Academic journal article Research & Teaching in Developmental Education

An Intensive Option for Developmental Algebra: Student Achievement on Extra Credit Test Problems

Academic journal article Research & Teaching in Developmental Education

An Intensive Option for Developmental Algebra: Student Achievement on Extra Credit Test Problems

Article excerpt

The intensive algebra project offers undergraduate developmental algebra students the opportunity to improve their course grades by solving difficult extra credit test problems after practicing similar problems on an optional, zero-credit homework set. Most research on extra credit assignments finds that low-performing students participate at much lower rates and earn relatively little extra credit compared to their high-performing peers, calling into question the effectiveness of these assignments. Students involved in the intensive algebra project, however, regularly attempted optional, intensive test questions, and a majority of both the upper half of the class and the lower half of the class were able to improve their grades by solving intensive test problems perfectly. This sort of flexible, intensive option may help developmental students develop self-regulation and ambition to achieve at superior academic levels.

Introduction

Developmental mathematics classes usually serve students with very diverse academic needs. Science, technology, engineering and business majors who must work their way through calculus typically share the same introductory algebra class with students whose majors require a single subsequent general education mathematics class. Designing a single class to stimulate, engage and encourage students with different mathematical goals is a challenge. The class must develop the detailed procedural and conceptual knowledge that is the foundation for calculus along with the experimental attitude and the critical thinking in varied mathematical contexts that is useful in liberal arts mathematics classes. Offering different tracks of the same class is often not possible from the standpoint of scheduling or is not in keeping with developmental education faculty's democratic orientation to learning.

An alternative to opening a separate class section to meet the differing needs of students is to provide optional assignment tracks within a class. This article reports on an intensive algebra homework and test option that was framed as an extra credit opportunity for introductory developmental algebra students. Students could improve their course grades by solving difficult extra credit test problems after practicing similar problems on an optional, zero-credit homework set. The initial inspiration for this intensive algebra project was to create a challenging option for students whose academic programs require them to take calculus. Students who identify these majors upon entering college are not always the strongest mathematics students in class; it is important, therefore, for these students to gain a sense of the level of difficulty of calculus-sequence classes before they enroll in them, and to develop the perspective that they must work harder on mathematics than their peers in order to achieve their personal goals.

The project is intended to promote the development of students' selfregulation: cognitive and affective self-reflections that help them become effective and independent learners (Wambach, C., Brothen, T. & Dikel, T., 2003). Classroom experiences that develop self-regulation have been proposed as a defining component of developmental education (Wambach et al., 2003). Guiding principles of the intensive algebra project that reinforce self-regulation are the integration of intensive problems throughout the class, the optional participation and the opportunity to shift easily between standard and intensive levels at any point in the class. Students make a choice every day about whether they will try to achieve at a standard or superior level, and so the project allows students to develop autonomy and ambition as learners.

In order to maintain this high degree of flexibility to strengthen selfregulation, the project was presented as a series of extra credit opportunities. Structuring the experience as an extra credit opportunity allowed the project to fulfill the roles of experimentation and self-reflection that were the central intention. …

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