Basic Math Skills and Test Grades in a Quantitative Course
Simcha Pollack, Department of Computer Information Systems/Decision Sciences, The Peter J. Tobin College of Business
Li Ping Zheng, Graduate Assistant
Many colleagues have expressed interest in improving St. John’s students’ basic math skills. Anecdotal pilot data strongly suggests that a large number of our students are deficient in the some basic mathematical techniques. Perhaps it is due to the prevalence of the calculator or poor elementary school teaching but a significant portion of students can not add and multiply fractions, convert a fraction to a decimal, a decimal to a percent and vice versa.
This has serious adverse affects in many of their courses because so many classes are quantitative. This includes, of course, all the hard sciences and math but also psychology, management etc. Indeed, one can not function well in almost any endeavor in or out of school without basic math skills. It is no wonder so many students’ eyes glaze over when an equation is presented to them. The lack of confidence when it comes to any quantitative endeavor begins with a fear of even simple operations or concepts.
In order to teach at the appropriate level and to partly remediate my students’ deficiencies, I have devised a simple test of basic math operations. After administering this test I will correlate the results from this instrument with grades on my tests.
Eventually, I would like to document this problem more scientifically by obtaining a larger and more diverse sample. If my hypothesis is consistent with the observed data, I plan to devise ways of remediating these deficiencies. This will involve a thorough search of the many existing programs and games and lessons that are available on the Internet for teaching basic math skills. Part of the challenge will be to modify existing teaching programs, generally geared to the young child, and make them interesting to the college student. I am hopeful that concepts that were difficult to assimilate in the early grades will now be amenable to true understanding if presented in the proper way. I am hopeful that the clever use of technology will make necessary practice and drilling more palatable for students. Technology, especially motion graphics, will also contribute to a deeper understanding of numerical concepts.