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Provosts Challenge leads to math lab for new learning
Author: Currently
Posted: May 12, 2014

A new math lab funded by the Provost’s Challenge opened in Neuberger Hall this term, enabling more effective “flipped” and “emporium-style” courses that emphasize hands-on learning rather than lecture time. 

“Math is not a spectator sport,” says Sylvia Giroux, Mathematics faculty who teaches emporium-style entry-level math classes, in which students work on assignments in class with the instructor available to answer questions and monitor progress. “Students are active learners during the class time. They ‘own’ their learning.”

The math lab, Project #47: Meeting (and Exceeding) Student Goals in Mathematics and Statistics, is the latest Challenge project to near completion. The 24 projects were funded by the $3 million, two-year initiative, part of reTHINK PSU

New hardware and software will be installed in the lab by summer, and four associated courses will launch this fall, says Rachel Webb, Mathematics faculty and co-lead of the project. The new space is larger, with more seats and better technology. It is named in honor of Dan Streeter, a retired mathematics instructor and computer lab coordinator who was one of several faculty to receive a grant for the original math lab.

Austina Fong, Mathematics faculty, has been teaching flipped calculus classes — students watch lectures as homework and practice problems in class — for two years. The new lab’s space has improved her class structure and Challenge funding has grown the model to online classes as well.

In a traditional classroom model, “just sitting there and listening to a lecture, especially a math lecture, it’s easy to fall behind in notes or zone out,” Fong says. A flipped classroom “makes math seem less systematic. Students see big-picture topics … and have better conceptual and procedural understanding.”