computer and electronics keep students’ attention. They find it more interesting than a traditional classroom. Instead of having to sit and listen, they can do the whole time and become self-learners,” he said.

To learn more about the Math Technology Learning Center and view a video about the center, visit the MTLC website at www.mtlc.ua.edu.

The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.